I rode the Alpine Loop from my house in Orem today. I've been wanting to do this ride for two years, and Saturday I got my window of opportunity. Since I've done out-n-back rides up AF Canyon to the summit many times, I decided to go up Provo Canyon. I left my house at 8 AM and went up Provo Canyon. There was a pretty good wind coming down the canyon so I stayed on the parkway trail and went slow. I’ve only gone up the Sundance side once last Spring, and it was tough enough that I turned around at Sundance and went back. That section to Sundance has some steep spots (10-11%), but I made it OK this time and kept going up. I’ve always been impressed by the beauty of AF Canyon, but I think the Sundance side of the Loop is better. That upper section with all the Aspens and the fern covered ground - gorgeous. In fact, I couldn’t get too serious about climbing hard because it would have been a sin to not soak in the scenery. I saw a flock of 10-15 wild turkeys. Very few cars - surprising for a Saturday. I reached the top in 1 hour 41 minutes with a climb of 3180’. I rested for a minute or two then headed down. Lots of cyclists coming up the road. More cars coming up, but not many going down so the descent was nice. I made my way through American Fork, Pleasant Grove and Lindon to return home. 41 miles and 3380’ of climbing, finished under 3 hours. The weather was nice, not much traffic, I felt good on the bike and the scenery was incredible - yea, it was a fantastic ride.
Since I got into road biking 3 years ago, I'd heard stories about the various canyon climbs in Salt Lake Valley. I decided to ride each of these canyons this year. Here are the ones I've already done:
- Emigration (Little and Big Mountains)
- Big Cottonwood
- Suncrest (both the north and south sides)
What's the obvious one missing from the list? Yep, Little Cottonwood. I'd heard from most cyclists that it's the toughest, and this description (or this one) didn't make me feel any better. After completing Big Cottonwood almost 3 weeks ago, I knew Little was next and it was time. So Mark agreed to accompany me (which is nice because he's done it a few times) this evening.
The weather was about as nice as you can expect for August - only 90 degrees. We started at Willow Park just off Wasatch to give us a few miles to warm up. We got to the mouth soon enough. I felt only luke-warm, but I guess it would have to do. It starts off with a moderate grade, but when you hit the power plant, it's all steep. Mark told me all I needed to do was get past Tanner Flat, so at least I had something to shoot for. I've never seen so many double-digit grade readings on my cyclocomputer before. It WAS brutal.
Mark has a compact double and I have a triple. I tried to stay out of granny, but it just got too steep for me. Mark's lowest gear isn't as low as my granny, and he wanted to keep his cadence up to not stress out his knees - so he steadily opened up a gap farther and farther ahead of me until near Tanners Flat I lost sight of him and never saw him again.
There is a long stretch of road before Tanners Flat that is relentless. It doesn't look so bad at first, but if you look careful you can see that the grade increases each roll along the stretch (I learned later this section is called the Seven Sisters). Then you round a left bend to go past the entrance to Tanners Flat - oh, man that was a grunt! But as Mark promised, once past Tanners it eased up a bit, then a bit more - 7% grade felt like a divine gift! It got a bit steep again going past Snowbird, but after that it eased up a lot and I actually up shifted a few gears.
Once I passed Tanners Flat I was still hurting, but felt pretty sure I could make it. Upon seeing Snowbird I felt I was home free. Then after Snowbird I started feeling elated - I'd made it! All the previous suffering was transmuted into a thrilling feeling of accomplishment. I actually poured it on at the end - standing for some fairly long stretches and cranking away - I felt great.
I made the climb from the light sign to the guard shack in 1 hour 13 minutes. Mark had finish 6.5 minutes before me - nice job! Obviously I'm no super climber, but just finishing this difficult climb on my first attempt brought me a feeling of satisfaction. Here's what Mark had to say about it.