If you are signed up for the Triple Bypass and think you need one more hard training ride to be completely ready, here’s the ticket. The Silver Road Half Century starts in Georgetown, rides up and over Guanella Pass, and returns to Georgetown. 48 miles, more or less, and more than 6,000 vertical feet up to a high point of 11,669. Twice. The combination of serious climbing and serious altitude should be irresistible. The SRHC will be held on June 30, 2013, in conjunction with the Guanella Pass Hill Climb, an organized USAC sanctioned race. So if you are into hard rides but not racing, the SRHC is the one for you. The ride is limited to the first 250 riders who sign up and is fully supported with aid stations, first aid support, and Al’s Pit BBQ on the U.S. 285 side of the ride. (Al’s, by the way, is worth a trip in its own right, but probably not when you are halfway through this ride, with 3,000+ feet of climbing still to go.)
You’ll have to get up early–the ride starts at 7:00 a.m. in waves of 50 a few minutes apart to avoid congestion with the racers, the first group of which head out at 8:45. The ride benefits Colorado Lungs4Life, The Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease, Georgetown Trust for Conservation and Preservation, and the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado Junior Development Program. These are serious charities and the ride expects you to raise serious money: registration costs $55 and you must raise $150 or more to enter the ride. At the $150 level you get a beautiful hat and t-shirt. Above that level there are these jerseys and vests from Pactimo.
Guanella Pass runs from I-70 at Georgetown to US 285 just west of Bailey. For the full version of the pass, check out this post. The pass was paved in 2012 (but not quite all the way to US 285), thus adding yet another classic climb to a state that already has an embarrassment of riches in long, steep climbs. Start in Georgetown or better yet start in Idaho Springs. If you start in Idaho Springs , it is 24 miles one way with 4,300 feet of climbing. All but 1,000 feet happen in the 10.5 miles from Georgetown. There are steep sections at the beginning and end that flirt with double digits and a few small breaks as you work your way past a series of artificial reservoirs used to generate electricity through a pump-back process. By the time you reach the top (11,670 feet), you’re above treeline and the views of Mt Evans and Bierstadt are extraordinary. The climb will certainly become one of the classic Colorado climbs, as hard or harder than Squaw Pass from Idaho Springs, Vail Pass (from the west), Lefthand Canyon, and Golden Gate Canyon. As I understand the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club’s formula for difficulty, Guanella Pass rates as the fifth or sixth hardest climb in the state, right up there with Trail Ridge from the east and Molas Pass from the south.
There’s good parking in Idaho Springs at the lot behind Beau Jo’s and also next to the EMS station on Chicago Creek Rd, with free Forest Service bathrooms at the NFS Ranger Station. Don’t actually park in the Forest Service lot–it is for short term information and bathrooms only. The ride up to Georgetown along the frontage road you probably know from shortcuts in the winter when I-70 is backed up. When there’s no traffic, the ride is a sweet one, next to Clear Creek and with little traffic. Leave Idaho Springs on Colorado Blvd. Cross immediately to the south side as you reach the western outskirts of Idaho Springs. Ride upstream. Near Dumont cross back to the north side. This will be obvious because you just need to follow the paved road. Ride through Downieville (there’s a Starbucks there and a convenience store) and cross under I-70. Ride 1/2 mile to a fork. Go left to cross Clear Creek one more time and follow what’s known as Alvaredo Rd and CR 306 all the way into Georgetown. The road is in good shape.
Ride into Georgetown on what is now Argentine St. At the Y with Loop Rd, bear left on Brownell St. Turn left on 6th St, right on Rose St and you’ll be climbing for real in a few short blocks. The climb begins steeply with switchbacks, levels out for a few short moments near the hydropower reservoirs, and gets steep again at the top. You can read a detailed description in Russell Harding’s Blog, The Road to Cat 1, if you like to know in advance how much you are going to suffer. I know I adapt badly to altitude so reading a detailed description does not help me much. Anytime above 9,000 feet hurts. But here’s the profile if you’re a visual learner.
At the top, there’s a large lot to the west with a Forest Service outhouse if you need it. The views are great and the descent is fast and smooth, a treat if you’ve ever suffered coming down from Mount Evans, which you can see from the top to the east.
When it is so hot in Denver that the asphalt starts to get sticky and soft you know there’s only one solution: head to the hills. Let the Colorado Eagle River Ride be your siren’s song and pull you out to the Eagle River Valley for a fabulous, well supported century that benefits SOS Outreach, a local non-profit that builds “character in youth through outdoor adventure.” This year’s ride falls on July 27, 2013 and starts and ends in Beaver Creek. The route is a good one with fine scenery, wonderful climbing from Wolcott up to State Bridge, and a fabulous 20 mile stretch along the Colorado River that’s mostly dirt. But don’t let that stop you. The stretch is remote, beautiful and the road is is decent condition. Total vertical gain is a modest 2,750 feet, so this is a perfect first century if you’ve never tried one before. Sign up here.
