High Altitude Cycling - 600 vertical feet

Bringing our bikes over Independence Pass must have gone to our heads. We live at sea level and neither of us cope well at high altitudes. Last year we tried cycling at Telluride (click here for the story). Telluride clocks in at 9540 ft (2907 m). The cycling was hard, very hard  - even hiking was difficult.

Did we learn our lesson? No! Scorning the many picturesque and LEVEL cycle paths around here we decided to tackle the 600 ft (180 m) climb from Aspen to Snowmass.  We have done this cycle before, in reverse a few years ago: one-way - downhill.  It is very pretty; meandering through Snowmass Village past mountain streams and into woods populated with Aspen trees before opening out into farmland and joining the Rio Grande Trail just before the outskirts of Aspen. To be fair, I wanted to cycle it downhill again. The buses around here carry bicycles and it is an easy thing to ride back to the top in the comfort of an air-conditioned coach. David however hates public transport. Ignoring all my pleas he decided we would make this a round-trip cycle.

At home, one of our easiest regular rides has a 300 ft (90 m) climb. Double that shouldn't be too difficult - I thought. David's one concession to the challenge was to drive to the bottom of the ascent to begin the ride rather than start from our hotel at the top. It is always easier doing a climb when you are fresh.

We parked the car, unloaded the bikes and promptly lost the cycle path. Somehow we rode off in the wrong direction. Instead of a quick, easy, level couple of kilometres before we began the ascent we found ourselves going steeply down into a gully. Just what we needed - a difficult climb and an extra 5 miles (8 km) before we began the path up to Snowmass.

By the time we reached the top of the climb at an altitude of 8347 ft (2545 m) I was almost crawling. There is a critical speed on a bicycle, below which the pull of gravity overcomes forward motion.  At times I dropped below this speed - there's no shame in walking - but mostly I managed to hover just above it. We stopped frequently and made painfully slow progress. Every bend in the path seemed to open out to more uphill - until finally - we got to the top.

Like mountaineers summiting Everest we basked in the glory of our achievement for a few beautiful minutes - then we turned our wheels and headed for home. The downhill run was exhilarating, the sense of achievement was great - but I NEVER want to do that ride again!  From now on we stick to the flat.

Stopping for a break

Crossing a stream in Snowmass Village
The path wasn't all tough but mostly I was too exhausted to care.

We went for a late walk after our cycle and were rewarded by the site of this little guy -  pretty sure he's a beaver.
For the next post in this series click - here

For all my posts on this road trip click - here

15 June 2014


  1. Great pictures..Hope you are fully recovered now

  2. Yep. Went cycling again today. 40 km - on the flat.