The Highwood Pass

Highway 40 is the highest paved piece of asphalt in the Canadian Rockies and is closed over the winter due to large amounts of snow, it remains closed through the spring season to encourage natural migration of wildlife in the valley until the middle of June each year. The gate at the south end is approximately 37 kilometers from the summit of the pass and is a popular road to get in some cycling prior to opening to vehicular traffic each spring. You can even get away with parking jobs that look like this:

highwood pass trip

Each year since 2005 there have been a group of cyclists loosely associated with the Sea-to-Sea trip of 2005 that have made an annual event out of the ride. This year 15 cyclists showed up at the gate around 9:45 am and were ready to set off up the road. Amongst them were 4 cyclists from Alberta participating in the Sea-to-Sea bike ride set for the summer of 2008 which would begin in exactly 1 month!

  • Joshua Krabbe
  • Kathryn Matzigkeit
  • Gerry Loonstra
  • Fred Folkerts

highwood pass trip
highwood pass trip
highwood pass trip

After setting off it was a group of 5 people whom I ended up riding with for the majority of the ride up the pass. And when I say up I really do mean up, there wasn’t a whole ton of freewheeling and the breeze even though it was gentle and inconsequential that day was certainly not to our benefit. The sun was out and everyone was in a good mood and conversation topics for the day varied from triathlon to cleaning up after messy teenage girls to some cycling related topics unmentioned in the interest of good taste. Even though our group of 5 never really saw anyone else from our group of 15 until we parked for lunch I can only assume the whole entourage must have been enjoying a similarly spectacular day with great weather and good company.

highwood pass trip
highwood pass trip
highwood pass trip

Following a lunch break just at the bottom of the final ascent we rolled out as a group of eleven and made our way up the last and steepest portion of the highway. Rounding a bend within 2 kilometers of the top our path was blocked by the remaining snow from the winter. So much for actually getting to the top of the pass this year, discussing with some other cyclists on the road (and there were many, this road is not a well kept secret) the snow averaged knee deep for a whole mile and in places was going to be hip-deep. No-one had the motivation to get wet just to take their picture by the sign which should have looked like this (the 2007 edition). So we gathered for another snack (only 5 kms further up the road, but don’t tell anyone) and a couple group photos.

highwood pass trip
highwood pass trip
highwood pass trip

The benefit of riding uphill for a good portion of the morning into a minor headwind is that there is no reason whatsoever to break a sweat on the way back to the vehicle. Of course I retained the right to voluntarily break a sweat because I had a score to settle with my personal land-speed-record. My season’s best thus far had been 74 kilometers per hour and change. I had also dealt with a little bit of speed wobble occurring starting around 72 kph when clocking that speed into a rather moderate headwind. Off we went down the hill, and it was fast. After 4 kilometers of being totally spun out in my top gear (125 rpms in a 53×12 gear can’t get me past about 68 kph) or tucking in with my chin resting on the handlebar stem I looked down at my bike computer. My average speed was in the high fifties and rapidly falling as I coasted up a hill. I decided I needed a photo of that average speed, it wasn’t about to happen again soon. By the time I had my camera out and could snap a photo my average speed had fallen all the way down to fifty. We regrouped after the next pitch which wasn’t quite as steep and then compared top-speeds. If I recall correctly there were 6 of us who had cracked the 70 kph mark and I had indeed broken my personal best with a 75.3 kph recording.

highwood pass trip
highwood pass trip
highwood pass trip

The rest of the ride out was fast and 4 of us swapped pulls at the front. I managed 5 more times to get over 70 kph down various pitches. That’s amazing for something that is typically a rather rare occurrence for myself. I think I had only done so 13 times before in my entire life (last season I rode without a cycling computer so it is inexact). I’m going to quit counting now, a better question obviously is “can I get to 80 kph?”

More photos from the day are in this year’s Training Gallery

The map of the route including elevation profile can be seen here which indicates the elevation from the start to the turnaround was 630 meters.

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