Friday, December 16, 2011

Colorado Death Ride

Spectacular views from the Dallas Divide! (Photo: Mark Lowe)

Date: Back in the future.

Pre-ride meeting: Friday, Jun 16, 2017, 6:00 pm

Ride check-in/start: Saturday, Jun 17. Check-in at 1:30 am. Ride start at 2:00 am

Host Hotel/Start and finish location: Best Western Durango Inn and Suites, 21382 US Hwy 160, Durango, CO 81301. Phone: 970-247-3251. Website: Best Western Inn and Suites.

Distance/climbing: 225 miles/16,500 feet

Brief description: The Colorado Death Ride is an EPIC ride across southwest Colorado's spectacular San Juan Skyway, including the mountain towns of Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Ridgway, Placerville, Telluride, Rico, Dolores, and Mancos. Crossing five high altitude alpine passes, the Colorado Death Ride features jaw-dropping mountain scenery that is second-to-none! The San Juan Mountains, which encompass nearly 12,000 square miles and nearly all of southwestern Colorado, are arguably Colorado's most spectacular mountain range. The San Juans boast over 100 peaks that top 13,000 feet and 14 of Colorado's 54 sky-scraping 14,000 foot peaks. Do you have what it takes to become a Colorado Death Rider??

Course map/cue sheet: Colorado Death Ride

Registration: To register, click here: 2017 Colorado Death Ride. Please pay attention to this blog and the RMCC website regarding registration. This event has an early bird $60 registration fee (3/1/17 - 6/10/17). From 6/11/17 - 6/15/17, registration fees will increase to $80. Registration is limited to the first 50 preregistered riders. Registration closes on Jun 15, 2017. Participants may withdraw by May 27, 2017 for a full refund. After May 27, refunds will not be granted. RMCC membership is also required to participate. For information regarding membership: RMCC Membership.

Time limit: 19 hours

Event organizer: For specific question about the event, contact Mark Lowe:

Additional Notes:
  1. Some ultra-distance experience is encouraged (but not required) to participate in this event.
  2. Pre-qualification: Please refer to our updated rules regarding pre-qualification: What's new for 2017?
  3. Given the exposure to high altitude, severe weather is a major concern with this event. As such, riders need to be prepared, bringing their best winter- and wet-riding gear with them!
  4. Lights and reflective gear are required!
  5. The Colorado Death Ride Tour is a charity ride dedicated to raise money to cure Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). For 2017, the Colorado Death Ride Tour is offering a timed single-day version of their traditional three-day tour. We will give Colorado Triple Crown credit to those riders who successfully complete the single-day version of this tour within the official time limit for their event.

Course Description:

The Colorado Death Ride can be broken down into five segments:

As Colorado Death Riders depart from Durango, they can imagine themselves racing the  Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, as bicycle racers do every Memorial Day weekend during the Iron Horse Classic!

1) Durango to Coal Bank Pass, 35 miles.

Durango, CO (elev. 6512 feet), one of the southern gateways to the San Juan Mountains, is the start of the 2013 Colorado Death Ride! Durango is one of southwest Colorado's outdoor meccas, attracting thousands of tourists throughout the year for a variety of activities, including cycling, mountain biking, camping, hiking, and skiing. It is also home to several of Colorado's cycling legends, including Tom Danielson, Ned "The Lung" Overend, and Todd Wells. Durango is also the starting location for the Iron Horse Classic. Contested every Memorial Day weekend, the Iron Horse Classic is one of Colorado’s longest standing and most legendary bicycle races!

Views from Coal Bank Pass, the first high altitude pass that riders will encounter
during the Colorado Death Ride.

After a very short night of sleep, riders will stumble out of bed as they prepare for the 2:00 am start time. From the Best Western Durango Inn and Suites to the west of downtown Durango, riders will head east along US 160 for less than one mile and then turn north onto the US 550/Camino Del Rio. US 550, known as the “Million Dollar Highway,” is an 87 mile-stretch of highway that cuts right through the heart of the rugged San Juan Mountains, crossing three lofty mountain passes (Coal Bank Pass, Molas Pass, and Red Mountain Pass) along the way. US 550 is surrounded by towering, jagged mountain peaks, plush groves of aspen, and serene alpine lakes. Simply put, the Million Dollar Highway is one of the most spectacular stretches of highway in North America! Game on! The Colorado Death Ride starts here! Riders will cruise north through Durango along the US 550 toward the southern fringes of the spectacular San Jan Mountains.

