Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday, 01/21/08 Mt. Evans Bike n' Hike (more bike than hike)

Mt. Evans
29 miles
~3,800 vertical
4:13 RT

I have had my eye on a Winter ascent of Evans for a few years now, but neither the prospect of walking from Echo Lake, nor trudging up to Guanella Pass from the new winter road closure seemed particularly appealing.With all this fine weather as of late, I began to think this week might be as good of a time as any.

As my mind wandered, I started to wonder how much of the road might be melted out and if it would be possible to use a bike to gain any advantage (yeah yeah, “cheating” I know, but I assure you, the ascent was NOT easier). The previous night I had decided not to go, but when I woke up at 7am, I was fired up on the idea again and quickly packed, readied my bike and was out the door a few minutes before 8am, armed with somewhat recent beta from Forrest. Why not have a look at least?

Once at the gate, it was surprisingly warm and calm, but there was a good bit of wind on the drive to the Echo Lake winter closure, so I dressed a bit heavier than I should have thinking I would soon be up in the cold and wind.I began riding at 9:17. There was a short bit of snow before the first switchback and a good stretch of snow before the bristlecone forest, but some was ridable (barely) and some required pushing the bike along. Fortunately, this was surprisingly short lived as it was kind of difficult.

I plugged my way along above treeline, somewhat burdened by my heavy pack and now was beginning to notice that pesky wind, but was still plenty warm (for January).As the road looped around Goliath, there was more and more snow on the road, but I was able to ride this entire section, balancing on a strip of pavement only as wide as my tire at times and crawling over occasional patches of snow and ice, all the while doing my best to ignore the drop to the immediate right that would certainly hurt a bit if I fell.

Once past Goliath, the road cleared out a bit better and I was able to ride the entire way to Summit Lake except for about 100 feet of walking where the snow had drifted all the way across the road. On the final stretch to Summit Lake, the wind became much stronger and was a direct head wind. Even though it is somewhat flat to down hill, it was agonizingly slow. I arrived at the lake in a disappointingly slow 1:34, a full 15 minutes slower than when I run the road.

I did not mind though, as I knew the whole bike thing was going to pay off big time on my return trip.As I passed the lake, the brutal headwind now became a welcome tailwind as the road steepens. I planned on parking my bike at or near the lake (if could make it that far), lock it to a post and proceed the remainder of the way on foot. I stopped and huddled behind a rock to eat, take in the views and contemplate my options. It would certainly be faster and easier to hike from here to the summit and would only take about 30 minutes, but I became increasingly intrigued by pulling off a complete bike ascent/descent in January. This idea got the best of me and I continued to plug along up the hill slowly, wobbling on two wheels.

As I rounded the corner to descend to the Epaulet saddle, the wind picked up in earnest, forcing me to pull over and put on my Gore-Tex shell, balaclava and warmest mittens. It was a bit of a trick to pull this off and not have anything launch toward Kansas.Once again, I doggedly fought the wind, back and forth on the seemingly endless switchbacks. No matter how many times I have been up here, there are always a few more switchbacks than I remember.

With each few hundred feet of gain, the wind seemed to increase 10 mph or so. On one stretch of road facing into the wind, I even got off my bike and pushed for a while, as it was just easier and safer.Eventually, I rounded the last switchback and the wind immediately deposited me at the far end of the lot.

As I was climbing off my trusty steed, the wind picked at my bike and was forcing it away from my grip. I snagged it by the bar end just at the last moment and wrenched it back with all my might, giving it all I had not to be tossed through the air like a rag doll. I staggered around the lot, trying to find a wind break with very limited success. Finally, I found a spot that was tolerable where I pulled out my bike lock to secure my bike and pack to a pole as to not be snatched away by the wind while I tagged the true summit.

I crouched and scampered my way across the lot, crawled carefully up and over the rocks to the true summit, where I spent little time admiring the views. So much for some leisurely snacking and picture taking in the non-existent, but much anticipated wind shadow.Back to the bike, I debated the sanity of riding back down in the wind, especially without a helmet (stupid). I did my best to keep the bike upright, pedaling as hard as I could downhill into the wind, only going 11mph, but then would round the bend and would be dragging the brakes to not surpass 40.

This seemed to go on for a while, but was cake compared to the ride up. Once near the Epaulet saddle and the little up before the descent to summit lake, the wind was at my back and before I knew it, I was going 58mph, in total silence, dragging my brakes ever so slightly. I could not believe the speed. Even after several years of racing road bikes at the pro level, I don’t think I had gone quite that fast. Crazy stuff!

The remainder of the descent varied from struggling into a headwind, walking or carefully negotiating the snowy/icy sections, finessing a cross wind or dragging the brakes going 55mph, admittedly a huge thrill, although not all that confidence inspiring without a helmet, not being clipped into the pedals and using big clumsy mittens to brake, grip and shift.I arrived back at the car at 1:30pm and had a quick drive back home. A very fun and unusual day indeed.

Lessons learned (if I were to do this over again):

Bring a helmet of any sorts…. I NEVER ride without one, except for today, but I really did not expect to ride my bike 29 miles, much less reach speeds of nearly 60mph.

Don’t wear bib cycling shorts under full winter gear, they are a real hassle if you need to drop trou for a big job.

Do wear clipless pedals and cycling shoes with a change of shoes in the pack if necessary. I put on platform pedals and rode as a hiker on a bike instead of a cyclist. Terribly inefficient.



  1. You are a nut of sorts, aren't you?
    Actually sounds like a lot of fun.

  2. Awesome. Looking forward to seeing what adventure you have to top that next week!

  3. 55+ on a MTB? I think that is a world record.

  4. Holy crap is that epic. You get the award for taking most advantage of this good weather.

  5. 58 mph on an icy ,windy road....with no helmet...DUDE!!

  6. Impressive! Also nice to meet you last Saturday.