Flagstaff-Gross Reservoir Climb
If you lived in Boulder, this would be your daily short climb, your testing ground, your climb against which to measure your fitness from month to month and year to year. Robert Hurst, in Road Biking Colorado’s Front Range, calls it Boulder’s little Alpe d-Huez. He’s exactly right. Every town has one. In Golden, it’s Lookout Mountain. In Fort Collins, it’s Rist Canyon, in Aspen it is Maroon Bells, in Colorado Springs it’s probably North Cheyenne Canyon. If you live in one of those towns, I always wonder if you ever go anywhere else. I mean, why would you, when you have [fill in the blank] in your backyard. It is like having a condo in Vail, Aspen, or Frisco. Inertia sets in. Why would you ever go anywhere else? But for the rest of us in the altitude deprived plains, we have no choice but to pack up and make a pilgrimage (or multiple ones) to the shrines and mythical places we only hear about in whispered (well, sometimes bragging) tones around the odd beer or espresso. I’m pretty sure we all believe that our local climb (or our last steep climb) is as hard as anything else out there. But wherever you live and whatever your ego, put it all aside and get up to Boulder sometime before the snow flies and ride on out to Gross Reservoir
and back. You won’t regret it.
For out-of-towners, there’s usually good parking at Chautauqua Park, but if that fails, you are far enough west to park in the neighborhood without running afoul of Boulder’s sometimes draconian parking regulations. If you go past the Gregory Canyon trailhead, you’ll be inside the park system and be required to pay a fee (unless you have local plates). Saddle up. Start climbing. Once you pass the Gregory Canyon trailhead, hard climbing starts immediately with a short stretch averaging 10%. If you want lots of detailed climbing information beyond what’s provided above and below, check out Russell Harding’s blog, The Road to Cat 1, or the 303cycling.com website. But if you want to preserve some mystery, just know that it starts out hard, eases up, then finishes, after the turnoff to the Amphitheater, with a stretch of ridiculously hard climbing. The pain is blessedly short. And if you want to see how you measure up against the best, time yourself from the stone bridge at Gregory Canyon to the Amphitheater Rd turnoff (11:59, Scot Eliot), or to the mailboxes near Bison Dr (22:10, Tom Danielson).
If you are new to Boulder or foothills riding in general, know that the views are amazing (if you can look up long enough to enjoy them) and there are several easy pullouts along the way where you can stop, catch your breath and admire the view. You should also detour at least once out along Amphitheater Rd. Many turn around here and avoid the final climb. Finally, recognize that you’re not likely to be alone on this stretch of road and check your ego accordingly. You’ll share it with cars, motorcycles, hikers, boulderers, wildlife, and other cyclists. The shoulder comes and goes and where it exists, it is biased in favor of uphill traffic, a striping scheme that makes sense when you think about it.
One more short (steep!) climb will bring you to a picnic area overlooking the reservoir that provides a convenient place to water up and eat a snack. After what you’ve been through, the climb back up to Kossler Lake is pretty straightforward.
SIf you are still hankering for adventure, check out Robert Hurst’s book. He’s got a challenging, 33 mile loop sketched out that takes you over dirt to Coal Creek Canyon and then loops around back to Boulder on 93. It is definitely not for the timid or those challenged by dirt roads.
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