Views from the spectacular Million Dollar Highway!

 As riders head north through the blackness of the night, they will first encounter the community of Hermosa about 10 miles north of Durango. A word of caution: be sure to ride across the railroad tracks in Hermosa with caution as they cross the road at an awkward angle. These tracks have been known to take out a cyclist from time to time! From Hermosa, Hwy 550 begins to ascend into the heart of the San Juans, climbing nearly 10 miles before the highway flattens out a bit. Riders will cruise past the Durango Mountain Resort (formally known as the Purgatory Ski Resort) and opulent mountain homes scattered amongst the spectacular mountain landscape. Riders will then cruise past Cascade Village at the base of Coal Bank Pass before US 550 pitches up again toward the heavens. The final five-mile ascent to the top of Coal Bank Pass is quite steep! Riders will be searching for their granny gears as US 550 snakes its way up to the top of the pass. Riders will gasp for air as the atmosphere becomes increasingly deficient in oxygen near the top of the pass. At the top of Coal Bank Pass (elev. 10,640 feet), riders will reach Checkpoint #1. Temperatures will be quite cold at the top of the pass. In fact, it is not unusual to encounter sub-freezing temperatures on these high altitude passes even on the most pleasant of summer evenings. Riders will want to grab their cold weather riding gear from their drop bags before venturing on!!

The historical mining community of Silverton, nestled in the heart of the San Juan Mountains

2) Coal Bank Pass to Ridgway, 45 miles.
From the top of Coal Bank Pass, riders will make the short but steep three-mile descent to the saddle (i.e., low point) between Coal Bank and Molas Pass. Riders should exercise a bit of caution when making this descent or any of the other upcoming descents! It is not unheard of to encounter debris in the road, including rocks, sticks, or even a stray deer. Riders will then make a four-mile, moderately steep climb to the top of Molas Pass, which yield’s some of Colorado’s must stunning mountain panoramas! The sharp, jagged snow-covered peaks of the Needle and Granadier Mountains to the east will provide riders with spectacular mountain scenery as riders catch their first glimpses of daylight. Upon reaching the summit of Molas Pass (elev. 10,910 feet), riders will make a brisk six-mile, 1,300 foot descent into the historic (but chilly) mining community of Silverton, CO (elev. 9,300 feet). Again, riders should use extreme caution when making this descent as temperatures will be extremely cold and this section of road is notoriously strewn with potholes and other road debris!

With its steep drops, Red Mountain Pass is one of the most notorious passes in Colorado!

From Silverton (elev. 9,300 feet), riders will begin to immediately climb again. Their next climbing challenge of the long day is Red Mountain Pass (elev. 11,019 feet), one of Colorado’s most notorious mountain passes! Known for its breath-taking views, teeth-chattering drops, and ubiquitous avalanche chutes, this pass is not to be taken lightly! And even though the ascent to top of the pass from Silverton is not nearly as difficult as the climb from Ouray on the northern side of the pass, this climb still should not be taken lightly! From either side, Red Mountain Pass is one of Colorado's classic mountain climbs! From Silverton, US 550 will gain 1,800 feet in 10 miles. At the top of the pass (no services), riders will begin an exhilarating (but extremely chilly) 23 mile, 4,100 foot plunge toward Ridgway, passing the historical mining community of Ouray (elev. 7,792 feet) along the way. The descent down the northern side of Red Mountain Pass as it snakes its way down from the stratosphere is truly spectacular…one of Colorado’s finest! Again, a word of caution: Be sure to NOT ride too close to the edge of the road when descending Red Mountain Pass...there is NO shoulder or guardrail and the drops exceed 1,000 feet in places! After what will seem to be an eternity of descending, riders will reach Checkpoint #2 (the gas station on the east side of the highway at the junction of US 550 and CO 62/Sherman Street in the community of Ridgway at the northern edge of the San Juan Mountains.

The picturesque Mt. Sneffels Range as photographed from the Dallas Divide.

