Tree lined roads up the Empire Pass
This has been a great season for some fall rides and taking in all of the beauty of Utah. The race season for me has been over for about a month now, and I have just been spending my time enjoying the beautiful colors up in the mountains. Over the last month, I have ventured up to Guardsmans pass quite a few times via Big Cottonwood canyon. I also was able to ride the Empire Pass climb a few weeks ago, which has become famous around here locally due to the Tour of Utah’s 2012 final stage where Levi Leipheimer destroyed the field and won the stage.
Levi Leipheimer on the attack in the final stage of the Tour of Utah.
The Empire pass is a six mile climb from Midway up to the Junction from Guardsmans pass down into Deer Valley. If you are coming over from the Big Cottonwood side of Guardsman’s, you can drop into either Deer Valley or Midway, creating quite a few fun options for rides. Twice this fall I was able to ride up over Guardsmans’ via Big C, the first time I dropped into Deer Valley, then rode home via Emigration Canyon. Yesterday I tried another route and went through Midway then down Provo Canyon and up over Alpine Loop and Suncrest.
Moose up in the Aspen groves of Empire Pass towards the top.
Angela and I were able to watch the final stage of the Tour of Utah this year, we walked down from the Junction to what we thought was the steepest part of the climb. The steepest part was actually about .5 miles further down, where the pitches exceeded 20 percent. We were able to watch Levi soon after he initiated his break on Rory Sutherland and got to run along side Jens Voigt and all the great riders up close with no one else around. It was an amazing time and such a great way to view the stage, completely different than the conjested Tanners Flat on the Queen stage of the Tour of Utah.
I had been excited to ride the Empire Pass for a while and finally got the opportunity to do this a few weeks ago. Thankfully I swapped out my rear wheel for Angelas, which has a 32 tooth sprocket (the same that Levi and Alberto Contador have recently used on the super steep stages). I wasn’t sure if it would work with my Dura Ace 7900 but it ended up working fine. I drove over Guardsmans and dropped into Midway so that I could ride up and then coast back down, my thinking was I would rather have my car at the bottom than the top in case I had some kind of mechanical, it would be easier to coast down then walk up to the top.
Empire pass was all that it was cracked up to be and more. The climb seems to have some rollers in the beginning but immediately ramps up to 13-15% grades on the earlier parts, then has about 4-5 sustained sections that have 20% grades. About 3 miles into the climb it relents slightly, still steep but not quite as bad as some of the earlier sections. The 32 tooth sprocket was perfect, I am a decent climber but I really couldn’t have imagined doing it in a 28 (or my usual 25 for that matter). I can’t imagine getting stuck on that thing with smaller gears and having to try to walk up it in cleated shoes.
The ride is also very beautiful, lined on both sides of the road with beautiful trees all the way up the climb. When you get closer to the top you find yourself in a huge aspen grove with some cabins. I also saw a family of Moose wandering around. About 6 miles and 3000 ft after the base you’ll come up on the Guardsman Junction where you can continue up to the past or make a right hand turn and head into Deer Valley. Coming down the Empire pass is nearly as tricky and uncomfortable as going up, you are riding the brakes most of the way down and the road is pretty bumpy. It’s not something that could be raced down.
Sandy to Guardsmans, Park City and Emigration Canyon
The top of Guardsmans pass, the gravel is now packed enough to ride over easily on a road bike.
On Saturday September 22 I rode my bike up over Guardsmans and took the Deer Valley route, it was a twisty and beautiful road. This was the route of the last portion of the final stage of the Tour of Utah which Levi won. It was a warm day and I was able to go over the top without getting too cold, and by the time I came into Park City the weather was great, probably in the 80s. I took the frontage road and then at Jeremy Ranch i had to get onto the freeway to get down to Mt Dell golf course, where I could climb over the back side of Emigration Canyon and then down into the valley and home. The entire ride took me about 4 and 3/4 hours for 75 miles.
Guardsmans to Midway via Empire Pass, then Alpine Loop and Suncrest
This was probably the biggest ride that I have done on my own outside of a race, and definitely the one with the most climbing that I have done ever with over 10,000 feet of climbing. I must admit I really thought it would be the equivalent of the Guardsman/Emi loop in both mileage and cimbing, but this ended up being about 20 miles longer. I knew it was going to be a cold one, figuring here in the valley the temps would be about 42 degrees when I left and probably in the high 20′s or low 30′s at the top of Guardmans (9600ft). Originally I planned to wear a jacket, leg warmers and a headband, but ended up ditching pretty much all of that save for some arm warmers, under shirt and cold weather gloves.
I felt pretty good going up the climb, keeping warm just because of the effort I was putting out. My arms felt a bit chilly at times but I was certain I could drop down into Midway and warm up. On the climb up Big Cottonwood, i tried to pace myself but also felt like I had a good rhythmn. I put on one of my Mixes which helped get me into my groove and I reached the top in just over 1 hr 34 minutes which was my best time and moved me up a bit on the Strava leaderboard for Big C and Guardsmans. At the top I didn’t bother to stop other than to take out my headphones, not wanting to get cold.
Coming down felt pretty good, a little cold but the problem about riding down Empire Pass in the cold is you can’t pedal so your core temp is dropping as you try to navigate the steep turns and rough road, and your jersey and bib are cold and wet. By the time I reached the bottom, I was shivering cold and couldn’t tell how warm it was in Midway. I still had a bunch of descending to do and coudln’t warm up so I found a place to grab lunch, figuring it would be good to get some food in me as well as warm up. I wen’t to a little burger joint called “Timp Freeze” and ordered a good old fashioned burger and fries, which tasted great despite my shivering. I had some fun conversations with some of the people in the restaurant, one of which was a nice middle aged lady particularly concerned about how cold I was with her motherly instinct. Eventually I was able to warm up, at least to the point where my teeth weren’t chattering. I got on my bike and pedaled fast so that I could warm up.
Most of the ride from here on out was enjoyable and warmer, I tried to keep my pace high and had fun counting off the feet climbed. I rode past Deer Creek and ran into a pretty bad headwind coming down Provo Canyon. When I got into AF canyon I put my headphones back on and started the climb. I felt pretty good, at least thats how I ‘felt’, but my Strava time put me pretty far back. It took me an hour to get from the base to the top and when I dropped down the other side it was very cold so I just tried to keep pedaling in every spot that I could. When I came out of the Canyon I only had one short climb left, but the headwind took its toll on me and I started to crash. I stopped halfway up and ate a gel shot and Honey Stinger waffle, which helped me get to the other side and then I felt really good finishing up the ride.
It was a great time and I am glad I had the opportunity to do this ride. It feels good to have the fitness to pull off a ride of that much climbing, and feeling good both during the ride and after.