Looking for a challenging century ride (or shorter)? Want to keep it close to home? Fabulous views and lots of climbing important to you? Then it is time to check out the Red Rocks Century, a looping swooping, climbing sun-of-a-gun century that will have your thighs burning long before you get to Squaw Pass. Starting in Morrison, the century begins with a jaunt through Red Rocks Park, spins up Highway 74 to Kerr Gulch then loops along US 40 to Idaho Springs where the big climb begins: Squaw Pass from the west side is rated a 4.9 in the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club’s database of climbs and ranks 8th in the state. But who’s bragging? But wait, there’s more. After the 15 miles of pain that Squaw Pass represents you’ll be bombing down to Evergreen from where you’ll start the unheralded but difficult climb up Shadow Mountain Drive (8.5 miles, 5% avg, 15% max). Were that not enough, the climbing finishes out with one of my favorite stretches of steep climbing in the state, up through High Drive, Stanley Park Road and Little Cub (5 miles, 5% avg, 15% max). Now that’s a century. And it is sponsored by Primal Wear so you know the swag is going to be good. Better yet, it is not to late to sign up. The ride happens this year on Sunday, July 8, 2012. Shorter routes are also available. Sign up here. And when you finish and your legs are screaming at you send me a note and let me know how it went. The claimed elevation gain is over 10,000 feet.
The Copper Triangle is an old favorite organized by Davis Phinney to benefit the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s. The 2013 date is August 3. Phinney is a celebrated Olympic and professional cyclist, and is married to Connie Carpenter, herself an Olympic speed skating and cycling medalist. Together they raised Taylor, the latest wunderkind on the professional cycling circuit. Davis Phinney was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000 and has devoted his foundation life to raising funds for research and treatment of the disease ever since. These are good people in a hard fight so if you are looking for one organized alpine ride to do this year, the Copper Triangle is a great choice. It is short at 78 miles and the elevation gain (5,981) is doable with a moderate amount of training. After climbing from Copper Mountain up Fremont Pass to Leadville you ride downhill to Vail where you begin a long pull up the west side of Vail Pass, much the longer and steeper of the two sides. And even if you are not able to make it this year to the Triangle, add the route to your bucket list. It is a good one with simple logistics, relatively easy access to services if things go awry, and many options on starting points and direction. The smart money has you start in Vail. That allows you to get the hardest climb out of the way first and lets you finish in Vail with its relative wealth (compared to Copper Mountain) of restaurants and services.
This is another of the truly great loop rides Denverites have in their backyard. In terms of overall aesthetic quality, the Small Ring Loop ranks way high on my fun-meter, especially so since it traverse so much terrain–everything from Lookout Mountain to Red Rocks Park and nearly everything in between, including Kittridge, Bergen Park, Morrison, a trio of gulches, and two country clubs. A two mile stretch on the I-70 shoulder and a 1/4 mile stretch on and across US 285 are probably the only serious negatives. It rides well in both directions, though I confess to preferring to ride it counterclockwise. I’d rather come down Deer Creek Canyon than ride up, I prefer to ride Highway 8 into Morrison (it is downhill) than to ride out, and I love the steep climb up into Red Rocks from Highway 74 from Entrance #3. But that’s just personal preference. Ride it and find out for yourself. The route-finding through the Ken Caryl development can be tortuous, but it is hard to go too far awry–if you keep going generally north or south, you’ll come out OK. I’ve included a detailed map of the area below that you can tuck in your jersey to help you along.
Start this one anywhere on the loop or just off it. I’ve shown a few obvious starting places like Ulysses and Beverly Heights Park, Lookout Mountain, and South Valley Park, but the access to the loop is unlimited. There’s also a Park n Ride just east of Morrison and there’s always room at the bottom of Deer Creek Canyon Rd near Chatfield Reservoir. I like to start at Ulysses Park, near 10th and Ulysses just east of the Taj Mahal
in Golden. It allows a short warmup before heading up Lookout Mountain. Once you’ve topped out there, head on over to I-70 and Exit 254. You can optionally avoid the worst of the traffic by sneaking up through the Nature Center and there’s some good short steeps awaiting you along the Mt Vernon Rd, home to the eponymous Mt Vernon Country Club. You’ll see the tennis courts as you climb the first steep grade. At exit 254 join the cars on the interstate. If you’ve got mechanical troubles or just need a pick-me-up, drop into Foothills Ski & Bike or the Buffalo Moon Coffee Shop, both just up the hill from Exit 254 near the Chart House. There’s no real trick to riding along the interstate–you just need to pay attention. Stay to the right side of the shoulder and avoid as much debris as you can. There’s an intermediate exit in between 254 and 252 to Chief Hosa. Ignore it.
