Epic Bicycle Rides – Corona Pass in Winter

I biked up Corona Pass on 1/1/2016.

What’s Corona Pass?

Corona Pass, also known as Rollins Pass, is a high-altitude mountain pass in north-central Colorado, between the towns of Winter Park and Nederland. Part of the Moffat Road, Rollins Pass was the first railroad passage over the Rocky Mountains, before the Moffat tunnel was opened in 1928. The pass was used by railroad traffic from the early 1900s through 1928, and then thereafter has been used mostly as an scenic automotive drive.

In the summertime, I bicycle up Corona Pass several times a season. It’s great to get above the tree-line on a bicycle, and the pass road itself has access to many great single-track trails such as Broken Thumb, Twisted Ankle, and Rogers Pass.

In the winter, the road turns into a snowmobile heaven.  The Grand Adventures company has the USFS permits for grooming much of the trails in the Fraser Valley, and Corona Pass is one of the major roads for their service (and for public use as well). As a result, it turns into a great road for fat biking in the winter. I’ve ridden this pass in Winter a couple of times each season, and it’s always been a blast.

The Plan

This ride had been my New Year’s Day plan for a while, but it almost didn’t happen. It got down to -20ºF overnight at my place, and in the morning it wasn’t really warming up. But, thanks to some weather sorcery, it was actually warmer closer to the mountains. I left 90 minutes later than planned – at 11:30am it was -11ºF at my place, and 15 miles away at the start of my ride it was a whopping 8ºF. Cold, but certainly bearable, especially on such a bright sunny day.

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The Destination

The road was in great shape on the way up – groomed, snowmobiled, and packed in well.

On the way down, enough snowmobile traffic had come up during my ride that the snow was really chewed up. In some respects that made for a better descent, as I had to pedal just enough to keep my heart rate up and that kept me from freezing as much.

The ride up took 2hrs 50min to cover 9 miles, with 2200 ft elevation gain with a 4.4% average grade. The descent took just an hour.

This was the first time I made it all the way to the top of where the snowmobile traffic goes. What a great adventure, and great way to start 2016.

Scenes Along the Way

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After a 3/4 mile climb over a rough snowmobile trafficked hill from the parking lot, I wound up on Corona Pass road. The Grand Adventures snowmobile rental company grooms the main road regularly. It’s a gentle grade (~3-5%) and a relatively easy climb up. The road closed sign is because the Needle Eye tunnel, on the Front Range side, collapsed years ago and they haven’t re-opened it yet. You can go all the way up from Nederland, and all the way up from Winter Park, but you can’t drive over – non-motorized traffic can make it over, though.

 

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Only light tracks left on the super packed snow.

 

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First big break with the treeline now closeby. Rogers Pass is in view, and Riflesight Notch is just ahead.

 

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The famous Riflesight Notch railroad trestle. When the railroad ran, the tracks would circle down the hill and then come out underneath the trestle from a tunnel, hence the name.

 

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A friendly snowmobiler took my picture while next to the trestle. Mt. Epworth and my destination is just behind me.

 

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Welcome to the tundra. I MADE IT! This is as high as I’ve been in in the winter on any of my rides up here. Rollins Pass is about 2-3 miles in the distance, but the road isn’t groomed in the winter (enough for me to make it on a bike, anyway).

 

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I’m still alive! Despite being very, very cold, there was no wind today – absolutely none. It was awesome up top.

 

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Gratuitous pano…

 

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Looking down towards the Fraser valley from the top. You can see Fraser and Tabernash (my place!) far below.

 

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And there’s the Continental Divide! Just a hundred yards or so away. On the otherside is Nederland and then Boulder.

 

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Looking towards Winter Park we can see the ski resort and the Riflesight Notch railroad trestle where I just came from.

 

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Looking back towards the North we can see Mt. Epworth and Rollins Pass in the distance. If you look closely, you can see snowmobile tracks the more advanced riders have made over to that area.

 

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Further down the hill. In the summer, this rock is just above the main road. The snowmobiles all wind up here for the scenic view.

 

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11,500 ft!

 

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About to descend… this hill, down towards Corona Bowl, was actually too steep to ride up, so I hiked up. Coming down, a minute or so after this shot was taking, I built up too much speed and had a spectacularly fluffy powder crash. A little less air pressure in the tires would have helped that…

 

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Back down at the Riflesight Notch railroad trestle… still early in the season so it is visible.

My 2011 Leadville Trail 100 Experience

In August of 2011 I raced my first Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike event. I was lucky enough to get past the lottery system in February, and spent most of the rest of the spring and summer preparing for the event. This is the story of my training leading up to the actual event and the details of the event itself.

Continue reading My 2011 Leadville Trail 100 Experience

2011 Ride the Rockies – Day 3 – Tough day, but great views

I wouldn’t have guessed from looking at the official route profile for the Edwards to Steamboat Springs ride that it would turn out to be my hardest day of the tour. Sure, the length of the route is 5 miles longer than the previous 2 days, but there were only two relatively small climbs shown on the profile, and a long downhill into Steamboat itself. A piece of cake, especially when compared to the Cottonwood Pass climb we did on day 1, right?

Not so much, as it turns out. The day started out fast and fun, with great weather, calm winds, and a nice mostly downhill ride out of Edwards. Once we hit Wolcott, the climbing began with a nice 1,000 ft climb and then a fast descent through Bond and then ending at McCoy where aid station 2 was located.

The bad news we heard about a rider crashing and later dying on a descent yesterday seemed to affect everyone I saw descending. There seemed to be a little reluctance to go as fast as the previous two days. It might have just been my own perception and awareness, but in general everyone seemed to be a lot more cautious than I have seen before.

After leaving aid station 2, we began the biggest climb of a day, a nice, long, winding climb along highway 131 heading towards Toponas. The terrain changed from high desert to a slightly more lush wide valley, with plenty of aspens and wildflowers to color the landscape along the way. This climb was really a lot of fun – the grade was just right, steep but not too steep, and it was long enough that you just needed to find your zone and keep the pedals turning.

There was a short descent after this hill towards Toponas, and this is where the trouble began. The mostly westwardly winds seemed to get stronger, and became a headwind for most of our route. The speeds coming into Toponas were much slower than I expected and once we reached aid station 3, we knew we were only halfway done with the day.

I took a long break at aid station 3, and indulged in some Nutella and banana crepes from one of the ride vendors. I’m sure it was an excessive amount of calories, probably more than I burned on the entire ride, but it was completely awesome and total worth it.

I wasn’t looking forward to the remainder of the ride, as we were going to have a headwind almost the entire way. But, I had a couple of guardian angels that showed up and made the next 20 miles amazing. A couple on a tandem that I had been hopscotching with all day passed me on a windy straight-away, and another rider and I latched on and used them as a nice, big windshield. I stayed with them until aid station 5, going at least 5-10 mph faster than I would have been able to maintain alone.

Stagecoach Reservoir
Stagecoach Reservoir

The Stagecoach Reservoir where aid station 5 was located is gorgeous, and frankly, so was the remainder of the ride coming into Steamboat Springs. This was my first time ever in this part of Colorado, and the first time to Steamboat Springs. The route through the lush valley coming into town was gorgeous, and hats off to whoever picked the route, and to making sure all the road obstacles were well marked. It remained windy, but luckily the downhill grade was enough to overcome it and I maintained a nice, fast pace coming all the way into town, even with the few rolling hills along the route.

This turned out to be my longest day in the saddle thus far at 5 hours and 45 minutes. I also wound up doing quite a bit more work than before too, pedaling out 2,977 kilojoules of work compared to 2,500 on the previous two days. Maybe that crepe wasn’t too many calories after all.

This post originally appeared on the Denver Post at http://blogs.denverpost.com/ridetherockies/2011/06/14/day-3-the-hardest-day/871/

2011 Ride the Rockies – Preparing for the Ride

When I finally made it to 12,000 ft elevation, I thought for sure I’d feel better than I had in the past. After all, I live at sea level, and any additional time at high elevation should help my acclimation quite a bit. This year, I’ve been in Colorado exploring and training for almost a full month before the Ride the Rockies begins – I should be getting somewhat used to the higher altitudes by now. But that climb up to 12,000 ft reminded me how foolish I was to think it would come so easy. It was easy to get out of breath just doing a normal pace walk, even after all the time here.

