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Early Rockies crossing... where and when?

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Early Rockies crossing... where and when?

Old 11-15-08, 02:02 AM
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avatarworf
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Early Rockies crossing... where and when?

Hi everyone,

Well, some of you might remember us asking for advice on crossing Canada. Things have changed a bit since then. We can't get a cargo ship from NZ to Seattle so now we'll probably fly into San Francisco in early to mid-May and work our way up to Edmonton.

The only thing that concerns us slightly is crossing the Rockies. How early is too early? Any tips for where and when?

We're unsure if we first head north and then try to cross in late May or early June, somewhere near the Canadian border, if it will be possible or not... when do high passes clear up?

Thanks for any tips.
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Old 11-15-08, 08:20 AM
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The further north you go, the longer passes stay closed. The higher up the pass, the longer it stays closed. If there is a specific pass you were planning on taking fill us in please . Around here, the signs are shaping up for a nastyish winter... if it's the same along the spine of the Rockies, that could change when you'd expect to find passes open.
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Old 11-15-08, 08:44 AM
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When we lived in CO, the higher passes were generally pretty wintery (but not necessarily closed) into June.
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Old 11-15-08, 09:04 AM
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The West is like a series of books on a bookshelf - with widely varying climate regions running west to east in narrow bands. From San Francisco you first encounter the Pacific Coastal region that has cool summers and mild, rainy winters. Then you come into the Central Valley that has brutally hot, dry summers. Next up, the Sierra Nevada Mountains with very, cold, very snowy winters that last until late May and glorious, cool summers. Then you drop down into the Basin & Range country of Nevada and eastern Oregon where you can cross three of four mountain ranges a day - a region of hot, dry summers, and cold, unpredictably winters. Then you reach either the Wasatch Front or the western Rockies depending on how far north you are.

I have lived in Wyoming since 1990. I've biked almost every road in the Rockies. I've had many a visiting friend disappointed to discover that May is not a time of warm breezes in the Mountain West. It can be quite lovely. And the next day can be a full-scale blizzard. In fact, I cannot remember a single May without a snowstorm. Plus you have all that snow from the winter still piled up. Finding open and dry campsites can be nearly impossible.

That said, you might consider the lowest possible route - since elevation is the single most important factor in relation to temperatures and snowfall. In California, the Sierra Nevadas actually grow higher as you go south - topping out at Mount Whitney east of Fresno. The highway passes from Yosemite north (CA 120, CA 108, CA 4) will most likely still be closed. The highway passes in the Tahoe region (CA 88, US 50, I-80) are somewhat lower, but will still have snow at higher elevation. And you really don't want to ride US 50 or I-80. The highway passes north of Tahoe (CA 49, CA 70, CA 32) are lower still. CA 49 has very low traffic and stunning views of the Sierra Buttes. CA 70 is much busier and follows the Feather River Canyon to Lake Almanor - with incredible views of Mount Lassen. CA 32 has moderate traffic and will take you to Mount Lassen National Park - however the road thru the park will, almost certainly, still be closed.

If you are headed towards Edmonton, you should be taking a northeasterly tack; thus the most northerly crossing of the Sierras is not only the best - climate wise - but also the most direct. From Lassen, I would continue on to US 395 at Alturas - then follow US 395 north across Oregon to Pendleton. US 395 is extremely remote with almost no traffic; however, late spring is the most beautiful time of year in the high desert. From Pendleton, you might head thru Walla Walla, a lovely college town, and up to Spokane - then follow the Northern Tier route to Eureka, Montana on the Canadian border.

My guess is that it would be early June by then, so you can head up thru the Canadian national parks to Jasper and then over to Edmonton. This isn't the most direct route to Edmonton - but given the opportunity - you should ABSOLUTELY ride the Icefields Parkway. Even if you have tricky weather, there are inexpensive hostels all along the route and June is still a bit before the crowds descend on the parks.

I'll be glad to give you specifics, if you wish.

Best - J
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Old 11-15-08, 09:25 AM
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I don't know if this is of any help but some passes near Tahoe are kept open all winter because the service ski resorts. I specifically thinking of Kirkwood and Carson Pass. This may be true of other passes.