Exit to the Evergreen Parkway and climb up through the traffic to an uncontrolled left turn (i.e. no traffic light) onto Kerr Gulch Rd. The stretch along the Parkway can be tight at times, but with some heads up peddling you should be fine. Kerr Gulch is the second left after the traffic light. Once you are on Kerr Gulch Rd, you’ll be in another world. The houses start out all high and mighty near the top and dissolve into a sort of decaying squalor as you approach Highway 74. The road mimics the surroundings and the last mile or so is rough and narrow. Turn right, uphill, to reach Kittridge, then left to ride gulch number two, Meyers, a short, steep pitch of just two miles. If you are totally whipped at this point in the ride, just point your bike downhill from Kittredge and ride Highway 74 east to Morrison, cuting off something like 25 miles of the ride. A gentle descent of four miles down Parmalee Gulch Rd brings you to US 285. Jump on 285 by going left initially. Follow the signs to Fairplay, not Denver. Here you have to make a decision: either ride 1/4 mile on US 285 and exit across 285 to S. Turkey Creek Rd (as you did on Evergreen Pkwy) or ride 2 miles on the shoulder to the N. Turkey Creek Rd Exit, which swings under 285 and thereby avoids having to cross the highway. Your choice: 1/2 mile and left or two miles and under. I much prefer the short jaunt, a quick scan backwards and the left hand turn. There’s a dedicated turn lane so it is easy to jump across, pause, get your bearings, and then make a bee-line to the other side. The Deer Creek Century understandably routes you along the shoulder but the traffic is rarely so heavy through here that you cannot safely cross. And if you are coming from the other direction, you don’t have a choice: get on 285 just past Tiny Town and exit at Parmalee Gulch by using the dedicated turn lane.
From 285 to S Deer Creek Canyon Rd is a fine stretch. Aside from the almost 19th century quaintness of Tiny Town, there’s not much here beyond good bucolic cycling. At the Fire Station turn left to make a short, 200′ climb up Deer Creek Canyon Rd, then check your tire pressure for the long descent to S. Valley Rd. On most weekends, you’ll see lots of cyclists along here. Don’t miss the left hand turn to S. Valley Rd. If you are accustomed to the full Deer Creek descent to Platte Canyon Rd, the turn can come up on you pretty fast. Climb up Valley Rd to Valley Parkway, and join up with N. Ranch Rd to make your way through the heart of the Ken Caryl development. Mostly stick to the main road and you’ll be fine, except for a crucial link between the Ken Caryl development and the Willow Springs area. From N. Ranch Rd go left to Black Bear Ln or Golden Eagle Ln. Both take you where you need to go: a narrow, chained-off fire lane between Wilow Springs Rd and Golden Eagle Ln. The first time I made my way through here, it was an unrideable gravel passage. It is better now, but the exit onto Willow Springs may still make you hop off your bike. (As an aside, if all this route-finding is boggling your mind, it is always an option to go slightly further east (from Deer Creek, Ken Caryl or even Belleview) to the C-470 Trail and make your way north back to Golden that way!)
Now the fun begins. Follow Willow Springs through one of the coolest looking golf courses in Colorado to Belleview Ave and then west and north to US 285 (again!). This will be fast. A short, steep climb brings you to Highway 8 and, in two miles, to Morrison. Get refreshments, if you need them, in Morrison, then go west a short stretch on Highway 74 to the #3 Entrance to Red Rocks Park. A really steep climb
will take you up, to, and through the Park and out the other side, to Entrance #1. Cross the road to Dinosaur Ridge. Go north along Rooney and Johnson Rds and you’re back where you started. The only tricky part along here is finding the bike by-pass between Colfax and 6ht Ave. From the traffic light at Rooney Rd and Colfax Ave, look northeast. You’ll see the trail just to the left and in the shadow of the C-470 overpass.
There’s just no two ways about it: this is a pure, unadulterated climb. You start in Idaho Springs or at the foot of Fall River Rd and you climb for 10 miles until you reach the top and you turn around and come home. At the top there are no commercial attractions. No convenience stores. No espresso. Nada. But its a good climb, 10 or 12 miles and 2,700 feet, but even those stats don’t tell the whole truth, since like all good climbs St Mary’s starts off gently and builds to a couple of steep crescendos, where the slope jumps up into the high double digits.