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Land's End as seen from the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway

The effects of the higher elevation on me are different than I would really have expected. Yes, if I jump right into it from sea-level, I’ll get the classic headaches and a bit of dehydration. But more surprising is how it effects my riding. I don’t see increased heart rates, and I don’t see a longer time to recover after a hard effort. What I do see, though, is a precipitous drop in power output compared to riding back home. After a season of training, that’s quite frankly annoying to see performance drop just because of a few little, er, massive mountains.

Still, it’s great fun climbing up these things, especially given back home in coastal Texas I can ride for 70 or 80 miles and see a grand total of 150 ft in elevation gain. Climbing 5,000 or more ft a day really lets you know your body had some hard work to do, and the feeling is incredible.

Rim Rock Rd High Point
The high point of Rim Rock Rd in the Colorado National Monument

I’ve been lucky enough this spring to be able to spend some extra time in Colorado and do some of my favorite rides: Durango to Silverton, the Colorado National Monument, and a loop up Grand Mesa. These are amazing rides, especially so for someone like me who doesn’t live in the state and has few chances to ride them.

The first day of this year’s Ride the Rockies is the day I look forward to the most, thanks to Cottonwood Pass. I rode up Cottonwood Pass back in 2009 on another tour, and it was fantastic fun, despite the heavy rain, fog, and new freezing weather we had the entire way up. I didn’t get a chance to ride down into Buena Vista because the ride course was shut down, something I’m hoping to correct this year.

Biking in Big Bend – Old Ore Road

Yesterday I took the mountain bike down Old Ore Road in Big Bend National Park. The park’s website calls this route the premier ride in the park so I just had to try it.

Old Ore Road is a primitive dirt road just over 26 miles in length. It starts off fairly gentle and just like any other gravel and rock road, but around mile 7 things begin to get a little more interesting and a bit more difficult. Taking the road from the north to the south is primarily downhill, but there are at least 5 or 6 challenging climbs even when ridden in that direction. All of these climbs are very rocky and take a fair amount of bike handling skill to complete unscathed.

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The southern terminus of Old Ore Road is just a few miles west of Rio Grande Village near the Rio Grande Overlook. This is almost all downhill so it makes for a nice, fast way to finish up the ride.

It took me 3 hours 39 minutes to complete the Old Ore Road section of the route, just under the 4 hours suggested by the park’s website, and another 9 minutes to get to Rio Grande Village. I didn’t stop to smell the roses, so anyone wishing to explore some of the sites along the way should plan on the 4 to 6 hour timeframe given.

I’d also not recommend trying to ride this during the summer months. It was in the 70s when I rode, but the sun was rather intense that day (like most of them). I went through nearly 4 liters of water for this ride, so plan accordingly.

A nice surprise about the road was that it wasn’t completely devoid of other visitors. While I was the only biker I saw that day, I did come across 5 vehicles going either direction on the road. All were friendly and gave me the right of way when I needed it. That’s a good sign for a road you’d really rather not break down on.

This picture gives you a characteristic view of the start of the road. It is typical Chihuahuan desert scenery at first. The rather flat and easy looking road seen here is only that way to lure you into a false sense of security about your life over the next few hours.
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These cliffs are called the Alto Relex. The pour-off pictured here would be awesome to see when it was actually raining.
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I’m about 3/4 done with the road and still alive, despite a few high-speed tumbles and utter exhaustion. Who forgot to tell me mountain biking was harder than roadie stuff?
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Taking my last break at Camp de Leon. Jose de Leon was murdered in 1933. His gravemaker is just a few hundred yards before the campsite marker.
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If you like mountain biking you’ll like this road. It isn’t a single-track by any means, but it’s still a blast and takes you through a section of the park you wouldn’t otherwise get to see. If you aren’t a mountain biker, then head down there with your favorite 4×4 and drive it.