Unicycle ascent/descent of Mt. Evans - 14,264 feet

Pictures and trip report here:

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Here’s the plain text version of the TR (boring!):

Mt. Evans - 14,264 ft

Date: 8-4-2004
Riders: George Barnes (solo - unicycle ascent/descent)
Route: Mt. Evans Road II, Class 1
RT distance: 29.2 miles
RT time: 6 hours
Time to summit: 3 hours 30 minutes
Time on summit: 20 minutes
Time to trailhead: 2 hours 10 minutes
Elevation gain: 3,700 feet
Coordinates of TH: 39° 39.61’N, 105° 36.27’W
Coordinates of summit: 39° 35.32’N, 105° 38.60’W
USGS Quadrangles: Idaho Springs, Harris Park, Mount Evans

Trip Report:


The night before the ride I was thinking that I needed to do something that would prepare me for a climb of Long's Peak the coming weekend, as well as an epic 36" unicycle ride with Aspen Mike next week over Boreas and Hoosier Passes.  I decided that a unicycle ride up Mt. Evans would do both - if it didn't kill me.


I left Denver at 7 AM, a little later than planned, but still not bad.  After fighting morning traffic and stopping for gas in Idaho Springs I make it to the Echo Lake trailhead (10,600 feet) by 8:20 AM.  I unload my unicycle, slap on some sunscreen, and head for the fee station.  I received the usual suspicious looks from the ranger as I paid my $3 fee and head up the road just before 8:30 AM.

The road was largely free of traffic at this hour - apparently vacationers don’t like to get out of bed early. I made decent time up the road, averaging around 9 mph. I have Chris LeDoux “Sons of the Pioneers” stuck in my head, and will for most of the ride. Perhaps it’s time for some new CDs in the car’s CD-changer. When I reached the road above Lincoln Lake I stop for a breather and snap a few photos. I’m at over 12,000 feet now and I can tell it. Unicycling over 12,000 feet is harder than hiking at 14,000!

I soon decided sitting on the roadside was a bad idea as 3 different people stopped and asked if I was ok.  I'm riding a unicycle up a 14,000 foot mountain, of course I'm OK (just a little crazy).

After a few more switchbacks and a lot of sucking wind, I reach Summit Lake (12,830 feet) at around 10:30 AM.  I head down to the water to enjoy a now powdered pop-tart (grumble) and snap some more pictures.  I answer the usual questions as I make my way to the kybos.  "Yes, it's a unicycle."  "Yes, I'm going all the way."  "Yes, I'm crazy."  "No, I'm not riding across the country (huh?!)."

The going gets tough after Summit Lake, and I'm wheezing like a leaky dirigible by 13,000 feet.  Thankfully some goats have occupied the side of the road and I have a legitimate excuse to stop.  Upon closer inspection, I note that there are about 20 goats, some with ridiculously cute babies.

I reach the summit parking lot at around noon, and hike to the top for a summit photo.  I've averaged a little over 4 mph including some lengthy stops, and I'm not terribly proud of it.  I feel out of place with a helmet and gloves in the parking lot teeming with tourists in sandals and "Colorado" sweatshirts.  There's something to be said for climbing peaks where at most you see a few other people at the summit.  I decide it's time to gear up and head down.  Clouds are occasionally blocking the sun and the wind has picked up so I don a rain jacket.

I've become something of a celebrity by now, and every car that passes slows to take my picture.  A few people are nice enough to take my email address so they can send me the pictures.  I once again reach the goats, who have moved to a slightly different location.  I'm still a sucker for baby goats, so I snap some more pictures.

After rounding the last corner before Lincoln Lake I stop again for a "circulation break" and note that the clouds aren't looking stellar to the west.  I forgot my Chamois Butter in Denver and I'm paying for it now.  Spurred on by dark clouds I saddle up once again despite the discomfort.

I decide I had better get some pictures of Lincoln Lake for the TR, so I stop again while keeping a wary eye on the clouds.  I get back in the saddle anxious to reach tree line at ~11,500 feet.

After a few more quick stops I once again reach the ranger’s fee station. I ponder “natural selection” as I see people still heading up on bikes. I reach the car by 2:30 PM and it begins to sprinkle just as I load my unicycle. I feel a bit tired, but in general pretty good. I realize that I forgot to apply sunscreen to my legs, and have some nice red calves to show for it. After an uneventful run down I-70 I make it back to Denver just in time for “stop and go fun time on I-25”. The clouds over Denver are looking threatening and I see a handful of lightning strikes to the west.

Nice ride report, George! Another 14er bits the dust!

Ooooh yes those baby goats (kids?) are very cute! Right up there with the pika.

What’s the idea with the bar-ends on the rear of your saddle? Are they there to hold on to or to protect the cover?


The bar ends are a semi-successful way for me to take some weight off my seat on the go. They work fine on flat ground, but it’s a little dicey to have a hand back there on steep ups and downs.

It is unclear to me if the ride was entirely paved or if there was an off-road portion.


The road was all paved with pretty good asphalt, except for the short hike to the summit from the summit parking lot.

It looks like you put some long cranks on for that climb. Are they 170’s or bigger?

Any idea on the percent grade for the climb?

I’m going to look around for some nice climbs to do on the Coker. Maybe Mount Constitution on Orcas Island or Hurricane Ridge, or I could head out of state to find a good climb. Teton pass in Wyoming would be nice, but it’s a long drive to get there.

If my math is right, I get an average grade of about 5%.

3700/(14.6*5280) x 100% = 4.8% grade

Anybody want to verify that this is correct?