Start in Idaho Springs, at the parking lot just beyond the Clear Creek Ranger Station on Chicago Creek Rd, or just off the Interstate in a small lot near exit 238. There’s water and restrooms at the Ranger Station, but they don’t want you to park long term there. Use the lot on the left just up the road to Mt. Evans. If you start in Idaho Springs, you’re required to ride on the Interstate shoulder for 2 miles and some find this objectionable. And don’t get fooled by the sweet looking frontage road on the south side of Clear Creek. The Stanley Rd looks like it should take you up river to Exit 238 but there’s no place to cross back over to the north bank until you get up into the Dumont area. If you’ve time at the end of your ride, however, cross over and ride a short ways up to admire the Stanley Mine, itself.
Fall River Rd is in pretty good shape and the views are fabulous. As you approach the top, you’ll be more or less surrounded by Alice, an unincorporated development of few homes but great hopes with a rich history of mining and skiing. St Mary’s Glacier Resort, whose remnants are still visible to your left as you top out, was an active ski area from the mid-30s to 1986. A recent dream to reopen it as a family-friendly area was dashed in 2010 when the Clear Creek Commissioners voted against it. On a busy weekend, you are likely to come across a number of people hiking into the glacier for some late- or early-season turns. At the end of the road is a small lake (Silver Lake), an even smaller condominium development, scattered houses, and still more tremendous views
to the north and west. It is a good spot for a bar and some water, before heading back down to Idaho Springs. Look to the Squaw Pass Loop description if you need some ideas on where to get a bite to eat in Idaho Springs.
Squaw Pass and its big sister, Mt. Evans, don’t need a lot of introduction for local cyclists. The standard ride is from Bergen Park (at the RTD Park n Ride) up and over to Echo Lake Lodge and back for a convincing ride of 36 miles and around 3,900 feet. Both ends of the standard ride are anchored by two of Denver’s many mountain parks: Bergen and Echo Lake. But when you’re ready for more than an out and back, tackle the Squaw Pass Loop. At 47 miles and almost 5,000 feet, this is a good intermediate-length training ride. I like riding it clockwise. There’s slightly less traffic heading up the Squaw Pass Rd than up Chicago Creek Rd (the natural approach to Evans for most auto traffic), and I love the steep climb up Floyd Hill.
Start as if you were just doing the standard out-and-back. Climb up and over Squaw Pass. Because of the protected watershed to the north and the abundance of open space, the views in all directions are fabulous, especially in the fall.
As you begin to descend towards Echo Lake, Mt Evans and its barely visible road come into focus, a reminder of how much further and harder it is than what you’re doing today.
Take a break if you need to at the Echo Lake Lodge. They people there are friendly to cyclists. Then head down to Idaho Springs on Chicago Creek Rd. It is a breathtaking descent and will lead you across I-70 and into Idaho Springs. If you are hungry or need an espresso, check out Two Brother’s Deli, or Tommyknockers. Find Miner St. Ride east. Everything funnels into a narrow V as you go east until you are forced to cross over Clear Creek. Most traffic jumps onto I-70 here, but you’re looking for the frontage road, a/k/a County Rd 314. It takes you away from the madding crowd, to the south bank of Clear Creek. There’s some commercial traffic here from a sand and gravel operation, as well as from the rafting operation, but for the most part this is an easy and enjoyable stretch. There’s a very short stretch of dirt road that you can miss entirely by crossing to the north bank of Clear Creek on the Scott Lancaster Memorial Trail, but the dirt is pretty easily negotiated. The road dies after a while but continues as a bike trail. Eventually it spits you out near the bottom of Floyd Hill, where some bicycle legerdemain (legerdepied?) sneaks you around to US 6 and US 40.
Climb up Floyd Hill then follow US 40 around to the north of I-70 until it rejoins the interstate at exit 251. This stretch of US 40 is quiet and surprisingly enjoyable. Cross over I-70, pick up Evergreen Parkway (CO 74) and follow it until you reach Bergen Parkway. It is slightly safer to exit left here at the light and work your way back to your car than it is to continue on Evergreen Parkway. In the sweeping left hand turn ahead on Evergreen Parkway, the right shoulder completely disappears leaving you exposed and vulnerable to traffic behind you. And if you are pressed for time, you can shave a 3.5 miles and a few minutes off the return by crossing I-70 at Exit 248 and returning to Bergen Park via CR-65.