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Old 11-15-08, 09:37 AM
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I think if you must use a northern route, you should try to find some climatological data for Crowsnest Pass, which is only 4455'. I rode over Crowsnest this year (other direction, much later in season) and it was fine, in terms of cycling safety. I haven't ridden from the coast to there, though, so take a look to see if there are other higher passes you would have to cross first.

Further south, you could use the Adv. Cyclcing Lewis and Clark route - very very nice. The bigger passes are Lolo 55xx' and Joseph Pass, 72xx feet, with a couple more lumps that go up around the 6K mark. I don't know if Chief Joseph closes for winter.

Going to the Sun Road (Glacier National Park) opened in mid-July this year (which was very late), but I think it's usually in June. I would not count on it being open in early June, but you might be able to get a sense of it if you look up historical opening dates, and see how much snow they get this year.

I think May would be a great time for the ACA's Western Express Route, but that puts you way south, you would do a lot more miles that way, if Edmonton is your true goal. You could end up riding the spine of the rockies from Durango all the way to Calgary - which for me would be perfect, but no everyone lines so much mountain riding. You could jump out in the plains east of the rockies instead, but then you would be in the plans - not my cup of tea.

If you do take the northern route, try to ride the Icefields Parkway from Bannf to Jasper -some really spectacular scenery.

They try to open Trail Ridge Road, the highest pass in CO, at Memorial Day, but don't always succeed. If you do cross in June, you might have high snow banks next to the road.

There are probably other & better suggestions (jamawani?), but that's my braindump.

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Old 11-15-08, 09:48 AM
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Originally Posted by jamawani View Post
This isn't the most direct route to Edmonton - but given the opportunity - you should ABSOLUTELY ride the Icefields Parkway. Even if you have tricky weather, there are inexpensive hostels all along the route and June is still a bit before the crowds descend on the parks.
+ 100 - the Icefields Parkway is one of my favourite tours.

Perhaps you could go north up the pacific coast and then east once you hit Vancouver to give yourself the most time for the weather to stabilize.

One thing to keep in mind is mountain weather is unpredictable so you can have a storm any time, but the later you cross the less likely the road will be affected for long. I rode the Icefields the 4th of July weekend in 2007 and it was over 30 deg c at some points. I was battling the sun & heat. Literally an hour after I finished and was driving home a huge storm cell came in and dumped so much water/hail, etc.. on he road it was starting to wash out in spots.
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Old 11-15-08, 12:35 PM
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How early is too early?

April 1 in the Cascade, Coast or Rocky Mountains is too early. April 15 is technically too early but you can get breaks in the weather that will give you dry road conditions even if there is still quite a bit of snow on the ground at the higher elevations. I have departed Vancouver for Jasper and Edmonton (via Highway 5) on April 15 and I was able to ride back to Jasper to cycle down the Icefields Pakway from Jasper to Banff on April 25. That's pushing summer a bit and if there is a big dump of snow on the Parkway you can be screwed (ie you may be walking, with your bike in tow) if they don't bother to plow the road (which they sometimes don't in winter). By mid to late May there should be little to worry about.

If you pay attention to the weather forecasts you can time the passes to avoid passing snowstorms. Unfortunately I don't pay attention to the forecasts and I have been caught off-guard on occasion. I got stuck in the Rogers Pass (Highway 1) in a mid-April storm where you could actually see the depth of the snow rising before your eyes. I was forced to stay in the fancy hotel at the top of the pass.

The one pass I would be wary of (until about mid-May) is a fairly low one in the Coast Mountains that can be very painful if you get caught in a snowstorm - the Coquihalla Highway between Hope, British Columbia and Kamloops. There are two summits that can have horrendous weather (the Surrey Lake Summit and the Coquihalla Summit) and it is very remote, with drinking water issues and little shelter in places. The weather on the Coquihalla Summit can happen very quickly and with little warning. You can avoid the Coquihalla by cycling through the Fraser Canyon instead (lower elevation, less hostile weather). I wrote a Crazyguyonabike article on that section:

https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/3036

Early season cycling is great. You can get onto the Icefields Parkway before the hordes of fair weather summer cyclists show up. I would not worry too much about the weather at the time of year you will be arriving.

