Komoot Journey of the Month No.11: Pikes Peak, Colorado

Komoot Journey of the Month No.11: Pikes Peak, Colorado

In a sequence put along with our buddies at komoot, we’re showcasing a few of our favorite rides from the UK and around the globe. This time we revisit our journey to Colorado to go to Pikes Peak, a bit of American historical past, a motorsport paradise and certainly one of biking’s finest saved secrets and techniques

Phrases Peter Stuart Pictures Geoff Waugh

It was fifteenth November 1806 when Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike first made sight of what he known as the ‘Grand Peak’. He estimated its top at 18,581ft, and speculated, ‘no man may have climbed to its pinical [sic]’.

It was in all probability the cruel winter, hostile natives and restricted provisions that discouraged him from climbing the mountain, as a lot as its otherworldly top (which is definitely a barely extra modest 14,111ft). However as my driving associate Charlie and I method Colorado Springs in our rent automotive and the large of Pikes Peak emerges on the horizon, we are able to sympathise with Pike’s reluctance to labour to its huge, naked summit.

Whereas Colorado is just not wanting mountains, Pikes Peak has a heritage that makes it distinct from the remainder of the state’s 53 ‘fourteeners’ (mountains surpassing 14,000ft). The annual Worldwide Hill Climb, a world-renowned occasion on the motorsport calendar, has performed an vital half in that mythology. All the things from GT racecars to basic sidecar bikes go to all year long to arrange for the annual 20km race.

It’s seen numerous heroic makes an attempt at breakneck pace up its slopes and thru the 156 corners on the course, with the present file common pace of 145.27kmh held by champion rally driver Sebastien Loeb, and maybe essentially the most visually spectacular run of all time by Ari Vatanen in 1988 when a lot of the observe remained gravel (see it on YouTube).

Komoot Journey of the Month No.11: Pikes Peak, Colorado

For cyclists, although, entry to the climb has traditionally been restricted to a single organised race per 12 months. That was till 2013 when the authorities opened the Pikes Peak Freeway to cyclists all 12 months spherical.

As bike climbs go, Pikes Peak may be very lengthy certainly. Ranging from the small city of Manitou Springs, the highway rises 2,361m over 40km, with solely an 800m lengthy false flat for reduction roughly midway up. The typical gradient is 7%, and the summit sits at 4,301m of altitude.

It’s the second highest paved highway within the US, a couple of metres wanting the neighbouring Mount Evans. When it comes to steady ascent, although, Pikes Peak is essentially the most testing climb on provide in Colorado and as I’m about to search out out, one of the vital difficult and unbelievable climbs on earth.

The Colossus of Colorado

When Pike first noticed the mountain he was 120 miles away, and thought it to be a distant blue cloud. ‘It was so outstanding as to be recognized to all of the savage nation for tons of of miles round,’ he wrote, and that’s no marvel.

After we catch sight of it, it’s an excellent 10 minutes earlier than we settle our personal cloud vs mountain debate. As soon as we deem it to be the latter, we’re sure it may’t be Pikes Peak. Certainly no highway may go up such a desolate, gigantic mountainside?

Time makes fools of us all, and as we arrive in Manitou Springs to start the climb it’s clear that the mountain is certainly Pikes Peak. The city itself may have been plucked from a Common Studios movie set, with picket homes and fairground rides. It merely doesn’t appear actual.

As we unpack the automotive, a handful of cyclists shoot by. I handle to cease one – a professional rider for Group Poc Ritte – to quiz him on the climb.

‘You guys heading up Pike?’ he asks with some shock. We nod nervously. ‘Ah man, it sucks!’ he laughs. ‘It’s horrible – 10% for kilometre after kilometre, it simply retains on going. I didn’t have time to go as much as the highest at this time, which is a disgrace. A lot ache. You’ll find it irresistible.’

After this we’re unsure whether or not he’s a fan of the climb or not, however we’re inspired both approach. We set off on our bikes and start our endeavour to achieve the ‘pinical’ of the Grand Peak.

There’s just one approach up Pikes Peak – a single highway that leads solely to the highest, and so at this time’s trip will probably be an out-and-back route. It might appear somewhat unimaginative, however with 40km of climbing at a 7% common, at stratospheric altitude, we’re completely happy to maintain issues as simple as doable.

The highway to the summit, the Pikes Peak Freeway, is the jewel of the area in driving phrases. The highway was in-built 1887 purely to permit thrillseekers simpler entry to the summit. For over a century it was largely gravel, and it wasn’t till 2011 that it was lastly paved all the way in which to the highest.

To get to the Freeway, although, we are going to journey alongside the principle highway by means of the valley. On paper a highway of this measurement seems to be somewhat uninviting for cyclists, nevertheless it’s not with out its charms.

