I got a last-minute invitation to ride the recent Colorado Climbing Camp By Haute Route Ambassadors. After hesitating for a few minutes I decided I better take advantage of the opportunity and ride as many stages possible (around my work schedule). Here's my review.
Day 1 was a short, introductory route around Lake Dillon. I had some work to take care of and couldn't make it in time. This may have turned out to be a good thing for me as riders were doused by cold rain as they finished this ride.
Early season conditions in Summit County
Gayle manages a smile despite the wet finish to Day 1
Day 2 was the one that most captured my attention: Copper Mountain to Aspen via Fremont and Independence Passes. I had ridden Fremont a number of times, but never Independence Pass. With its summit over 12,000 feet, it's a mythical beast. The fact it closes over the winter further adds to this. It's opening was delayed this year due to the high snowfall seen throughout the Colorado Rockies and it had only been opened a few weeks prior. I was excited at the thought of finally getting to ride it.
A reminder of what will later come as we begin to climb Fremont Pass
The temperature was 34 degrees when I arrived in Copper Mountain to meet for the ride. While we've been experiencing colder than normal temperatures recently, I didn't expect the first official day of Summer to be quite so chilly and I ended up being underdressed. I had recently removed cold-weather gear from my bag thinking that it wouldn't be need for a while. I was mistaken. No leg or knee warmers, no long-finger gloves, and no shoe covers for me. Thankfully I had my new Gore Shakedry jacket, and was able to borrow a pair of long-fingered gloves from camp mom, Kate Williams. I was optimistic the temperature would climb from 34 degrees at the start once the sun poked above the ridge as we climbed Fremont Pass.
Warming up on Fremont Pass
This ridge line is my favorite view from Fremont Pass
A quick break at the summit before descending to Leadville
As he would all week, ride leader Colby Pearce set a steady pace up the climb. After a brief regrouping at the summit, we got to fight a stiff headwind on the descent to Leadville.
Once in Leadville we took a hard right and did a loop around Turquoise Lake. I had done a road race around the lake years ago, and also ridden part of it in the Leadville 100, but I never realized how pretty it is. Such is the case when racing. I'm usually too focussed on the task to appreciate visually spectacular environments.
After our lake loop we cut back to Highway 24 for a short stint with minimal shoulder before taking a right and riding mostly gravel climb and paved descent to Twin Lakes. It was a pleasant surprise as I was expecting to be on Highway 24 longer.
Gravel on the way to Twin Lakes
A support stop awaited us in the town of Twin Lakes. Knowing that we'd immediately begin climbing Independence Pass from there I topped off my tanks and mentally prepared for the 17-mile climb to summit. We were met with light rain and a wet road as soon as we began climbing. Thankfully this didn't last long and the weather was mild for most of our ascent.
Part of me wished we were on a more leisurely ride in order take a closer look at all the avalanche slide paths as we climbed the pass. There were areas where slides came down both sides of the canyon and appeared to converge at the road. Others crossed the road and traveled uphill for a distance.
The view down valley from the switchbacks
Tall peaks all around as we near the Continental Divide
There still was a lot of snow below timberline
You've done some climbing if you've made it this far up Independence Pass
The length and increasing elevation of the climb eventually took its toll and Colby rode off alone once we hit the switchbacks. The wind and low temperature leading to the summit had me worried about staying warm for the descent to Aspen being underdressed. My concern must have been evident as Kate gave me the jacket she was wearing while I scarfed down a few Enduro Bites.
Guess who made it to the top of Independence Pass first?
Kate's car, packed with warm clothes, was a welcome sight at the summit
Some took the time to capture the moment. I wanted to get off the summit as quickly as possible
The descent to Aspen wasn't as fun as I'd hoped since I began shivering around timberline and had to stop a few times to warm up enough to ride in a straight line. I was motivated to continue down as I knew I'd only get better once I got lower. The dark clouds to the west provided added motivation as the last thing I wanted at that point was to get caught in cold rain.
Happy faces at the post-ride meal
Aside from a few mechanicals, everyone made it to Aspen with minimal drama and we enjoyed a good meal while bikes were packed and shuttles arrived for the return to Copper Mountain.
Pro Bike Express got our bikes back to Copper Mountain
Day 3 of camp was to be the Copper Triangle, but the ride was called off due to overnight snow. Some camp participants did an abbreviated loop in Evergreen that included the Witter Gulch Road climb (aka Alp de Witter), but I took the opportunity to do some adulting and work on a few projects.
With a day off the bike I was more excited for the Golden Gran Fondo, which was effectively Day 4 of camp. Unfortunately, the forecast of a high probability of rain during most of the ride seemed to affect turnout as it was down significantly from last year. Those who decided to stay home missed a great event. It snowed intermittently on the upper sections of the course, but I stayed warm throughout. As a bonus, the recent moisture had the gravel segments in great condition. This was especially true for the final, 20-percent grade segment, although it still hurt after nearly 9,000 feet of elevation gain in the legs.
So far, so good -- no rain yet!
Medals all around for these camp participants
The final day of camp included one of the signature Colorado road climbs -- Mt. Evans. There are not many places you can climb to over 14,000 feet on pavement. Mt. Evans is a must-do ride for everyone who likes the challenge of pedaling up high peaks.
I was bummed to miss out as I had more work to do, but, thanks to Kate and Gayle, I have the following images (as well as those above).
Due to the recent snow, Mt Evans Road was closed to cars, and riders had it all to themselves. They could 'only' climb to around 13,000 feet, however, due to snow and ice on the road.
Kate was keeping everyone organized
There's still a long way to the top after breaking timberline
Nancy was pumped
The snow got deeper
And the road became too sketchy to continue
I've done a few Haute Route events and each has been special. It's easy to see why many riders are repeat customers. Whether it's the epic riding, fantastic support, or getting to spend time with great people, each has been something I'll remember. If you have an opportunity to do one, take it!