That’s correct for the average grade. But climbs usually don’t keep the same grade for 14.6 miles. There will be sections that are less steep and then sections that are more steep. The hard parts of the climb likely were more than 4.8%.

That’s no kidding. I was wishing for more than the 170s I had. I was thinking that a 29er with 150-170s would have been nice for the last 5 miles.

From what I could find on the net, parts of the road are up to 15% sustained grade. I would say that most of the climbs are 10% or less, though.

Why did you choose to use your Coker for this ride? I too would assume that a 29er would have been more ideal for a long ascent, however you have much more riding experience than I do. I am becoming more and more interested in buying a coker to see the difference in long distance rides between the coker and my current 29er.

one more question:
How much did the brake help you on your descent? I recently rode up and down a steep mountain road in the poccono mountains in PA for about 16 miles and descending became almost as hard as some of the ascents ( I dont have brakes on my 29er).

I realize you’re asking George, but I’ll butt in because it’s my nature and I’ve had way too much coffee today. Why the Coker? I hope it’s because we sit on the edge of a new possibility…taking cokers where no unicycles have dared travel. The fringe of the possibility must be explored. All the recent 24-hour races, 14,000 foot passes, etc. indicate we’re in a rare period in the evolution of a sport.

“Descending became almost as hard?” I’d expect–at least the day after–that it became much harder. For the knee, in general, it’s easier to exert positive force than to exert resistant force. For me, with my pitiful scarred oft-injured knees, the slightest downhill gives me trouble, but climbs seem primarily limited by my technique (or lack thereof). I just bought some 140s for my coker to supplement my 150s, but after reading Iron(sorry Aspen)Mike’s posts, I may get some 170s too.

Pennsylvania? You are in fact in a position to do what’s never been done before. To conquer a new possibility. To mix myth with reality, and add both and your name to the journal of Epic Coker Rides. The myth? Harry Chapin’s “30,000 Pounds of Bananas”. The reality? The hill that leads into Scranton, Pennsylvania. JJuggle, you with me here? The Epic Coker Ride? Make the descent…and don’t cop out by bailing into the “runaway truck lane”. Next to the I-80 drop from Park City to Salt Lake, it’s one of the biggest descents on any Interstate Highway in America. I’ve done it several times on two wheels and four, but never on one. Be the first Siafired…

I chose my 36" mainly because I was pretty confident that all of the road would be rideable on it, and 29 miles seemed like a long ways on a 29er. I was only regretting my big wheel for the last few miles of the ascent when the air got thin.

The descent was pretty much a breeze thanks to heavy use of my HS-33 as a drag brake. I basically engaged the brake enough that it felt like I was riding on flat ground.

Re: Unicycle ascent/descent of Mt. Evans - 14,264 feet

Great climb, George.
Enjoyed the description immensely.
My brother in Denver (2 wheels) will be amazed.
Of course, he will now insist that I do it. Maybe
old age will get me off the hook.

The pictures show slightly more gear on the “Coker”
than shown on your album. Could you please list the
goodies on the bike for those of us who ride denuded

Thanks again.

Santa Monica

Not much on my 36" says Coker on it - just the tire and tube!

Here’s a current picture and list of the components on my 36":

There’s no other ride like Mt. Evans, well maybe Washington for the grade but not elevation. It is totally EPIC, the road is paved to 14,000’, the highest piece of pavement in North America. The whole ride from Idaho Springs gains over 7,000’ vertical feet in 28 miles. Like George, when I rode it in 02’, first unicyclist up Evans, I started at Echo Lake. The last 1,000’ vertical feet gained is all switchbacks above 13,000’. The best route book I’ve found describes it as “This is a heinous route”. There are 15 switchbacks in the last 1,000’ vertical gained. For you Tour de France fans, this is the shit that mountain top finishes are made of. Some of the switchbacks are 13%-15% grade and are off camber. It is a true test of personal stamina and skill to stay upright through them.
George, you earned being a celebrity up there, congrats on a EPIC ride! I totally dug the goats as well, they inspired me to keep going. 36" wheel with long cranks is the best choice for Mountain Pass riding. Now do the descent w/o a brake, fun/fun. I’m looking forward to our ride tomorrow.

George - awesome!! Your cycle with 170mm and HS33 is exactly what I would take on such an outing. The day you did that I was climbing an 11,000’ foot peak in the Japan Alps, but unfortunately not on unicycle.


awesome read!!! and to think I start whining after 10 miles of single track at 1000 feet elevation :astonished:

I’m sure if you had higher mountains within reach you would complain about those instead. :slight_smile:

I just wanted to add a comment on Coker vs. 29" based on my single experience of riding up (and down) Mt. Diablo in May. The 3300’ climb was probably about equal on either machine, depending on crank length. But there was one big difference I noticed. When the road got steeper and it was a matter of single cranks (half wheel turns), one at a time, the Cokers automatically pulled away from the 29s. I did some switching back and forth with Mike Scalisi between his Coker and my 29, and the Coker was always in the lead. This was because it simply went farther with each pedal turn. Regardless of crank length, this is going to be true. So even on the heavier Coker, uphill speed was generally better on the Cokers. In a racing situation I’m sure it would be more related to rider fitness, but on this (training) ride the Cokers were definitely superior on the uphill.

Riding down was another story. Then it was more of a question of brakes vs. no brakes. Not having brakes really sucked!

That’s Zod’s signature. Sorry to drift away from topic here, but in case anyone thinks those two statements are conflicting, they aren’t. One is about allowing someone else the right to choose, the other is about his own opinion of the choice. Two different things.

Yes, someone elses right to choose murder…according to his own belief :smiley: