The highwood pass is a relatively short (102 km) ride, but with over 2000 M vertical climb (I'm thinking of going north to south) with a maximum elevation of 7000 ft.
I'm interested to try it because of reading about it in passing (I'm in Calgary so it's nearby), where I found that the pass is paved, but closed to motor traffic until the 15th of June.
I have so far not been able to find out what conditions I might expect in early may (I don't think I want to ride my icebike for 100 km!) in terms of snow and ice on the roadway, so any knowledge someone here might have is useful.
Secondly, the reason it's closed for so long is because mountain goats, bighorn sheep and elk are mating/calving in the area and they wanted to limit car traffic to give them some space. Of course, the high number of prey attracts predators - I'm not concerned about coyotes or wolves, but I would not want to meet a grizzly on the uphill section (pretty steep climb 2000m vertical over 40 k or so) or a cougar at any time. If anyone has done this trip - what wildlife have you seen?
I suppose the elk might be a bit aggressive towards me if I get between them and their young too...
Or am I worrying too much.
Finally on trips of this duration, with no habitation, water, available food, vehicular traffic, or cell phone coverage - what precautions/equipment would you bring? I will likely be solo - so if I were to have an accident or mechanical failure - I would be facing up to a 2 day walk out before there would be any way to use my phone or flag a car.
I did the ride a few years ago. We rode South to North (only to the top of the pass though, not up & over). If you are planning on doing it, I would pick a time close to when the road opens, the later the better as far as weather goes.
When we went, there were other people doing the ride - it is a pretty popular route.
We didn't see any wildlife, although we were talking & making noise the whole ride.
I would take enough tools/parts to get you back down if something goes wrong. Chain tool/extra links & extra spokes, plus the usual other stuff (spare tubes/pump etc). And lots of clothes. We had nice weather riding up, but hit a snow/rainstorm at the top & coming down. Descending that fast in the rain & wind wasn't much fun.
If you can, I would find someone to take along for the ride. If you don't know anyone, check out one of the bike shops to see if they have an organized ride going.
The Alberta Randonneurs do the Highwood Classic 300 each September. I haven't done it yet, but I've heard it is quite a good ride. I'm hoping to be able to ride it this year if possible.
As for wildlife, anywhere in the Rockies you could encounter wildlife.
Wolves are becoming a problem near where I live. Last November, for the first time in my life I saw a pair of wolves ... it came as quite a surprise, and then I heard that they were increasing dramatically in number. I've heard a story of a cyclist being stalked by a pack of wolves quite recently. I'm concerned about wolves.
Near Canmore, a cougar ran across the road in front of me while I was cycling a 400K couple years ago. That was the first cougar I've ever seen! But I've heard that the cougar population is increasing too.
Quite a number of years ago, on a cycling tour from Jasper to Banff, I saw a grizzly. Fortunately it was quite a distance away, but the hump was distinct. On that same tour, I was cycling along and noticed all these yellow signs stapled to trees ... about every 10 feet or so. I ignored them and kept cycling. My now-Ex husband was driving a van down the route checking up on me now and then. I stopped to use the toilet at one point and he told me to hurry up. "Why?" I asked. Apparently all those yellow signs were warning tourists to keep moving because there was an aggressive bear in the area. And then he added ... "Didn't you see the bear droppings all along the road?" I thought they were horse droppings ... but they were just a bit different than horse droppings.
Knowing what bear droppings look like, I couldn't help but notice fresh ones along the road between Radium and Castle Mountain on my 600K last year!! I kept moving on that ride!!
As for elk, I've encountered elk on just about every ride I've done in the mountains. If they are standing on the side of the road (or some on one side and some on the other) I choose a path as far away from them as possible ... either on the other side of the road, or right down the middle of the road. I ride at a steady pace and I make no sudden moves. Sometimes I talk to them in a low, quiet, even tone, "Nice elk. Beautiful day out here. How's that grass you're eating?"
But chances are in the middle of the day the only wildlife you'll encounter will be elk, deer, coyotes, and squirrels. The wolves, cougars, and bears tend to come out more at dusk and dawn.
Bruce Gordon BLT, Cannondale parts bike, Ecodyne recumbent trike, Counterpoint Opus 2, miyata 1000
When I started looking at Highwood Pass I was not impressed at first. Fortunately I dug deeper. As it skirts with timberline the climate must be as harsh as it would be in Colorado at a much higher altitude.
I did the Highwood 300 a couple years ago with the Alberta Randonneurs; great ride!
Last weekend, I was out near the road closure (but not past it). The shoulders aren't swept (yet; surprise, surprise) but the road was perfectly clear the whole way to the closure. I imagine it is also dry up-and-over (maybe some wet patches, but I don't think you'll encounter any snow).
The sheep herd up there is pretty used to people, so while most sheep run away as a cyclist approaches, I find that the herd near the top of the pass doesn't. Count yourself lucky if you see anything else large-animal-wise
Wow, people sure have an irrational fear of animals.
I say that as someone who has spent a decent amount of time living and even working in wilderness with bear (black and grizzly) wolves, etc.
An above poster said wolves have become a "problem." How, exactly, is that? Any wolves attacked people? How do you verify that the wolves were indeed stalking the cyclists? And cougars? A grand total of 18 people have died due to cougar attacks since 1890. Generally they run away long before you'll ever get the chance to see them.
Sorry, that's the end of my rant
Other than that, sounds like a cool ride, weather permitting. If it were me, I'd do as someone else said and take a pretty extensive toolkit, because you never know. Is there cell phone reception up there? That might be good to know.
I went up to Highwood Pass last Friday and it was just beautiful there, although there was approximately one foot of snow just at the pass... I saw dozens of animals, like deer, mountain sheep, elk, but no bears. I had been warned that there had been sightings in the previous days, but all I saw was a lot of droppings!
It was my first time riding in the area... it won't be the last!