Charlie and I set off on a straightforward 5% gradient, previous ranch-like homes with white picket fences, and as Manitou Avenue leaves city and begins to climb into the hillsides, jagged crimson rocks teeter over the highway.

Towards the deep blue of at this time’s sky it seems to be like a backdrop from a basic western film. I peer again at Manitou Springs, nestled on the base of a huddle of peaks, and if it weren’t for the hum of automobiles I’m sure the scene would have been precisely the identical a century in the past.

The highway skirts above a gorge earlier than passing by means of a tunnel and onto Route 24. Now, if I noticed a highway of this measurement within the UK there’s merely no approach I’d trip it, however within the US this six-lane freeway is a mere countryside bypass.

The roadside is lined with fluorescent ‘Share the Street’ biking consciousness indicators, so pick-up vehicles and 18-wheelers cross with shocking restraint. Plus, the rocky valley surroundings and undulating highway makes it greater than definitely worth the buzz of site visitors.

After a gradual and steep 5 kilometres we attain Cascade and switch onto a quieter lane that leads us to the Pikes Peak Freeway, the place the few automobiles on the highway are restricted to a 25mph most pace. I’m full of an unsettling tingle of each concern and pleasure.

A 15% ramp welcomes us to the Freeway and we’re each compelled straight into our lowest gears. We’re already at an altitude of roughly 2,500m – near the peak of the Col du Galibier – and I can really feel a weak spot in my legs as my lungs appear to be inhaling pre-used air. 

We make our approach in direction of the Pikes Peak tollbooth and cruise by means of with the smug assumption that our two-wheeled standing grants us free entry to the freeway. 

‘Cease!’ comes a shout from shut behind us. We come to a startled halt.

‘There’s a charge for bikes, boys,’ says a lady in a brown Parks Authority uniform who has simply emerged from the picket sales space.

Charlie and I do our greatest to muster the mandatory money, however find yourself a couple of {dollars} quick. Our affected person park ranger isn’t prepared to haggle, so we look ahead to photographer Geoff to reach to bail us out.

As soon as by means of the toll, it’s clear that we’ve entered the realms of a nationwide park. Pine timber and junipers encompass us, with thick mountainous forest smothering the land forward. Contemplating the park is house to bears, rattlesnakes and mountain lions, it feels curious that somebody first got down to create a highway to nowhere by means of this wilderness.

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Towards the altitude

For these of us endearingly known as ‘sea ranges’ by locals, reaching the highest of Pikes Peak might be unimaginable. It’s not even a matter of health. Just a few days in the past I rode in Boulder at across the 3,000m mark, and after two hours of completely bearable driving I got here undone.

First got here a headache, then a whole lack of power, nausea and at last a bout of hiccups that I couldn’t shake for hours. I completed the trip, nevertheless it was a couple of days earlier than I felt again to full power. That baptism of high-altitude fireplace has made me absolutely conscious of at this time’s problem.

With that in thoughts, we went to lengths to refit each bikes with compact chainsets. One in every of our key techniques for a climb of this magnitude is to discover a rhythm at a low depth, so we spin alongside across the 12kmh mark. I do know that as much as 20kmh could be doable on these 7% inclines, however I additionally know that we’ve got a number of hours of uninterrupted ascent forward.

After 4km on the freeway we discover ourselves scaling the sting of a mountainside the place pine timber fall away from the steep banks of the highway. These early foothills are house to essentially the most energetic wildlife, the place the sound of mountain streams enhances the valleys and creeks that line the highway.

Simply as I’m settling into a mild tempo and absorbing the views, the highway rises to savage gradients between 15% and 20% for a couple of hundred metres. The highway curves across the cliff edge forward and we pray that the gradient doesn’t persist, as we’re compelled into energy-sapping out-of-the-saddle efforts to take care of momentum.

As soon as we crest the steep shelf of the mountain highway, the gradient eases and the thick forest briefly separates to offer a glimpse of the summit, which appears a really nice distance away, and a good distance up.

We’re quickly on the method to Crystal Creek Reservoir, the place we take pleasure in our solely respite from the climb – an 800m descent – adopted by a quick freewheel over the flat highway that cuts throughout the reservoir, because the open plain gives a uncommon glimpse of the lengthy highway forward.

Life within the mountains

After we hit the three,000m mark, the concept of 1,300m of climbing nonetheless to come back appears virtually past comprehension, and we start to note a dramatic transition within the mountain surroundings. The luscious greens of the foothills have given method to the arid, sandy panorama that dominates the summit, and it feels as if we’re travelling throughout continents in a matter of kilometres.

There’s a fragile and complicated sample of life on the mountain. The bottom stage is called the foothills zone, which we left as quickly as we joined the toll highway. From there, we’ve been within the midst of the montane zone, which winds as much as 10,000ft (3,050m).

