Geek's Guide to Colorado.

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by Geek, Mar 8, 2010.

  1. Bell47Pilot

    Bell47Pilot MonkeyButt

    Nov 3, 2009
    Sunnyside o the grass for now
    I'm in! Gotta get the knobbies on the VTX:rofl
    Ummm, may have to bring the KLR.....
  2. Geek

    Geek oot & aboot

    Jun 8, 2003

    The VTX would be fun for some of it! :freaky

  3. Holaday

    Holaday Man of Leisure

    Sep 4, 2006
    Vancouver's North Shore, B.C.
    I've been looking for something like this. I plan to visit Colorado in 2011. Could you advise which rides are big bike doable.

    Thanks Blair :D
  4. gypsyrr

    gypsyrr in flux

    Oct 20, 2007
    OOOOOO, I'm IN!! you had me hooked when I saw the map! I like maps.
  5. Charla

    Charla Tamalamian

    Feb 25, 2007
    I hope you all appreciate this effort since Geek is very likey to be banished by the natives now that he's leaking all the good info. :lol3

    Good thing I'm not a native. :lurk
  6. Geek

    Geek oot & aboot

    Jun 8, 2003
    Ok.. I've got a few minutes.

    I think I made a mistake in jumping right to the San Juans (I like 'em so much I couldn't wait to talk about them :D) so please let me back the bus up for a few minutes and assume you know NOTHING about Colorado.

    ...then we'll get back to the San Juans :evil

    Some COLORADO fundamentals:

    Colorado's highest mountains are just over 14,000 feet high.
    The highest mountain in Colorado is Mt. Elbert and it is 14,433 feet.

    Mt. Elbert - 14,433 feet. To give you an idea of scale the trees stop at about 11,000 feet so the snow cap above them is about 3000 feet (over 1/2 mile) higher! This photo would be taken from the highway north of Buena Vista and south of Leadville at about 8500 feet.
    Here's a photo I took in November 2007 of my R90 near that same location (but looking soutwest instead of due west
    - i.e. the right edge of this photo is the left edge of the photo above)


    There are 53 (or 54) peaks in total in Colorado that are 14,000+ feet. In Colorado they are referred to as Fourteeners. Some times this number varies a little depending on your definition of 14er - there are actually more peaks above 14,000 feet but they must have at least an 800 foot drop until the next peak otherwise its considered the same peak. Because of this some people say there are more (and some people say 500 foot drop, etc).

    To give you an idea of how many this is:
    Alaska has twenty one.
    Canada has fifteen fourteeners.
    California has twelve peaks over 14,000ft .
    Mexico has eight.
    Washington has two.

    Texas doesn't have any (or 13ers, or 12ers, or 11ers, or 10ers, or... :D )

    Colorado also has plenty of peaks over 13,000 feet (some that are just inches short of being 14ers) and in fact has 637 peaks over 13,000 feet! California has 147, Alaska 41, etc.

    So there is good reason Colorado is considered the "Rocky Mountain State"!

    So how high is that? Pretty freakin high. People don't belong at 14,000 feet and it can only be tolerated for short times (more on that later).

    Denver, the mile high city is indeed a mile high (approx 5,281 ft high).
    So if you have been to denver and looked out at the 3 largest peaks you can see from there - Pikes Peak to the south, Mount Evans due west, and Longs Peak to the north - all of those peaks are around 9,000 ft higher than you are... and you are already 5000 ft higher than florida :D

    Colorado has two sides:

    If you look at a map.. you will see I25 runs north-south.
    In Colorado we consider everything west of I25 to be "Colorado" and everything east of I25 to be "Kansas". :D
    Its remarkable really.. as you come across the plains of Eastern Colorado from the East you cross I25 and then you run smack into a range of mountains we call the Front Range.

    Eastern Colorado is usually snow free year around and offer's a different flavor of adventure...
    it's where I head to ride in the winter when everything higher is under snow.


    The Front Range runs the entire length of Colorado from top to bottom parallel with Interstate 25.
    MOST Coloradans live in the Front Range (i.e. in the little strip of prairie at the foot of those Front Range Mountains.
    This is where Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs, etc are all located... along the Front Range Mountains.

    As soon as you leave the Front Range and head west you start climbing up and the air starts getting thinner...

    To give you an idea of the scale of things.. to drive from Denver in the front Range to the San Juans takes about seven hours (real world time).
    That's because there is a fairly open, non-mountainous route you can take across the state.
    But keep in mind once you are in the San Juans it could take you hours to go just a few miles!
    The terrain will slow you down.

