CUMBRES, LA MANGA PASSES RIDE REPORT
2016 was a glorious autumn and we decided to tackle Cumbres (10,022 feet) and La Manga (10,230 feet) passes on September 24 and Cordova Pass, on the 25th. We had driven from Denver on Friday evening and battled fierce winds- the kinds that blow tumbleweeds across the highway- and rock your vehicle as it cruises down I-25 at 75 mph. We took a left off I- 25 at Walsenberg onto US 160, The Highway of Legends, a Colorado Scenic Byway, and made our way over 9,413 feet North La Veta Pass in darkness, fog and snow. At this point we were wondering if the whole weekend was going to be a scrub! We rolled into Alamosa to the Super 8 at 2505 Main St., (719) 589-6447 where we spent two nights. We awoke Saturday morning at 6:30 to find frost on the windshields and a dense fog. Again, we wondered amongst ourselves what we were getting ourselves into. A quick continental breakfast at the motel, loading the bikes and associated gear into vehicles and we were on our way to Chama, New Mexico, an hour and a half away, where we would begin the day’s quest. We drove south on U.S. 285 to Antonito and took a right on CO 17 into Chama. Our day’s ride would take us 50 miles from Chama back along the same route to Antonito. There was a dusting of snow along the higher elevations, and that mixed with the beautiful autumn golds and the bright, now clear blue sky made for a gorgeous scene. We stopped at a small shop just south of the train station in Chama, where some members of the group purchased some souvenirs. We kitted up and were soon on our way. Four of us started out at around 10:00 a.m. and the temperature was about 45 degrees, so different versions of layers including vests, jackets, arm warmers, and leg warmers were all chosen according to personal preferences. At two miles in we passed the Eastside Airport- a simple straight patch of asphalt, and commented amongst ourselves what it would be like to “fly into Chama”. Eight miles in we crossed the border back into Colorado and- of course- had to stop for the obligatory photo opportunities. At mile twelve we summited Cumbres Pass. The grade increased gently starting at one and two percent and topped out at six and seven percent for the last mile. The average for the first climb was around 3.5 percent. A short, gentle descent and another short climb brought us to the summit of La Manga Pass at mile 19.5. At this point we had shed some layers and posed for more photos taken by our trusty SAG crew. A short steep descent- 5.6 miles at -5.5 percent brought us to the Conejos River at mile twenty-five, where the grade leveled out but was still gently downhill following the river through the valley. We rolled into Antonito at mile 47, and according to our “rules of engagement”, at the time, we needed 50 miles to complete our ride. So we continued north on Main Street, until we spotted a large church to the northwest of town. We decided to ride out to it, and check it out. Imagine our surprise to find that we had stumbled upon the first permanent catholic parish in the state of Colorado decreed around 1858. We stopped, studied the historic plaque, took some photos, and continued the few miles back into town to achieve our fifty mile goal. We had a nice lunch at Dos Hermanas Mexican restaurant on Main Street, between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. Our entire ride was 51 miles, took us about three hours and twenty minutes, and we climbed a total of 3160 feet in elevation. We drove back to Alamosa, where we would spend the night and live to ride another day.
Ryan Rhinehart: — I READ YOUR RIDE REPORT ABOUT 10 TIMES BEFORE THE CONQUEST UNDERTAKEN ON WEDNESDAY April 18, 2018!!!!! It was excellent help and superb motivation! Thank you, and let me add to the report:
* A Wednesday in winter means empty roads and peaceful riding. YES, April can still be winter. It was 25 degrees outside at the start. I had many layers underneath my jacket, winter gloves, and a hat under the helmet. Froze my ears at the start. Wind chill from going 20 mph through town. In fairness, I had no real desire to go out and pedal as I looked out the window. Too cold. But, duty called. We had driven all day from Cave Creek, AZ on Tuesday (through some gorgeous country & the Chaco Canyon steps) to reach Chama for this planned assault. As some of you know, I had been through this region before and had tried to accomplish this ride before — and had failed the test with a mechanical failure of my bike. So, I had been off and on-again planning this ride for two years.
* I started at the far south of Chama, NM from our “no frills” motel at 0730. The recent snow melt had left little puddles and all were frozen. Staying at the no frills hotel meant I would ride about 2 miles through Chama in the early morning before passing the train station and exiting town and commencing the steady climb.
* I passed over the RIO Chama and started by the airport. The airport had no planes — just a long strip of pavement with a “sock” that was dangling and moving slightly in the breeze. I remembered your description of the airport and the grades (very modest at this point), but could see the road kicking upwards around the next corner.
* The road did kick up…not bad, but thankfully it started to call upon me as I was in the shadow of the mountain at this point (sun was up, but far enough south to be blocked). Cold as could be in the shadows. My fingers were tingling.
* The climb, such as it was, ended after about a half mile, and descended to cross the river again with a steep hill in view. As I descended the wind chill (even at my slow pace) for the tenth of a mile respite was brutal. And then, the long march to the top really began.