Right here there’s a wealthy ecosystem of untamed flowers, junipers and pine timber, with beavers, elk, black bears and mountain lions for firm – not that we’ve noticed any but. Above that, we enter the sub-alpine zone. Timber can nonetheless develop at this altitude however, as we climb, wildlife turns into sparse within the absence of water and air.

The timber nearest the highest of this zone develop skinny, tall and infrequently are deformed – generally known as flag timber. Past this, you enter the moonscape.

The alpine zone of Pikes Peak, which begins above us at 11,500ft (3,500m), is the place no timber dare to develop. It’s a barren and naked terrain, with few animals, low temperatures and sparse air. It’s a desert.

To date we’ve ridden solely 26km, but we’ve been on the highway for over two hours. As we swing across the subsequent hairpin we’re confronted with the steepest ramp of the day – a 20% stint lasting 300m. The altitude is de facto starting to take its toll. It feels as if I’m respiratory from a half-inflated balloon.

Charlie has misplaced all impetus for dialog and has sweat flooding from his face. Geoff, who has perched himself on the prime of the ramp, asks us to retrace the final 100m to get extra photographs, a suggestion that’s met with a steely stare from each of us.

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Pikes Peak isn’t simply lengthy – components of its 40km period are relentlessly steep as effectively, rising to 10% and persisting for kilometre after kilometre. At instances we climb within the data that we’ve got 20 minutes to go earlier than the gradient will let off, to not point out the a number of hours earlier than we’ll see flat highway once more.

But there’s an odd rhythm that comes with the climb, and the sensation that it extends indefinitely does away with the anticipation of nearing a summit. We simply work our approach up, metre by metre.

After a couple of troublesome spells we attain Glen Cove, the bodily separation between the sub-alpine and the alpine zones. The park authorities ask all descending automobiles to cease right here to test brake temperatures, as many burn out their brake pads navigating the numerous hairpins.

As soon as previous Glen Cove it feels as if we’ve set foot on Martian soil, accompanied by a transparent vista of the mountain. The distinction of the snow-capped Rockies within the distance and the huge, flat Colorado plains is like an altitude-induced hallucination.

The temperature has dropped, snow is lining the highway, and the wind has picked up. Forward, the jagged, ruthless fringe of the mountain challenges us to proceed. The reservoir we handed an hour in the past is a faint blue speck beneath us. But the mountain forward nonetheless appears insurmountable – practically a vertical kilometre above us. 

From right here, the highway turns into a maze of switchbacks, overlapping and adorning the uncovered mountainside. The chilly breeze appears to attract all the heat from my physique, and I scramble for a pair of armwarmers.

After we attain a degree that’s lower than 10km to the summit with 750 vertical metres nonetheless to ascend, I know the climb will take one other hour. The uninteresting throb of an altitude headache is encroaching, and my palms and ft have begun to tingle.

I’m full of a newfound respect for the finely tuned respiratory techniques of professional riders, in distinction to my substandard sea-level lungs. Only some days earlier than our journey, Robert Gesink ascended this mountain.

He recorded the quickest ever ascent of two hours and 11 minutes, taking 10 minutes off US Professional rider LeRoy Popowski’s longstanding file, at a median pace slightly below 18kmh. We’re struggling to take care of half that. In all honesty, I don’t know if I’ll end.

Into the useless zone

The summit escapes our view as we ascend the higher ridges of the mountain. As we spherical every nook we pray for the height to pop into view. No such luck – every crest reveals a set of peaks forward of it. Regardless of my lungs working extra time, my legs provide solely a limp response, and my coronary heart feels as if it’s going to quickly pound itself clear out of my chest.

The gradient gives no reduction; nor does the wind, which saps our ahead momentum. I’m counting down every pedal stroke. We roll as much as Geoff who’s standing subsequent to the automotive, signaling for us to cease.

‘I’m not looping again!’ Charlie shouts in protest, however Geoff shakes his head. He factors to his chest and explains that he’s experiencing some regarding pains, and given a historical past of coronary heart hassle he can go no additional. The remainder of this account, then, you’ll have to take my phrase for, as a result of there are not any pictures of it.

We now have a view of the ultimate climb – a mountain in itself. We’re just under 4,000m of altitude, and forward are three peaks. The center one, and highest, I imagine to be the top of the climb. Charlie stops to drag an power gel from his rear pocket, as a pleasant driver yells,

‘Not giving up now are you, associate?’ to which he receives a muffled animalistic roar from Charlie. The driving force smiles awkwardly earlier than dashing off.

With a robust need to flee the altitude, I resolve to empty the tank and trip flat out. With every minute that passes, I’m tempted to get off the bike and catch my breath, however I’m all too conscious that up right here, the skinny air will do little to replenish my reserves. As one other crest comes into view forward, I pray the summit sits past it. 

