Last year was my first joining Walker on his annual “Colorado Hajj” trip riding from the state capital building in Downtown Denver to the top of Mt. Evans (a 14,000ft mountain west of town) and back. It’s a pretty insane ride, but extremely fun and the kind of challenge that once you’ve tried it, it’s hard not to crave doing it again. This year’s ride came significantly earlier in the season’s than last year, meaning that legs and lungs were that much less prepared for the massive undertaking. Last year, Walker and I did the ride alone, but this year we had a gang of 8 to make things more interesting (and provide better drafting during the early ride). To give you a sense for what we did, check out the ride elevation profile below. You’ll see we stopped at mile 100 on the way back – more on that below.
Here’s the chronology of the trip for those interested:
3:40am: Roll-out from Walkers house in Wash Park (just outside of Downtown Denver)
4:00am: Capital Building. We met up at the state capital building to officially hit the “5280 step” (the step leading up to the capital, pictured below, is officially one mile above sea level). Weather was surprisingly balmy – probably 65 degrees with almost no wind.
5:58am: Top of Lookout Mountain. Just outside of Golden we hit our first real climb up Lookout Mountain. Last year we rode Lookout just as the sun was rising. This year, riding so close to summer solstice, we were riding in the morning sunlight. The top of Lookout Mountain is fantastic – we followed a rolling road for a few miles with great vistas west to the divide before descending slightly to a quick ride along I-70.
From I-70 we took the frontage road that descends down to the river and then up and over Floyd Hill. We eventually ended up on the old highway 6, which is now a bike path that leads into Idaho Springs (the Scott Lancaster Memorial Path)
7:44am: Idaho Springs. We stopped in Idaho Springs for a well earned breakfast burrito. From here it was to be about 30 miles – all uphill – to the top of Evans.
10:19: Echo Lake Lodge. 14 miles from the summit of Mt. Evans is the Echo Lake Loge and the fee station to the road up the mountain. We stopped at the Lodge for a refill of water (they couldn’t be nicer to cyclists at the lodge) and heard reports from the top of high winds and snow flurries. Still, undaunted, we layered up with clothing and figured we’d head up as far as we could.
The weather up wasn’t as bad as the reports had indicated and while cloudy and somewhat brisk, the riding was smooth and, for me, relatively comfortable despite my being the only person in the group not riding a triple or compact gear set-up (although I do run a 12-27 in back for a small amount of climbing relief). From Summit Lake we headed up the final 5 miles of steep climbing and switchbacks to the summit of the mountain.
1:32 Mt. Evans Summit! The time gaps here should give you some sense of the difficulty of the riding, but persistence is key on this trip and at just after 1:30 we topped out at on the Summit. The weather was starting to turn, but we had time for a nice shot by the trail sign (that’s me, Bo and Pat in the picture below).
With the weather quickly deteriorating (it was snowing when we took off from the summit) we started back down. By this time the snow was really falling and the roads were completely soaked. Unfortunately breaking caused my hands to freeze up and I spent most of the very fast ride down trying to keep my fingers from going completely numb (think ambient temperature in the 30′s and speeds of 35MPH through the rain). Towards the bottom it was actually enjoyable (after the feeling returned in my fingers and toes) but at the top I was seriously considering whether I could hitchhike down.
2:45 Back at Echo Lake Lodge. After about 45 minutes of the coldest, wettest descent of my life I was back at the Echo Lake Lodge. Fortunately the Lodge is heated and we warmed up with some lunch and hot beverages. The rain was really coming down now and we decided that we’d ride up and over Squaw Pass and down into Evergreen and then make a decision about whether to call in a ride.
The ride down from the top of Squaw Pass (which wasn’t a very long ascent, although my legs were not happy with me at the time) was extremely fast and extremely fun. In hindsight I might have backed off a bit given the rain but I was very focused on hitting Evergreen and meeting up with the sag wagon we had called in to come pick us up.
4:45 Evergreen. Definitely worse for rain ware but happy to be off the bike, we called it quits in Evergreen and grabbed a ride back into Denver.
The final ride stats according to the Garmin GPS that we had along were as follows:
Total Elevation Gain: 13,203
Max Elevation: 14,179
And despite the cold and rain, we’ll all be doing it again next year. Care to join?