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.
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.
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.