Sunday, June 10, 2018

Guanella Pass Gambol Permanent # 3546

I had the privilege of the inaugural ride of John Lee Ellis’s Guanella Pass Gambol Permanent. Since the forecast was for near record heat in Denver, I chose to go into the mountains for a little respite. The course starts in Downieville, heads to Georgetown, and then climbs over Guanella Pass to Grant, CO and returns on the same route.

Being on out-and-back route, you get to climb Guanella Pass from both sides, so the climbing is essentially covered in the first 45 miles of the ride.

I chose to park in the east end of the parking lot, next to the Starbucks, but used the Downieville Fuel Stop Sinclair next door as my start and finish check points. The “wildlife” viewing started immediately .

The route starts with a gentle climb to Georgetown, on quiet roads with a bike lane. The approach to Georgetown may be gentle, but one can already get a feel for the climbing to come looking across Georgetown lake toward the gap that is Guanella Gap.

Georgetown is a historic district with a quaint style which even includes the local post office.

The climb begins quickly with steep switch backs that produce a nice view of Georgetown which reward you for your efforts.

As Guanella Pass is not maintained during the winter, weather conditions can close the pass and it is advised to check the weather forecast and CDOT website to insure safe passage.

There are many beautiful water falls and rivers flowing next to the road to help distract you from the relentless climb.

A multitude of flowers also make the scenery and the climb breathtaking.

On the day of my ride, there were many many cars parked at the summit, so hikers could explore Mount Bierstadt and the plethora of trails in the area.

The descent down to Grant was smooth, quick and easy, but the enjoyment was tempered by my knowledge that I would be retracing my steps on the climb back toward Guanella Pass on the way home.

Although Grant is little more than a few houses on Hwy 285, I was able to feast on a pulled pork sandwich and rehydrate before returning to climbing.

Services are limited in this area, so I advise stocking up on liquid at the start and again at either Al’s Pit Barbecue (open only Fridays thru Sundays) or the Jerky stand just down the road from Al’s. Apparently they are both operated by the same group, but the Jerky stand is open almost everyday.

The climb up the south side of Guanella Pass is shorter than that from Georgetown, but also quieter. Since ninety-five percent of the climbing on this ride is encountered in the first 45 miles, I was getting worried about finishing on time. However, once the top of the pass is reached, its all down hill back to Downieville and this gave me the opportunity to make up time and finish successfully.

I did take time on the descent to make the most of the opportunity to enjoy the sighting of a big horn sheep along side the road, but my attempts at closer photos proved he was rather camera shy.

The Guanella Pass Gambol is an outstanding permanent for those seeking a change in scenery, the challenge of a healthy dose of vertical climb, and the enjoyment of delicious barbecue !! I hope to repeat this ride again in the fall, as the changing colors of the leaves will add an additional grandeur to this ride!

- Paul Foley