The Alpine Gauntlet

by Fatty

The Unnecessarily Long Prologue
I’m an evil, scheming type. Conniving. Strategizing. For any given event of which I am party, you can bet that I’m looking for a way to turn it to my benefit. So last Saturday, after my wife had spent the entire day away shopping, seeing a movie she knew I want to see, eating out and what-not, all while I took care of the kids, you can bet that I noticed her appreciative-yet-slightly-guilty tone. I was prepared to take advantage of the situation.

“Hey, any chance I could get in a fairly good-sized ride Monday?”

“Sure, honey. What do you have in mind?”

“Oh, I dunno. Let me think about it.” Actually, I knew exactly, but part of my scheme was that I didn’t want to come off as scheming.

The next morning, after letting my wife sleep in, I told her what I wanted to do: “You know, Hon, there’s a road ride some of us have been talking about for a long time, but none of us have ever done it. I think it would take about five hours. Any chance I could get away for that long tomorrow? I’d leave around 6:30 a.m., so I’d be back before or right around noon—we’d still have most of the day to do stuff as a family.”

Instant approval. Nearly twelve years of marriage has taught me a thing or two.

So Sunday night I laid out all my stuff: food, two bottles of piss (a water bottle filled with diluted Red Bull in it), shorts, mesh jersey. I set the alarm clock for 6:00 and went to bed.

Monday morning dawned cold, dark and wet. No, seriously, it really did. When the alarm went off, I looked out the window and saw nothing but clouds and wet roads. Damn. There goes my ride. I went back to bed.

A couple of hours later, I was sulkily playing Crash Bandicoot with the kids when my wife looked out the window and said, “It looks like things might clear up; do you want to try your ride after all? If the weather turns on you, you can bail out and come back home.” Yes, that’s right: my wife was encouraging me to take off for most of the day. I dug out knickers, a warm jersey and arm warmers and was out the door.

The Ride
The reason I wrote such an unnecessarily long prologue is because I don’t think epic road rides are as inherently dramatic as equivalent mountain bike rides. You’re on the road, for crying out loud. So, in order to make the story longer (the Epic Rides site pays by the word, after all), I padded. I still am padding, I guess.

Anyway, the ride I had in my head is based on a beautiful road in Utah County: the Alpine Loop. By itself, this loop curves through aspen and pine trees on Timpanogos mountain, consists of about 38 miles and 3000 feet of climbing. The pavement is good and the scenery is spectacular. What I wanted to do was ride this loop and all the “spur” roads on it. I figured this would about double the length—both in distance and climbing—of the ride. So here’s how it went.

Note: the “Altitude Gain” numbers below reflect the amount of climbing I had done to that point, not the actual elevation of that climb. The elevation of this ride ranges from 4800 feet to 8000 feet.

Spur 1: Squaw Peak
Ordinarily, this is a tough little 4.3-mile climb of its own; while climbing it all I can think about is getting to the top—especially the last third of a mile, which is truly brutal. Today, though, I was taking it nice and slow—I didn’t want to fry myself early on, knowing that I had a lot more climbing to do after this.

Coming down Squaw Peak was miserable—I had a fierce, cold crosswind that made this normally fast, fun descent feel trecherous as I got pushed around on my bike. Sometime during this descent my toes went numb from the cold (hadn’t thought to substitute warm socks); I wouldn’t feel them again for twenty miles.

The numbers for the Squaw Peak Climb:
Distance: 4.78 – 9.11 miles (4.33 miles)
Altitude Gain: 210 – 1890 feet (1680 feet)
Climb Time: 0:17 – 0:58 (41 minutes)

Spur 2: South Fork
The rotten crosswind I had coming down Squaw Peak became my friend as I rode up Provo Canyon to South Fork. The tailwind pushed me fast, making it easy to go upwards of 20 miles an hour. Uphill. Now, South Fork is the road ride a lot of us do when we’re not in the mood to do a hard ride. I made a point of riding spinning nice and easy on this relatively easy climb; I wanted to be strong for the nine-mile Alpine Loop climb, which would be next.

About the time I got to the turnaround and headed down, I got a good omen: the sun came out and the wind calmed down. I was still cold, but at least I wasn’t freezing anymore.

The numbers for the South Fork Climb: Distance: 17.5 – 21.7 miles (4.2 miles)
Altitude Gain: 2230 – 2950 feet (720 feet)
Climb Time: 1:15 – 1:36 (21 minutes)

The Alpine Loop Climb
If the Alpine Loop weren’t so beautiful, this would still be a great ride. The fact that it’s situated in one of the most gorgeous mountain passes I’ve ever seen makes it a favorite recreational ride for cars, motorcycles and bicyclists; the narrow road can get pretty crowded. Luckily, the overcast day seemed to discourage most people; I didn’t have to contend with traffic much at all.

I should also mention that the Alpine Loop is a pretty strenuous climb, especially the first 2.3 miles that bring you to the Sundance ski resort. I stopped there for water (and to give the blood a chance to stop spurting out of my ears) and churned up the rest of the way to within a quarter-mile of the summit — the Cascade Springs turnoff. I was starting to tire, and was worried that I just didn’t have the strength to pull off that section of the ride.

