Where I live along Colorado’s northern Front Range, it is not uncommon to see highly talented athletes. In December of 2008, we had a special treat when my Sunday group ride went to Estes Park.
Estes is around a 32-mile climb from Loveland, Colorado. Sitting at the mouth of Rocky Mountain National Park, at about 7,500 feet, Estes can definitely be cold in the winter. Sometimes we get lucky and can cherry-pick a day to ride to Estes in any given month of the year. In fact some silly people make that an annual goal.
On one of the group rides, we happened to run into several of the pro riders doing a training ride. They rode to Estes from Boulder. I’m now hoping that simply standing next to Danielson and near van Garderen will make me faster. Perhaps it already has? Maybe there’s more to come?
It is fun to see these riders currently doing well in the Tour de France. Beyond the next two weeks and the Tour, I’m looking forward to seeing both TeJay, Tom and several of the top Tour de France teams at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado in August.
Here’s hoping these guys can stay out of crashes and healthy ~
Did you know that elk bugle? Their bugling noise is part of rut or mating season. Someone else took this video showing an elk bugling. It is one of the videos available online that shows the bugle within the first few seconds of the video.
Three of us rode to Estes Park, at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, and we were lucky enough to get within 50 yards of a bull elk and his harem. Lucky and cautious.
Certainly we were lucky to see them; however all of us know how aggressive bull elk can be during rut. You can do an internet search on elk during rut and find them tangling horns with each other as well as attacking cars that they deem as a threat to their harem.
Watching the herd across the river from us dining on lush golf course grass, river grasses and drinking water from the Big Thompson River, we were filled with awe and respect.
It wasn’t long after I took the photo above that we heard the bugle of another bull on a hillside about 300 or 400 yards away. That bugle made the bull nearest to us exit the water, circle his cows and take a protective stance on the side of his harem closest to the potential intruder.
Once in position, he returned a bugle as if saying, “I’m ready for you buddy. Just try to come close to my harem and I’ll show you what I’ve got.”
We decided that while the bull was distracted watching the other bull in the distance, we would make our way down the bike path and back towards Loveland. A cyclist would be no match for an angry, protective bull elk.
(Below are a couple of shots of Scott Ellis and Bruce Runnels on the ride up to Estes. The Estes trip was Bruce’s longest ride in eight weeks, after his emergency surgery to remove 45 inches of small intestine. That’s another story…)
Scott Ellis above, on the approach to the second set of switchbacks above the town of Glen Haven. Below, Bruce Runnels makes the climb look easy.
I know it is long past Memorial Day, but I’m behind on blogs.
A traditional Memorial Day ride for the past five years or so has been a loop from Loveland, Colorado to Lyons, Allenspark, Meeker, Estes Park and back to Loveland via Glen Haven or Highway 34. This year we decided on Highway 34, making the trip right close to 90 miles from my doorstep. A Google Maps of the route is here:
This year Bill Danielson took video for parts of the ride. He has some nice shots on the opening climb up Highway 7, in Estes Park and coming down one of my favorite rides, Highway 34 between Estes Park and Loveland Co. Check out the video below.
I posted a few still shots on Twitter, here they are for you:
Longs Peak and Mount Meeker from two views off of Highway 7.
I mentioned in last week’s blog that the Wednesday temperature was 70 degrees. I was mountain biking on that day. Just two days later on Friday we had a big snowstorm. With San Diego friends Rob Klingensmith and Julie Gildred in town, it was perfect timing to snowshoe in Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday. Sunday was a 100-mile road ride. Now if I could have squeezed in a water skiing afternoon…
Big temperature swings are common for Colorado in March. It is also our biggest snow month. While the unruly weather can make some endurance athletes anxious, it affords others the chance to play in the snow just one more time before Mother Nature turns it into drinking water.
The Bear Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park sits at a tidy 9,450 ft. elevation. It is a popular trailhead both summer and winter. Though I’ve snowshoed this trail before, I didn’t realize it was so popular for backcountry skiers, until last weekend.
The trail begins as a gentle walk and it doesn’t take long for it to get steep. With the recent snow and wind, the trail was off-camber and was challenging in a few areas. There were some perfectly flat areas, three to be exact – frozen Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. Below is a photo of Scott Ellis with Hallett Peak behind his right shoulder. (I think just before we crossed Dream Lake.)
I forgot to mention that when we left the town of Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, the temperature was a blazing 4 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t remember what the temperature was when we left the Bear Lake parking lot, but don’t let the sunshine deceive you. Sun or no sun, the wind was whipping and it was cold.
Below is a great shot of the snowshoe trail barely visible through the wind.
I don’t have any shots of crossing Emerald Lake, which I admit creeped me out. I don’t really like the thought of crossing a lake on showshoes with winter clothes on. Below are links to photos taken by other people that give you a seasonal perspective of the Emerald Lake and Hallett Peak:
Notice the rockslide area above the lake on the Novak photo. In winter, that area is captured up close and personal in the photo below. The person closest to you, in the middle of the photo, is Rob Klingensmith. He hiked up through deeply drifted snow to capture photos of skiers. You can see the tiny figures hiking up the mountain in front of Rob. They are using “skins” on backcountry skis to hike uphill. They remove the skins at the top of the hill and ski down. They are tough to see, but there are the ski tracks coming toward Rob, near dead center of the photo. Barely visible in this photo, to the left of those tracks, are more tracks originating higher up the mountain.
On Tuesday of this week, I climbed Longs Peak for the fifth time. Its still a tough climb.
Longs Peak (14,259) and the neighboring Mount Meeker (13,865 ft.) are both prominent in the skyline west of the Northern Colorado Front Range area. Ill try to get a photo tomorrow morning; but for tonight youll have to imagine two massive peaks perched high above peaks in the Rocky Mountains, dominating the western horizon. Cities lying east of Longs Peak rest on the Front Range at a humble 5,000 feet, plus or minus.
Longs is the only fourteeer in Rocky Mountain National Park and is listed in the book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. The peak draws the interest of both serious technical climbers and the enthusiastic recreational hikers as well. Know that if you attempt to hike the peak in a single day from the trailhead outside of Estes Park, youll need to be ready for a round trip from the ranger station that a park handout advertises to be some 13 to 15 hours.
The biggest challenge is to summit and get yourself below treeline before the afternoon thunderstorms arrive. For this reason, most people try to begin climbing by 3:00 am.
Based on previous experience, we decided to meet at a store on the west side of Loveland and carpool. My alarm went off at 2:30 am and I met four others at 3:30 am. We drove to the Longs Peak Ranger Station and met two other people. We started the hike at 5:00 am, each person with a headlight or flashlight, a pack full of fuel and around 120 ounces of water.
The first hour of the climb is in the dark. In the next hour, the sun is pushing its way up the eastern horizon, the makings of a beautiful sunrise. By this time, we are above treeline and making our way to one of the traditional rest, fueling and bio-break stops the trail split to Chasm Lake and the continued trail to the top of Longs.
Below is a shot of the gang (Scott Ellis, Tony Meneghetti, Ed Shaw, Scott Rees, Pete Graham and Doug Pearson). Directly above Eds head is the eastern face of Longs Peak, known as The Diamond. Technical climbers can often be seen roping their way up this vertical rock.
The next recognizable section of the trail is The Boulder Field. As the name suggests, hikers must navigate a rock field with various sizes of boulders, from those the size of your computer printer to some bigger than a car. The next shot is looking across The Boulder Field toward The Keyhole, the near-hole formation silhouetted against the blue sky.
I dont have a shot of The Keyhole with people in it to give you a good perspective of the size. Ill give you additional photo links at the end of the column.
