After working my way up in altitude (10K a couple times, 12K on Trail Ridge Rd) – time for one of the 14ers, Mt Evans, the highest paved road in the US at around 14,200 feet.
This is also a pretty tough climb, even without the altitude – it is long (27 miles) and a solid 6700 feet of ascent, at my “easy” pace of roughly 2000 feet per hour, that’s 3.5 hours of continuous climbing. Definitely the most difficult climb of this trip.
The weather report the night before was a bit dodgy – calling for 40% chance of rain and up to a quarter inch of precipitation. I had already decided I was going for it and if it got ugly, turn around. Mountain weather is very unpredictable.
I “slept in” until 5, checked the forecast, and things had improved – now calling for mostly clear conditions until the afternoon. The downside of the clearing conditions was the summit was forecast to be 35 degrees.
Headed out – the first half of the climb is on a highway, big shoulders and sweeping turns (and more “MOTORCYLCES USE EXTREME CAUTION” signs.. since I wasn’t on my motorcycle, I guess I didn’t need to use caution.)
After turning right at Echo Lake, you take a much narrower and bumpier road for another 14 miles that gets narrower and bumpier as you go along – there tend to be large expansion cracks every 30 or 40 feet.. ker-thunk ker-thunk ker-thunk the whole way up. I saw a single lone deer along this stretch, and lots of the arctic tundra marmots, that sort of look like fat prairie dogs with bushy tails.
Around 13K, the weather started getting a bit more ominous, but never actually rained.. but those wet clouds are colllllld.
The last 1000 feet of ascent was.. pretty rough. Having roughly 40% less oxygen is definitely something you notice, but luckily I didn’t seem to have any other altitude sickness issues, not even the vague nausea I had felt a few times before. But you definitely feel.. odd. Even just grabbing a water bottle would leave me breathing extra hard.
Last set of stacked switchbacks that take you to the summit
By now the wind and clouds had picked up, so I knew the descent was going to be chilly. I didn’t bring any legitimate winter thermal clothes – just some toe covers, wind jacket and my buff (neck/face gaitor) to keep my face from getting frozen.
I settled for riding until I couldn’t feel my fingers, then I would stop for a bit and let them thaw out. That was okay since the expansion gaps were even more punishing on the way down – KERTHUNK KERTHUNK KERTHUNK!
The wind had also picked up a bit, and I sure wasn’t going to ride right on the edge of the road. Once down to the highway, things were easier, it’s just a long long way down!
This was the first climb on this trip I’d say was challenging for climb difficulty reasons vs. cows or wind or whatever. The cold also seemed to really suck the life outta me.
Pike’s Peak is even more difficult – it is another 1300 feet of ascent, and 4 miles shorter (so steeper average grade.) That’s definitely the “queen stage” of this trip, so I’m going to take the weekend off and plan to ride it on Monday.