After a solid weekend that included climbing Mt. Elbert on Friday with a bunch of the other interns/employees from my company and then a great day on Castle and Conundrum on Saturday, I was stumped as to what to do on Sunday. I wanted to do Ellingwood Ridge on La Plata but was concerned with how early the weather has been coming in lately. I decided to head back to Denver and regroup and bike up the Mt. Evans auto road as it has been on my to-do list for this summer. I had planned to have fresher legs for this climb but I wasn't looking to set any speed records.
The alarm went off at 4 and after hitting the snooze a couple of times I loaded up my bike and hit the road. After a quick coffee/gas stop I was on 470 headed toward the mountains. I got to Idaho Springs around 5:30 or so, parked on the north side of I-70 by the school and historic site and unloaded my gear. I crossed the highway and started my ride around 5:50am.
There were hardly any people on the road, the air was cool after the previous days rain and there was a light headwind. My legs felt very heavy as I got going and as I've learned after training and doing 3 Ironmans, when you've been working out a lot it takes a long time for that stiffness to wear off and get warmed up. Yesterday was no different!
The road conditions were very nice and though I wasn't moving too quickly, I kept heading up and soon found myself at Echo Lake. I was surprised how many people were already there to hike and fish. The water was like glass and offered up a very nice mountain reflection.
Echo Lake and mountain reflection
After Echo Lake I passed through the still closed visitor center and continued the climb. It took me 1:31 to get to the visitor center. Still no sign of other cyclists at this point. I was unaware that the previous day there was a big bike race in the area (though I did see a ton of bikes on cars driving back from Aspen on Saturday).
Just before breaking above the trees
The climb broke through the trees after a few steep switchbacks and the views were outstanding. It was early in the day but clouds were already starting to build! At this point I heard very heavy breathing and saw a cyclist sprint up the hill and pass me. He stopped, circled around to catch his breath and I kept on going. He would sprint by me again a few times and I would pass him on his rest breaks. At one point I stopped to have a snack and put on sunscreen and he passed me for good. Up till this point I had only stopped to pee or grab a bite of something. There had been a few cars pass me throughout the morning but so far the road was still very calm.
Looking back down on Echo Lake
As the road snakes around the mountain above treeline the grade is fairly mellow but relentless. When you get to Summit Lake you go downhill which sucks because all you can think about is having to climb back up on the way back! Also, road conditions are pretty rough around the lake!!
The flat spot on the saddle before heading back up the last switchbacks
Once going past summit lake there are series of switchbacks, a straightaway across a saddle and then more switchbacks to the top. You can see the summit house at this time and it looks oh so close. Even at 14,000 feet, I'm not breathing that hard, which I think is more a testament to how much my sore legs were slowing me down than to my conditioning, but still, I was pleasantly surprised.
I got to the end of the road in a total time including breaks of 3:35 and actually felt really well! Shockingly well! I picked up my bike and proceeded to haul it up to the summit receiving some odd looks from the folks who came to the top on 4 wheels while receiving accolades from those that hiked up from below or across Sawtooth. Hey, my bike got me 28 miles and 6700 vertical feet to the end of the road, I figured I could take it to the additional 140 feet to the summit! We posed for some pics together then I headed down to have a snack and rehydrate.
Top of the road
I know a lot of people coordinate rides from the top but I was looking forward to the descent. I really like going downhill and have gotten pretty good at it. The only downside were the conditions of the road. It was fairly cracked up and just brutal around Summit Lake. But once we got below treeline I was really able to let it fly and it was awesome! Once I got back to the flats I faced a brutal headwind (which really sucked because the wind was blowing in my face on the way up in this spot!).
Saw this guy on the way down on the summit switchbacks
Another shot of the road on the way down
Clouds moving in!
As I was coming up I noticed that the clouds were building very quickly!! The atmosphere was definitely volatile and I figured storms would be in early. The mountain was already in the clouds by the time I was into my descent and I knew precip and electricity wouldn't be far behind. I couldn't believe how many people were starting up the road so late in the day with such ominous clouds as I headed down!
A herd of elk
I got back to my car and was just elated to have done this climb on less than fresh legs more or less on a whim. I'd only ridden once in the last 2 weeks. Such an awesome experience! I think I might have to try one more time on fresh legs to see if and by how much I can finish under 3 hours!