From the ranger station to the start of the Boulder Field, the trail was a hike. At the Boulder Field, some jumping and scrambling was required. It is at the Keyhole where things get tough. Going through the Keyhole to the back side, you are typically greeted by wind. This is not welcome for several reasons, one of which is you need to negotiate a section of trail called the Ledges. Just as it sounds, the Ledges portion of the trail includes sections where you must face the wall of the mountain and keep your focus on the task at hand. Missteps here will include a long tumble down the mountain.
After the Ledges section, there is a transition climb to what is known as the Trough. Below is a shot of Doug, Scott, Tony and Ed getting ready to progress toward the Trough. Notice the red circle with a yellow center painted on the rock. These eggs mark the trail.
The Trough is a V shape that includes fields of smaller rocks, sand and dirt to navigate. Many of the larger rocks are covered with the fine dirt and sand making the footing similar to walking on tiny marbles. The shot below shows the typical trail of rocks, over Tonys shoulder, that we must navigate to get through the Trough.
After the Trough is the area known as the Narrows. Just as it sounds, this area is narrow and extremely exposed. There are a couple of sections that I needed help getting up because I could not get hand and foot holds secure enough to lift myself up to the next section. A mistake in this section carries heavy consequences. My tactic was to look for the general direction of the next egg, then stay focused on the next 5 to 10 feet of trail ahead of me. That trail could be horizontal, at 45 degrees or vertical.
After the Narrows, its the Homestretch. This big slab of rock seems steeper than 45 degrees, though it could be the fatigue making me misjudge the grade. Most of this section is four-wheel drive (Im using hands and feet to propel myself).
If you clear the Homestretch, youve made it to the top. We were up in just under six hours after leaving the ranger station. (We did stop several times going up, so this is not a continuous-movement pace.)
The top is a football field size area, made of big boulders. Below is a shot of us on the top, standing next to the rock that shelters the summit-sign-in canister.
After spending some 30-45 minutes at the top, we headed down. In some of the sections, going down is much worse than climbing up due to unsure footing on top of the rocks and ankle-twisting loose rocks. Add fatigue and altitude to the mix and youve got yourself a recipe for potential problems. Blood spattered on sections of the rocks is a callous reminder that the mountain can be unforgiving.
Focus, concentrate, vigilance I kept telling myself.
The short story is that we did all make it down the mountain and to the safety of our cars about 11 hours after leaving them. The trip, however, was not without some physical payment. In addition to muscles crying from 7.5 miles of eccentric loading, some people got nasty blisters. Some blisters were patchable with a bandage of duct tape, other blisters forced the postponement of summiting the mountain. Scott Reess biggest blister stopped him short of the Homestretch and consumed the entire bottom of his big toe. When I saw the flap of dead skin covering his raw, pink skin underneath; the flap appeared to be about 1/8-inch thick a good sized chunk of hide. He had more blisters, but this was the worst one.
I think nearly everyone had some blisters on their feet, though none as impressive as Scott's. I managed to twist an ankle in the Trough on the way back and had to duct tape it for stability. (Ill show you how in another blog.) There were banged up knees, toes, arms and torsos from using the body as a brace to make another move or as a momentum stop.
This mountain can be cruel and unforgiving. It turns away people that are in great shape as well as those that dont have the fitness that it takes to summit. As I wrote on my Twitter page, I would rather be denied a goal due to fatigue, physical pain, weather or nutrition than fear (of starting, trying, being last, risking ego)
How about you?
When is the last time you really challenged yourself?
More photos are available on this public Facebook page. (You dont need a Facebook account to view them, though my Facebook page is open if you want to be friends.)
I am fortunate to live at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and to have riding pals that are willing to do fun rides with me. Our fun rides are often challenging, which is part of what makes them fun.
I reserve the title "Epic Ride" to rides that are, by definition, "very imposing or impressive; surpassing the ordinary (especially in size or scale)".
