Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Squaw Pass Scramble - A Climber's Delight!

September 27 seemed like a fine early autumn day to try out Catherine Shenk's new "Squaw Pass Scramble" 200k Permanent.

Billed as a "climber's delight," it was fortunate there was dramatic scenery and bright fall colors to gaze upon during all that climbing! Here both aspen gold and snowcapped Front Range viewed from Omigod Road:

Irene Takahashi and Catherine were off on an even longer climbing-rich permanent - Catherine's Coffee Cup Classic 340k ... so I joined them at o-dark-quite-early for their start.
We climbed windswept Lookout Mountain in the dark, the lights of Golden twinkling below. Our routes parted at El Rancho, and the randonneurs headed out on their separate forays. First dawn light hits the golden aspen on the Squaw Pass Road:

Here's Squaw Pass Summit, still six miles from the high point of Hwy. 103, which tops out at 11,000 ft., above Echo Lake:

Plenty of panoramic views of fall foliage and distant peaks to enjoy:

... and a collage of aspen and first snow on the roadside:
The new Echo Mountain ski area offers a scenic prospect across Clear Creek Canyon:

... and as the road tops out, you can see Mt. Evans sliced by the now snow-encrusted Mt. Evans Road:
Descending to Echo Lake, I managed to brake for a serene view of Upper Bear Creek Valley (west of Evergreen):
The Echo Lake Store is just opening for the day - good thing, as it's a checkpoint. Just beyond, Echo Lake at 10,000 ft. has a great snowy backdrop. The nearby pines offer some shelter from the hefty winds that have "prolonged" my climb up the Squaw Pass Road.
Some of the best foliage of the route was on the descent to Idaho Springs. Very quiet at this time of morning, although there are already cyclists heading up from the valley.
A quick transit of Idaho Springs brings us to the second (or is it the third?) challenge of the Permanent: Omigod Road, offering seven miles of dirt, mainly climbing:
It is actually a well-engineered and well-maintained road, eminently rideable in dry conditions. The switchbacks and terrain-hugging curvature are poetic, as you look back to assess your efforts thus far:
It's definitely mining country: an old site graced by aspens at peak color:
At the summit, a reminder that, yes, "Rd 279" (Omigod) actually goes somewhere (in particular, where we are aiming for!):
Mining sites abound on the descent:
... forming a quiet backdoor gateway into Central City - no gambler traffic to be seen:After the plunge through Central City and Blackhawk, and the six mile climb back up, the sweeping Peak-to-Peak Highway has more good vistas to offer:
The stop at the Rollinsville Store checkpoint was affable - the store proprietor a mountain biker who appreciated that the route climbed Omigod Road ... and could understand why I was no longer exactly "fresh." At this point in the afternoon, the climb *up* to Coal Creek Canyon and the descent through along the wooded canyon is fairly quiet and rustic.

Then ... what a contrast, exiting the mouth of the canyon and those hours of wooded mountain travel, to find yourself suddenly on the vast and treeless windswept plains across Rocky Flats:
And yet, not without that final climb up Indiana Rd.

Mile for mile, one of the highest "quality" routes I've ridden. Climbs and great scenery succeed one another with very little interlude. And you can count on quiet, backroads conditions for much of the distance.

Do this one if you can before snows close in! Or plan to ramp up for a treat next spring.


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