oot & aboot
Joined: Jun 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 ) 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
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... )
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
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".
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!
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.
At 14,000 feet there is as little as 40% of the atmosphere left above you!
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
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:
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
Back to the San Juans
Geek screwed with this post 09-27-2010 at 04:39 PM