Our annual ride from my doorstep to the top of Trail Ridge Road each year is certainly challenging, but I wouldn't normally consider it an epic ride. (Sans the first year I did it. That year, given my experience and conditioning, it was epic for me.) On the challenging side, the round trip is 106 miles, there is roughly 9,000 feet of climbing and the elevation goes from about 5,000 to 12,168 feet. Yes, challenging, but doable with appropriate conditioning.
I have included an attachment of a partial profile of the climb. The altitude isn't accurate and I'm missing about 45 minutes worth of data, but more on that later. You can still get the general idea of the route.
At 7:00 am nine of us left my house, we would pick up one more person on the road, with high hopes of a fantastic day. Everyone in the group that planned to go to the top is well-conditioned and a ride of this type should have posed no problem. The weather at home was predicted to be 85 to 90 degrees F. with a chance of late afternoon rain. Estes Park was slightly cooler, with the same late afternoon rain predicted. Perfect, we'd be off the mountain well before late afternoon showers and thunderstorms.
In the shot below you can see all but one person in the group. The photo was taken by my husband Del, driving sag for us, at the top of the switchback climb above Glen Haven, with Estes Park and Longs Peak as the backdrop. This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire world.
Longs Peak is one of Colorado's 14'ers and we would be heading to a spot directly behind Longs. Notice the clear sky surrounding Longs.
We stopped to refuel in Estes Park and headed west toward Rocky Mountain National Park to ride a portion of Trail Ridge Road, to Rock Cut. Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved highway in the United States and is typically closed between mid-October to late May each year due to heavy winter conditions. Road crews work hard to have the road open for Memorial Day visitors.
Dave McClure (one of the riders with us) snapped the photo below of Peter Stackhouse on opening weekend this year. Peter is riding next to one of the giant snow drifts within a couple of miles of Rock Cut.
Two people turned around in Estes Park and the rest of us headed up, up, up.
The photo below shows eight happy riders. It was taken at one of the car turnout locations. The road, as you will see later has a very limited shoulder and cars can only stop in specified locations because there is no room on the road. Notice behind us that you can see treeline, at around 11,500 feet.
The next photo was taken about two hours after the one that was taken on top of the Glen Haven switchbacks, looking toward the direction that is our goal destination. Notice the beautiful blue skies are gone.
The next photo is looking behind us. You can see a good portion of the road and notice in some places there are decent drop-offs with no guard rails. For Colorado riders this is typically not a problem, but out-of-state folks can be freaked-out by the drops - even when riding in a car. Totally understandable.
The area in the next photo is an exposed area of the mountain that can often host nasty, gusting cross-winds. The snow patch you see in the background is the remains of last winter.
We made it to our turn-around point, the parking area at Rock Cut in about 4:38 ride time. We normally spend some time at the top taking photos and enjoying the scenery, but when we looked west, we could see a wall of weather moving our way.
Everyone put on extra clothes and high-tailed it down the mountain. We weren't even out of the parking lot on top, when it began snowing. The snow was mixed with rain. Now summer rain isn't usually a problem-unless you're above treeline and trying to get off the mountain.
We had to make a short stop for single-lane summer road construction near the top. You can see our weather-related issues just beginning.
All of us expected some rain and/or snow on top, that is just the way it is with riding Trail Ridge Road this time of the year. I put on a helmet cover, ear warmers, water resistant glove shells and Pearl Izumi's version of Gore Tex at the top. I kept my knee warmers and decided not to put on rain pants or booties. I thought, "We should be in Estes Park and off the mountain in no time. The temperature isn't too bad and I'll be fine on the descent."
Once through the construction zone, we could all descend at our own pace. We weren't out of the construction zone five minutes when the serious weather hit us. First, it was heavy rain mixed with hail. If you have ridden downhill in hail mixed with rain, you'll know that it hurts your face. Thankfully there wasn't enough hail in the mix to make the road slick.