    The famous ski resort towns you've likely heard of (Vail, Breckenridge, Loveland, Keystone, etc) are all in/around Summit County.
    You can go from Denver to Summit County in just over an hour on a weekday.. but the trip from Summit County to Denver can take you half a day if you try doing it on a Sunday afternoon when everyone in Denver is headed home from the mountains! :eek1

    Mt. Elbert (the highest peak) and Mt. Massive (the second highest peak) are both near the town of Leadville if you look at a map.
    Situated at an elevation of 10,152 feet (3094 m), Leadville is the highest incorporated city and the second highest incorporated municipality in the United States.

    I need to side track a moment about the air getting thinner...

    ALTITUDE = THIN AIR = Potential Problems!

    Why is it important?

    If you have never been up high, you need to know one basic rule:
    There is no freakin air up there. :D

    At 14,000 feet there is as little as 40% of the atmosphere left above you! :eek1

    The higher you go:
    Your bike will run worse.
    Your brain will run worse.
    Your body will run worse.

    If you come to Colorado from someplace like Dallas (430 ft) or Atlanta (1000 ft) or Milwaukee (617 ft), you are going to find the air noticeably thinner in Denver and the Front Range cities at 5000 feet. You will have less energy.. you'll feel "drained".

    8000 feet is considered the beginning of HIGH Altitude.
    12,000 feet is considered the beginning of VERY HIGH Altitude.
    14,000 feet is considered an extreme altitude.

    Once you get above say 8000 feet it will start having a real physical impact on your movement. You might find you lose your breath even walking up a slight slope, you might not.. depending on your level of fitness.

    When you get above 10,000 feet you really start to feel it. Tree line in Colorado is anywhere from 10,500 feet to 12,000 feet (north to south). What does that mean? It means there is not enough oxygen above that altitude for ANY trees to survive :eek1

    So imagine how you'll feel up there...

    ...and then you start getting into "extreme elevations" like 12,000, 13,000 and even 14,000 feet and you can imagine the impact on you. These altitudes can literally kill you if you aren't careful.

    Generalized Hypoxia occurs in HEALTHY people when they ascend to high altitudes and it can lead to things like altitude sickness, high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). This stuff can kill you. I dunno the official rules but my rule of thumb is any time I'm above 10,000 feet I pay attention to my body for signs of altitude sickness. If you live closer to sea level you might want to start keeping an eye out any time you are above 8000 feet or so.. as your body will not be as acclimatized. Be aware if you start to develop a severe headache or feel nauseous and weak.

    For more information on Altitude I highly recommend you read this:
    and this:

    I personally don't see a rhyme or reason to how my body handles the altitude. I'll be up at 13,000 feet one day and start getting a migraine and seeing dark circles. Then I'll be at 13,000 the next day and feel great. When I don't feel well or start getting a headache I do NOT hesitate and I head back down. Sometimes as little as a few hundred feet of altitude can make a huge difference on how you feel.

    Lecture over.. just be careful. When you are low on Oxygen you can make some stupid decisions and in Colorado (and on some of these trails I'm about to share!) these decisions can cost you your life.

    I took this photo of Ironbrewer on the top of Mount Bross on his KLR. The mountain he is facing is another 14er called Mount Lincoln - the 8th highest point in Colorado at 14,286 ft! I experienced vision problems and concentration problems at this altitude and we had to head back down... quickly!


    One last thing about altitude: If you are of fair descent like my Canadian arse that means you'll get TOASTED by the sun in a matter of a few minutes when you are up high. Wear sun screen and cover up. I can't tell you how many times I've been up high, pulled my helmet off for a few minutes, and found my naked noggin toasted like a lobster.

    Yeah I'm bald :D


    Back to the San Juans :evil


    DADODIRT Long timer

    Jun 25, 2004
    Durango,CO(not quite Purgatory)
    Nice start.
    Your map confused me at first. North is towards the bottom of the page!

    Did you guys find the sky hook when you were stopped above Telluride on Black Bear?
    If you are scared of heights, it might not be for you.
  8. Geek

    Geek oot & aboot

    Jun 8, 2003
    Yeah I'm familiar with it and NO FREAKING WAY do I want anything to do with it... :lol3
  9. CA Stu

    CA Stu Master of air potatofication Super Moderator

    Aug 27, 2004
    Riverside, CA
    Does spending a couple of nights acclimatizing at intermediate elevation (i.e. Durango, Ouray) before venturing up to the highest peaks and passes mitigate the effects somewhat?

    CA Stu
  10. skier

    skier genius or insanity?

    Jun 6, 2007
    Durango/Silverton, Colorado
    I've skied Corkscrew 6 or 7 times this Winter, the last time being 10 days ago. My snow depth measurements ranged from 155-310cm (62-122 inches) so it will be a little while until I go back on my 990
  11. enduro-ince

    enduro-ince dirtslave

    Jul 14, 2004
    Placerville Co.