As far as routes are concerned there are various nice routes from Seattle into eastern Washington. There is even a route directly north from Seattle to Vancouver (partly on Chuckanut Drive along the coast). It's a very nice route until you get to Vancouver and everything basically goes to Hell. You can avoid the worst of Vancouver by going slightly inland in Washington to the Huntingdon/Sumas border crossing south of Abbotsford.
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Old 11-15-08, 01:50 PM
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The Elbow Valley Cycle Club and the Edmonton Bicycle Touring Club each run a Golden Triangle tour on the May long weekend (May 20th or so, depending on the year). The tour goes from near Banff (Castle Junction) to Radium Hotsprings to Golden and back to Castle Junction.

Both times I've done the tour, it has snowed a little bit, but the roads were fine and the temperatures were tolerable.
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Old 11-15-08, 04:00 PM
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You guys are such a wealth of information. Wow. It's so great to have a forum with so many experts on it! Truly, a very big thanks. It's so helpful when you're trying to sort stuff out online, without real maps.

Now all I need to do is get some maps so I can start plotting all of this. Maybe when we hit Australia in a couple weeks. Yes, we do need to go to Edmonton (family) and thanks for the kind offer in Calgary. I don't think we'll need to take you up on it, but you never know.

Point taken about the Icefields Parkway
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Old 11-16-08, 12:39 PM
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PS -

Map of the western US with general direction towards Edmonton -
Plus route I outlined above -

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Old 11-16-08, 03:32 PM
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jamawani, that does look like an appealing route. Although longer, it would avoid some of the crazy traffic going up the coast to Seattle. I think I might try that myself. Going north out of Eureka (Montana) I suppose one could continue on 93 to Radium (British Columbia) then into Kootenay National Park and onto the Icefields Parkway north of Banff without having to suffer the indignity of visiting Banff (the number two shopping destination in Alberta - despite being in a National Park!).

I just noticed I misread the original poster's itinerary which is proof one should not take advice from anonymous advisors on the internet.

Note to avatarworf - It's a pretty quick trip from Lake Louise to Edmonton so stop and smell the flowers if you want to make it last. Do the hike up Whistlers Mountain in Jasper, for instance. The trailhead is up near the Jasper Hostel. Go for a swim in Lake Annette too - the cold water gives you a full-brain ice cream headache. Jasper to Edmonton is only a two day trip (downhill the whole way basically). I usually stay overnight in Wildwood (if I don't go straight through to Edmonton).
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Old 11-16-08, 06:37 PM
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I had set up for a ride Denver, CO to Los Angeles in early May. The night before I left it snowed 12 inches in Denver. Imagine the Mountain Passes a mile and a half higher. Going round-the-World? Forget the Great White North. Consider a freighter to Long Beach, the big port on the West Coast. Follow one of the Race Across America routes to the east coast.
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Old 11-16-08, 07:14 PM
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There's nothing wrong with travelling across Canada (the Great White North), you've just got to be prepared. I wouldn't want to be cycling in the mountains prior to mid-May, and would add extra rest days into the schedule to take into account sudden blizzards which might have me staying in one spot for a while.

Once you hit the prairies, they can be quite warm. Manitoba in July is hot, like mid-30s, and humid with humidex factors in the low 40s. Summer in the prairies is great!! Just be sure to keep an eye out for storms. You can see them coming, and if you know your cloud formations you'll know what sort of shelter you'll need to seek. Some summers are stormier than others.

And I think I'd want to be in the Maritimes no later than mid-September. That would still provide a bit of time for exploration before the winter snows come in.
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Old 11-16-08, 07:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Randobarf View Post
Go for a swim in Lake Annette too - the cold water gives you a full-brain ice cream headache.
See Rowan's and my wedding photos, in my signature line below, for photos of Lake Annette.
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