Of all my experiences in biking, the ultimate ascent to Pikes Peak is undoubtedly essentially the most surreal. I’ve taken the final nook and the summit lies forward. The wind is brutal, and at 4,300m there’s nothing to shelter us.

I’m dizzy, with solely a faint psychological grip on the job at hand. With the wind blowing sand throughout the highway and the solar blazing in opposition to tarmac and snow, the summit is sort of a distant mirage, and I really feel as if I’m biking to the sting of the world.

I pour all of my power into the cranks however I can barely make them rotate, even because the gradient eases. However I do know I’m shut.

Again to life 

After I attain the flat gravel of the summit, I’m full of a deep elation that I’m positive I’ll by no means really feel once more – little question amplified by my oxygen deprivation. My Garmin tells me I’ve climbed for 3 hours and half-hour. I’m on the sting of tears.

From right here, in opposition to the peaks of the Rockies, the Nice Plains in furthest sight sit two vertical miles beneath us. The view stretches out a really good distance certainly. It’s, in a phrase, humbling.

As Charlie arrives, I’m nonetheless feeling no reduction from the tingling in my palms and ft, nor my dizziness, and decide to descend to extra considerable air. Charlie is raring to seize a espresso, assured that the break will alleviate his numb palms. With out getting into into debate, and in a primal survival mode, I go away him to it.

If I have been in possession of my colleges, this might be essentially the most terrifying descent of my life. I’m shaking violently from the chilly because the wind batters me from left to proper throughout the highway – a lot so oncoming automobiles are coming to a cease for concern of coinciding with my erratic line.

Sheer drops on both facet of the highway plunge down tons of of metres. There’s no air, so no air resistance – and the pace surges uncontrollably.

As soon as I’ve dropped a couple of hundred metres, Charlie catches up, and I realise that with 40km of uninterrupted downhill, on clean Nationwide Park tarmac, this can be a descent to recollect. As I’m quickly to find, whereas descents are sometimes thought-about a reward for the climb, such language wouldn’t do the descent from Pike justice – it’s an odyssey in itself.

With somewhat extra oxygen and some extra levels of heat ebbing into our our bodies, we roll alongside the jagged mountain highway. Winding across the first hairpin, although, I start to search out my ft, and my legs return to a touch of their sea-level power. Urgent on the cranks, the pace catapults to 60kmh.

Descending on these roads is as scary as it’s beautiful, with a panoramic view unveiling itself at each hairpin. One second we’re going through the sheer snowy face of the mountain, and a second later we appear to be driving into skinny air and blue skies as we plunge down into the tree line.

The descent is open, even the place timber crowd the roadside, and a braver rider may sort out this highway at motorsport tempo.

As soon as we crest the incline at Crystal Creek, we start the quickest a part of the descent, the place the gradient touches on 20%. I’m positive I spot my Garmin flutter to 90kmh and instantly I’m petrified that the shadow of a tree might conceal a pothole.

Fortunately, the floor is immaculate, and we cruise by means of undisturbed. With a few automobiles forward, I ease off barely as Charlie shoots in entrance, weaving daringly round hairpins at a pace that leaves me somewhat unsettled.

We reconvene on the picket tollbooth and I’m drenched with sweat. We shoot down the freeway to Manitou Springs with not a touch of the intimidation we skilled a couple of hours earlier, now simply conserving tempo with the site visitors. Winding our approach off the freeway and thru a gorge onto Manitou Avenue, we discover ourselves safely again in Manitou Springs – exhilarated and exhausted. 

It’s baffling to suppose that we’ve travelled such a comparatively quick distance for a day’s driving, and alongside just one highway. It looks like an eon has handed since we left this morning. The highway as much as Pikes Peak might result in a useless finish on the summit, however to climb and descend the mountain has actually been an epic journey.

How we did it

The Toll Street

The Pikes Peak Freeway prices $15 per particular person to enter ($10 in winter) – test opening hours at pikespeak.us.com. Parking is obtainable in Manitou Springs. An annual biking hill climb race is held on the route we rode each August – go to coloradocycling.com for particulars.


We flew with US Airways from London Heathrow to Denver. Direct flights can price from as little as £500 within the low season. 


We stayed on the Resort Monaco in Denver, an ideal base for driving within the area. The resort is an 80-minute drive from Pikes Peak, nevertheless it gives fast entry to downtown Denver, and sits inside a number of blocks of Route 87, which opens up fast entry to northern or southern rides within the state. The resort gives a high-security bike lock-up from which employees will gather or deposit a motorcycle at any hour of the day. Go to monaco-denver.com for particulars.


An enormous thanks to Caley Fretz, then senior editor at Velo Journal, for recommendation on driving in Colorado and Pikes Peak, and for loaning us a Cannondale Synapse for the week. Additionally, due to Ryan Cannizzaro for lending us an Alchemy Helios for the climb.

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