The numbers for the Alpine Loop Climb:
Distance: 27.2 – 35.6 miles (8.4 miles)
Altitude Gain: 3000 – 5720 feet (2720 feet)
Climb Time: 1:53 – 3:00 (1:07)

The Cascade Springs Spur
I was now at the point I had been thinking about the whole ride. This was the only spur I had never ridden. It’s also the only spur that starts by going downhill, meaning — of course — that the return trip is uphill. A couple of friends of mine—Doug and Brad—who had ridden it had told me that this return trip was a seven mile brute of a climb that dwarfs the difficulty of the Alpine Loop climb. And there’s no easy bailout; once you get to Cascade Springs (at least on a road bike), the only way out is back up. “What the hell, I’ll recuperate on the way down,” I thought.

I had no idea that the first three miles down Cascade Springs could go so fast. Between the steepness of the road and a stiff tailwind, I hit my max speed for the day here — 54mph – - without even trying (in fact, I was a little spooked). Then, to my surprise, I found there’s about a mile of climbing. Doug and Brad had told me about this, but I had forgotten. Another quick three miles of mostly downhill brought me to Cascade Springs. I filled up my water bottles here and talked with the chain-smoking, hugely overweight ranger, who assured me that with all the walking he has to do in the parking lot each day, checking windshields to make sure people have payed their fees, he gets as much of a workout as I would riding my bike back to the top. “I’m sure you do,” I agreed, finishing off the last of my Red Bull and squirting down two PowerGels.

Time for the big climb. As Doug and Brad had predicted, it was a brute; in particular the final three miles hurt. Remember that tailwind that helped me downhill so effectively? Well, strangely enough it had turned into a headwind on the return trip. I put down my head and did my best to suffer with poise. When I got to the top, though, I still felt good — I had blown the difficulty of the climb out of proportion. Plus, I knew that the rest of the ride would be easy. Jubilant (yeah, I was jubilant, and what of it?) but light-headed, I sat down at the Alpine Loop summit parking lot and ate my sandwich.

The numbers for the Cascade Springs Climb (to Alpine Loop Summit):
Distance: 42.7 – 49.97 miles (7.22 miles)
Altitude Gain: 6090 – 8180 feet (2090 feet)
Climb Time: 3:30 – 4:19 (49 minutes)

Granite Flats Campground Spur
Dropping down the American Fork side of the Alpine Loop is usually a hoot. It’s got fun curves and switchbacks, with a couple of straight sections where you can really open it up. On this descent, though, the crosswind/headwind was strong enough to scare me to death — you’re riding on exposed road; a big screwup could kill you. So I was relieved when I got to American Fork canyon and could begin riding the final spur up to Tibble Fork reservoir — home of the best singletrack in the entire world. It’s a quick, flat little spur, and when I got to the parking lot and noticed that the road continues after it, I decided it would be cheating not to take the spur to the end. Soon I realized what a lousy decision that was. The road turned uphill and I realized I was completely beat. Having made the choice, though, I didn’t want to back out and slowly, slowly made it to Granite Flat Campground. Now all I needed to do was make it back home.

The numbers for the Granite Flat Campground Climb:
Distance: 55.8 – 59.09 miles (3.29 miles)
Altitude Gain: 8200 – 8840 feet (640 feet)
Climb Time: 4:45 – 5:04 (19 minutes)

Wrapping Up
The sixteen or so miles to my house are mostly downhill or flat; I started feeling considerably better before long. In fact, I started hatching a new plan: when I got home, I’d beg my wife for another hour or so, ride out to South Fork and back and make this a road century with 10,000 feet of climbing. That was before the four-block climb that leads to my house. By the time I got to the top of that, I had no inclination to do any more riding that day. I coasted the final two downhill blocks to my house, wrote down my final stats and steeled myself for what I knew would be the hardest challenge of the day: acting like I was fine and ready to go on a picnic, or to the park, or wherever else my wife wanted to go for the rest of the day, when in reality all I wanted to do was lay very, very still.

Final Numbers for the Alpine Gauntlet:
Ride Time: 5:14
Total Time: 5:57
Avg. Speed: 14.6mph
Max. Speed: 54mph
Distance: 76.78 miles
Altitude Gain: 9350 feet


  1. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » Story Time | 02.19.2007 | 1:52 pm

    [...] The Alpine Gauntlet: If you want a full day of climbing and happen to live in Utah County, you can’t do much better than the Alpine Gauntlet. Which I named, by the way.  [...]

  2. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » The Gauntlet Supreme | 06.20.2007 | 10:27 am

    [...] Specifically, we rode the “Alpine Gauntlet Supreme” — a road loop around Mount Timpanogos, where pretty much every inch is either a hard climb or fast descent. The difference between doing the Alpine Loop and the Gauntlet, though, is that the Gauntlet has you do all the spurs off the loop, changing the ride from a 40 mile loop with 3000 feet of climbing into an 80 mile loop with 7000 feet of climbing. [...]

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