Maps + routes for the Colorado cyclist

Stonewall Century

At the back door to the San Luis Valley sit the little town of La Veta, a stone’s throw west of Walsenberg but not on the established route to Alamosa or the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Unless you are a restless wanderer or a kayaker scouting for possible runs on the upper reaches of the Purgatoire River, you probably wouldn’t have any reason to pass through La Veta. And yet there is a gorgeous pass waiting to be climbed.The 2013 version of the Stonewall Century is August 10. You’ll have a  chance to climb Cuchara Pass twice. The Stonewall Century is that rarity among Colorado rides: an out and back. It starts in La Veta, climbs up past the old Cuchara Valley Ski Area (now trying to reinvent itself as a four season destination resort!) tops out on the Pass at just under 10,000 feet, and drops down to the small hamlet of Segundo for lunch and the turnaround. Cuchara Pass is rated as a 2.9 and a 1.3 (north and south) in the database of climbs that the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club maintains, which puts the pass (or at least the north side of it) somewhere near the low middle of Colorado passes in difficulty, harder than Vail, Berthoud, and Lookout Mountain, but not as hard as Deer Creek/High Grade, Super Flagstaff, or Squaw/Juniper. But don’t be fooled. There are 7,500 feet of climbing. The climbs on each side average about 3.5%, but that’s deceptive since the measuring starts at La Veta and Trinidad respectively. And with a stretch near the top called Soul Crusher Hill, you’ve got to expect that the climbs will get steeper before you reach the top. But that’s why we do this kind of thing, isn’t it?

This map and the profile below are both done by George Rooney, whose cartography work with Team Evergreen I’ve long admired.

May 16, 2012 Posted by | Organized Rides | , , , , | Leave a comment

Lizard Head Pass

I’m a huge fan of long climbs and have plumbed the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club’s database to see how all the climb’s in the state stack up. Most are memorable. The hard ones leave an indelible impression. Sometimes we remember the forest, sometimes the trees, sometimes the mountains, sometimes the monumental suffering. The database uses a complicated formula to assign a difficulty rating for each climb with Mt Evans the hardest (at 9.0) and Tennessee South the easiest (at .05). Somewhere in between falls Lizard Head Pass with ratings of 1.3 (north) and .9 (south). The pass connects Telluride to Rico and Dolores and is a good day’s ride as an out and back from Telluride to Rico. I used both sides as a training ride for the Mt Evans Hill Climb this summer, riding the top 3 miles on both sides several times in an effort (vain as it turned out) to get better acclimated at riding at altitude. At least I didn’t quit my day job. Here’s another view of the route against a topographic background. Lizard Head logistics are pretty straightforward: Start in Telluride, ride to the top of the pass or over to Rico. Return. If you’re staying in Telluride, you’ll likely ride out from town on the bike trail. From Mountain Village, jump on your bike and go. For everyone else, park near Society Turn (there’s a small area looking out across the Valley Floor, recently the subject of a bruising legal battle between developers and preservationists), or at one of the ski area lots. The ride starts out with a bang and a fair amount of tourist and construction traffic, but gets better quickly once past Mountain Village. The road’s narrow and the traffic indifferent to your joy or suffering, so use caution in the first few miles.

There’s lots to see as you go along, so even if you’re struggling with the altitude, you’ll be distracted. The area’s had a rich history

and the scenery is hard to beat, so stop whenever you start to feel the rapture coming on–it is probably just altitude sickness.

The Telluride side is a mix of climbing and descending, with a fabulous, swoopy descent down into the Ophir Valley, home of the incomparable and eponymous Needles. There’s much to marvel and wonder at here, not the least of which is how the Galloping Goose got its name. The last three miles of the climb rival the first three in steepness and intensity. At the top of the pass, you’ll find the usual Forest Service paraphernalia, a useful parking area, and outhouses with a great view.

You won’t be disappointed by the descent to or climb out of Rico if you go. It’s a long steady climb with half the traffic of the north side. Rico, too, has a long and rich history and if you like small towns (it swells to the mid-hundreds in the summer) you’ll love Rico.
There’s no fast food here, but if you’re looking for good food, check out the Argentine Grill at the Rico Hotel. A small convenience store, Mountain Top Fuel &  Market, will satisfy most of your other urges.

You don’t need much information to make your way back to Telluride. Just head back the way you came. There’s a short steep climb out of the Ophir Valley that will get your legs warmed up again. And the final descent down into Telluride warrants caution: the road is steep, the traffic heavy, and the surface has been beaten up badly. Some of it is so terrible that CDOT has posted signs warning motorcyclists to slow way down.

PDF Link

October 27, 2011 Posted by | SW Colorado | , , , , , , | 1 Comment