3) Ridgway to Telluride junction, 38 miles.
From Ridgway, riders will turn west onto CO 62 toward the community of Placerville. CO 62 features the day’s next climbing challenge…the Dallas Divide! The climb over the Dallas Divide is an unforgettable experience! At 8,970 feet, the pass is one of Colorado’s most gorgeous mountain vistas and one of the most-photographed locations in the state of Colorado! The views of the Sneffels Range to the south of the divide are simply stunning! However, riders will need to keep their fingers crossed that the prevailing winds from the west have not “kicked in” for the day by the time they reach this climb.  Headwinds up the Dallas Divide can make this ten mile, 1,700 foot ascent extremely difficult, especially as riders accumulate additional mileage in their rapidly fatiguing legs. From the top of the divide, riders will make a gentle 12-mile 1,600 foot descent into the community of Placerville (elev. 7,316 feet). Riders will turn south onto CO 145 (Hint: Do not miss this turn!!) toward Telluride. I’ll be honest…the next climb up CO 145 is a bear, especially for wear legs! It’s 12 miles long and fairly steep in places. Additionally, it only has a minimal shoulder for cycling and holiday traffic (especially RV traffic) along this road can make this section a fairly stressful experience! Please use extreme caution when making this climb! Riders will eventually reach Checkpoint #3 at the Telluride junction gas station (elev. 8,750 feet). Riders will turn south onto CO 145 at the T-intersection to the east of Telluride to reach the gas station.

The region around Telluride, often referred to as the "Swiss Alps of the Rockies,"
is never short on pristine mountain scenery!

 4) Telluride Junction to Rico, 25 miles.
From Telluride, riders will continue to climb toward the summit of Lizard Head Pass. As participants continue to climb the series of steep ascents and rollers on CO 145, they will pass the turn-offs for the Telluride Ski Resort and for the mining town of Ophir along the way. The mountain scenery will remain truly spectacular along this section of CO 145! With its rugged mountain formations, this region of the San Juan Mountains is often referred to as the “Swiss Alps of the Rockies!” As riders continue to grind their way upward, the surrounding mountains will become increasingly majestic! Riders will definitely want to stop and take some photos with their digital cameras. The scenery is simply stunning! Riders will see the spectacular Wilson group of 14ers (Mt. Wilson, Wilson Peak, and El Diente) and Lizard Head Mountain with its reptile-shaped rock formation to the west of Hwy 145. After 12 miles of additional climbing, riders will reach the summit of the spectacular Lizard Head Pass (elev. 10,222 feet). Riders will then begin a gradual 12-mile descent toward Checkpoint #4, the town of Rico (elev. 8,825 feet, basic services), which will be bustling with holiday weekend activities.

The Lizard Head Mountain to the west of  CO 145

 5) Rico to Mancos, 56 miles.
From Rico, Dolores participants will continue riding southwest along CO 145 through the beautiful Dolores River Valley. This section of highway, which has a fairly good riding shoulder and generally light traffic, rolls its way downward for nearly 36 miles, descending over 2,000 vertical feet along the way. As riders approach the town of Dolores (elev. 6,936 feet, basic services), the surroundings will become notably more arid as riders leave the heart of the San Juan Mountains. Note: This section can be deceptively difficult! The prevailing winds in the Dolores River Valley are often from the southwest, which could create a situation of nearly 36 miles of headwinds in the downhill direction! This will definitely not make this gradual descent from Rico to Dolores seem any easier!

Views from the beautiful Dolores River Valley

From Dolores, riders will turn southeast along CO 184, passing along the southern edge of McPhee Reservoir. As riders approach Mancos from the northwest, the surrounding landscape will continue to become noticeably more desert-esque. Riders will see Mesa Verde National Park off in the distance to the southwest. After riding through 18 miles of rollers through very scenic farming and ranching land, participants will reach Checkpoint #5 in Mancos (elev. 7,028 feet) at the junction of CO 184 and US 160. 

The scenery becomes noticeably more arid as riders approach Mancos.

6) Mancos to Durango, 26 miles.
From Mancos, Colorado Death Riders--with nearly 200 miles in their weary legs—will turn east onto US 160, promptly beginning the final climbs of the long day. And if riders have any luck, the prevailing winds from the west will assist their efforts in conquering these climbs. The first climb is a moderately steep six mile climb to the east of Mancos, which descends rapidly into the community of Cherry Creek. Riders will then tackle a longer ten mile climb to the top of Hesperus Hill (elev. 8,109 feet), passing through the community of Hesperus (limited services) near the top of the climb. As riders continue east, they will appreciate the La Plata Mountains, a small sub-range of the San Juans to the northwest of Durango. At the top of Hersperus Hill, riders will then make the final blazing descent along US 160 back to Checkpoint #6 in Durango, the Best Western Inn and Suites.

Congratulations on completing the Colorado Death Ride!