* After the second river crossing, I was biking parallel to the train tracks. The train was not yet running this time of year although the signage at the station in Chama proclaimed it was “OPEN”. The grade was akin to that of the train, so no more than 5%.
* Once you cross the tracks again — one hour into the ride– the tracks disappear on a level course and the roadway kick upward. Thankfully, it has a couple of places where the intervals are broken and you roll along relatively flat terrain. The views in this are are dynamic and awesome. In the early morning light with no traffic — NO TRAFFIC–I had the road and the entire valley to myself. I am sure the deer, elk and other critters were watching me from the woods — When I mention no traffic, my SAG support (who stayed in the warm motel for an hour before picking up to follow me)–talked about it after the ride. We think in the entire 4 hours I spent on the mountain we saw a grand total of 15 cars/trucks and one snowplow. The road was dry (a little more on this later in the report). So, the bike and I had a happy solace and no worries. My breath and heart were easy to hear. 🙂
* At 11 miles the road jumps upward and crosses the track again. Intimidating here because you can see a huge big curve and steep climb going up around the corner out of site. This is a not so easy 8 & 10% climb that is bounded by a guard-rail and puts you out on the edge looking both down-valley and then across at the mountain peaks. Just downright beautiful in the morning sun. !!! The birds were also awakening and the chirps and songs were a delight to hear. Quite allowed me to appreciate their sonnet.
* The steep climb took me, on this morning, into the snow fields as I approached the summit of Cumbres. It sits where the train depot sits atop the mountain, and is about as historic a site with the tracks and buildings (maintained now by the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad — one of the most famous narrow gauge railroads in all of the USA) as one could ever ask to see. I loved it and had sweated to earn it.
* Ah, a descent into the saddle between Cumbres and La Manga Pass awaited. Snow scattered meadows and sun splashed mountains all around. I was ready to have some fun! I started down and then realized — you dummy! Sweat was now cold water with a wind chill. I was freezing!! My fingers went numb. My feet were cold. My nose was running (sorry to be frank…but hey). I was worried my SAG, thinking I was okay, had driven off to find La Manga and I was going to go into hypothermic shock. ONLY ONE SOLUTION– pedal like crazy. Tempo to the MAX. FIND SOME WAY TO GENERATE HEAT…
* After two miles or so, the road kicks up by the now modestly established summer homes sitting in the meadows below La Manga. Typically, another climb would not be welcomed. But here was my opportunity to warm up!!! So, I climbed with glee. Top grades were 6%, and suddenly the ending at the top of La Manga came into view. I knew what lay ahead (after the picture taking).
* THE DESCENT! The north side of La Manga is steep. STEEP. Not too long — maybe 3+ miles. But it is fast on the descent and excruciating on the climb up (ask Bicycle Passport member Peter Haynes). I had learned my lesson on the descent through the saddle. Layers of clothing in the morning had turned into wet tack and a prescription for freezing on the descent. The temperature had climbed to a nice 35 degrees in the sun. Good skiing weather, but my descent was going to be faster than most ski runs. So, my SAG pulled over just about a mile below the summit so I could change clothes. I still needed layers and had not packed well never thinking it was going to be THIS COLD for the ride. So, base layers were changed into two cotton T-Shirts, then a dry Bike Jersey, then my RAIN jacket (know to be airtight and generate sweat) covered with my wind breaker. The cap was now sopping wet, so a bandana was used on the head, and –if I had the availability of ski googles to cover my face I would have used them.
* The descent then began. I am — I think–known to be fast going downhill. The co-efficient of friction has been tested on my bike a time or two. I set off with the notion that this was going to be fun. And it was, until I came speeding into a corner and observed the sign posting “ICY ROAD AHEAD”. WHAT????? I was so scarred..too fast to slam on the breaks in a curve, and desperate not to go down at that speed. I prepared myself to try to keep upright and to use the whole road as needed (to heck with lanes, and I prayed the light traffic would mean no traffic). Adrenaline coursed through the system. But, there was no ice. YAHOO! WAHOO! I would live.
* My descent from La Manga was fast. When I checked Strava after the ride, I was very disappointed to find that I was 184th in the rankings. How could that be? Fastest time down was about 7 minutes. I took 25. Oh yeah, I stopped to change clothes. The time must have been running from the marker on top of the pass.
* The bottom of the hill takes you out onto the flats along the Conejos River. There is not a more beautiful river in all of Colorado. Okay, there are possible matches. But, a “10” is a ten. The water was rolling downstream and it was taking all of the morning light. There were a couple of eager fishermen (people) out alongside the water (no one in it). The road is fine and it does roll upward a couple of times and has no descents, so it is pleasant — but a bit tedious and you want to get to Antonito and finish. I rolled into Antonito about 4.5 hours after the start. 50 miles and 3900 feet of vertical. It had warmed to 42 degrees. But, baby, it felt really good!!!
Go do this one. It is special and the two towns are well worth it. Antonito is going through a revival from what I can see — in part driven by the marijuana business. Even so, it is in a beautiful valley — the San Juan’s and Sangre de Cristos surround it. Not bad at all. No idea why it is in the outback — Denver would have done well to build here.