    Great idea Geek!! I already see some glaring mistakes though.:D
    Plan on me disagreeing with pretty much anything you say about the SJ's, I'll have people so confused they will just skip the SJ's and hit the front range instead!!!

    Great pictures BTW!!!:freaky
  12. Bluesjammer

    Bluesjammer Adventurer

    Oct 21, 2006
    Hey Geek, this is GREAT!!!!!!!! Colorado is one of my 2 dream locations, AK the other. I've been Wingin it for years and I'm thinking of changing to a GS to take in the beautiful wild side. Please include if the rides are GS as well as 2 up friendly. I love this...... great photos by the way.

  13. acupuncture4u

    acupuncture4u Freedom by knobbies

    Sep 4, 2003
    Denver, Colorado
    Nice! The maps are very Nice! I'm in, I would buy the coffee table book too.:eek1 :spam
  14. Geek

    Geek oot & aboot

    Jun 8, 2003
    Good question Stu:

    Short Answer: Definitely.

    Everyone acclimatizes differently. Basically acclimatizing to high altitude is the process of your body generating more red blood cells to carry oxygen to your organs.

    My first week in Colorado... Lomax and Eaglefeather put me on a KLR and took me to the top of Mt. Evans over 14,000 feet. It was everything I could do to try and get a full breath up there :eek1

    It is fairly common for someone coming from sea level to have a bit of Altitude Sickness at 8000 feet. To put in in perspective how high you are at 8000... pilots are required to use oxygen above 10,000 feet. (edit: I've received notes from several pilots telling me my numbers are wrong - but the point is the same) So even though us Coloradan's are up over 12,000 feet all the time (one ride in one day I went over 12,000 feet 7 times), people from lower altitudes need to see how their body reacts to the altitude.

    Here is a bunch of detailed information on acclimatization:

    but here is the


    My recommendation is that a visitor do lower things first and then in the later days of your vacation try for the higher stuff. If you are planning to ride some of the epic 13,000 foot passes (Imogene or Mosquito - more on those later), leave them to the end of your trip.

    Build up.

    Also.. there are two "automobile routes" in Colorado that can take you up to 14,000 feet. One is Mount Evans (the highest paved road in america) and the other is the world famous Pikes Peak (which is now about 50% paved and 50% dirt road). Both of these are in the front range.

    The cool thing about those two routes is you can get up (and down) them in a relatively short time if you want to see how you feel up high.

    It might be an idea to go and spend a few hours up on Pikes or on Evans when you first arrive and see how you feel. I would recommend however, you don't just sit around up there.. do something to get your heart pumping. If you go up Evans, do the last 200 foot climb on foot to the very top. THAT will give you a real feeling for how hard it is to breath up there.. and then think about what it will be like riding a motorcycle in full gear over rough terrain.

    If you have no problems you are good to go...
    If it gives you pause for thought.. then you need to acclimatize some more and plan accordingly.

    Here I am with Wayne Weber at 14,110 feet on Pikes Peak. This is after I'd lived in Colorado for about a year. Wayne is a Colorado native and thought nothing of the thin air. I was functional but I could not have sprinted 50 yards.


    My first time riding actual technical offroad above 12,000 feet... I was a beat dog. Of course the fact that I was on a VT500 Ascot "street bike" with shaft drive probably didn't help :lol3
  15. Geek

    Geek oot & aboot

    Jun 8, 2003
    Hi Tom,

    If you are feeling like it, please feel free to PM me mistakes so I can learn from them (and then I'll make corrections if I see a need to not confuse the flat landers :D )

  16. machinebuilder

    machinebuilder Long timer

    Jun 6, 2008
    East Tennessee
    Great idea for a report, I have been out there several times and completely agree with how you are emphasizing the altitude.

    I can remember around 25 years ago trying to walk from the lift at A Basin and resting after 10 ft.

  17. Greenflyfarmer

    Greenflyfarmer I'm better now.

    May 9, 2007
    Hungry Mother, Virginia
    This is great. I had a time in CO last summer and I can't wait to get back this summer! The big bike route tips will help with my 990.
  18. bodhizafa

    bodhizafa How hard can it be?

    Jan 6, 2010
    Louisville, Co.
    I need to subscribe to this......just bought an adventure bike + I live in + win :D
  19. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

    Dec 31, 2006
    Blount Springs, AL
    Thank you Geek. :thumb
  20. pyrate

    pyrate Walking the plank

    Mar 10, 2007
    Heading to CO in July so this is prefect timing. I hope the locals leave you alone for a bit so I can get some cool tips. :bow

    I like maps too! :deal
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