Mercy Riders

Pushing pedals, pushing hope

Route Planning: Cottonwood Pass

cottonwoodSMThere’s been some concern among readers familiar with Cottonwood Pass about it’s inclusion in the route .  For those not fortunate enough to have experienced it, it’s one of the higher passes in Colorado, 12,100 ft at the summit, and takes you from near Crested Butte, up through the Taylor River Canyon, and down into Buena (that’s pronounced Byoo-na, according to the locals) Vista.  It has about 14 miles of unpaved on the west side of the summit, and absolutely spectacular scenery.

Greg, Bill, and Emil have all ridden this – on Day 1 of their first Ride the Rockies, only a few days after CDOT cleared the road and opened it for the season  – talk about a baptism by fire into riding in CO!  I’ve ridden it 4 times, all on a road bike, from west to east as part of Ride the Rockies or the Bike Tour of Colorado ( twice in lousy weather, which I don’t recommend).  Since I’m not the fastest or the strongest rider, I’m sure that if I can do it, any of the Mercy Riders can.  When the weather is good, Cottonwood Pass is one of my favorites.  The scenery is awesome, there’s a long (~27 mile) descent into Buena Vista,  and there’s less traffic than on  Monarch Pass, which is the alternative.  Even so, I wasn’t really planning to include it in the route until all three guys (Greg, Bill, Emil) expressed interest in doing it.

(from left) Greg, Bill, Emil and Barb

The bottom line is that it can be a “day before” kind of decision based on the weather forecast.  The paved alternative, Monarch Pass,  is a little (15-20 miles) longer, but is still a significant pass to get over (11.3K ft vs 12.1K ft).  The difficulty is less about the grade or altitude, but the fact that it’s unpaved makes the going a little slow .  I don’t think that it’s really much more difficult in terms of grade, altitude, or length than some of the other passes we ‘ll be doing in Colorado (Delores to Ridgway over Lizard Head Pass and Dallas Divide will be challenging, for example). Also, although the altitude will be lower, you may encounter steeper grades on passes in the eastern part of the country because they’re older routes, built before road building technology figured ways to mitigate such things. One other piece of trivia is that Cottonwood Pass, plus Independence Pass, another 12K ft killer, have made up the Queen’s Stage on the USA Pro Cycling Challenge the last two years. If you want to check out more information on riding in Colorado, I recommend the book  “Road Biking Colorado” by Michael Seeberg.  Also, here are  a couple of websites with some stats:   and

Wish I knew more about the climbing you’ll encounter California-Utah…Barb

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