This descent can normally be done between 40 and 45 miles per hour on dry roads and with no traffic. Today, for this top section, we were limited to 35 to 40 miles per hour due to the rain.
Then came the wind. Remember the photo of me riding solo earlier in the column? The place I mentioned gusty winds? Yep, gusty side winds and rain now, pulling speeds even lower. Although I couldn't see the drop-off, or rather I wouldn't look for it, I knew I needed to stay well away from the edge of the road.
Recall the narrow roads and nowhere for cars (like a handy sag vehicle) to stop? There are few places to stop, only the designated pullout areas.
By this time, one person had lost braking ability. Luckily, he was near a pullout area and could hop in the Suburban with Del.
The rest of us continued down the mountain and were within a mile of Del when the sheets of rain hit. Things are getting worse. I am now shaking due to being cold. (I can't pedal at all, so I cannot maintain any body heat.) If I try to descend faster to just get off the mountain, I can't see due to the volume of rain. At this point, I figure out I have nearly zero brakes.
I was going down a straightaway at about 30 mph when I could see car brake lights ahead of me. I started to apply my brakes to slow down and nothing. I gripped as hard as I could and there was the ever-so-slight sensation of slowing. I went to the tip of my brake levers and gripped with every ounce of force I could muster and I could feel more, slight slowing. Yes, only slowing.
I could see tail lights getting closer.
My some miracle, the cars began moving in time for me to not run into the back end of one. I could see one of my riding friends ahead of me dragging his foot like Fred Flintstone, trying to slow down.
I managed to grip my brakes long enough that I could actually come to a "rolling stop." When I saw three of our group members huddled under a tree, I decided to join them.
We stood there waiting for Del while the lightening moved in. We had a small discussion between near-convulsive shaking, "Never would have guessed this kind of weather. Not this morning. Not on top."
And so it goes with mountain weather. This is what can happen-what you don't expect.
The four of us saw Del and the first pick-up rider go by and we waved. I wasn't sure Del saw us, so I jumped on my bike to catch them at the Hidden Valley parking lot. I was pretty certain they would stop or turn around there.
Yep, they did turn around there and they headed back to the huddle-tree.
I am now down the mountain a mile or two and decided to wait under a new tree. And I wait.
After about ten minutes, some jumping jacks and a small break in the sheets of rain, I decided to try to make it to Estes on my bike to find the other two riders that were ahead of me. I thought this was a better choice than shivering next to the tree.
I have never been so glad to do a few climbs on the mostly descent route. The small climbs allowed me to build some much needed body heat.
I found my two buddies huddled in a Starbucks. We ordered coffee and sat there shivering.
I called Del and some of the riders decided to descend on their bikes to Estes and one fellow had enough. He was too cold and he was having bike problems.
We all regrouped at a parking lot. In the car, I had dry gloves and leg warmers. I knew if I put on these, along with booties and rain pants I could make it back home. I've done it before.
Four riders decided they were in good shape and would ride down too. Three riders didn't have enough clothes and couldn't stop shivering. They, wisely, decided to call it a day and ride back to Loveland in the Suburban with the heater on high. The rider with the mechanical issue figured out he snapped a cable, adding to the list of reasons to be in the car.
As we headed down the canyon toward home, it was decided anytime the ride is 106 miles and half of it involves unstoppable shivering, driving sheets of rain, hail, wind and limited to no braking ability-it classifies as an epic ride.
I'm happy to say that everyone made it home safely. My speed sensor was so caked with road grime that it quit working in Estes Park on the way down. I started the time clock when I realized it wasn't working, but I lost some data because the sensor was not working. The altimeter works off of barometric pressure and I think the storm caused problems with accuracy. Elevations earlier cited in the column come from map data.
I'm sure we'd all do it a little different, given another chance. That chance will come in 2008.
When I got home, my mom called to see if I made it off the mountain. Then, she told me their mountain cabin was broken into by a mother bear and her two cubs. But, that's another story...