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Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge Double Century
Ride summary for 2012 follows further down this page.
The Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge is the toughest double century in the country. And the best, or at least the best in California (personal view of course). No other double century has the quality miles, the awesome views, the excellent pavement, the perfectly spaced rest stops, the heat and the cold and the sheer challenge. It is awesome, a must-do.
The Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge has a true 20,500 vertical feet of climbing*. Plus it is at relatively high altitude with passes summiting at up to ~8600 feet, and never dropping below 4800 feet elevation. So average elevation is about 6600 feet, higher if the time spent at altitude while climbing is factored in (riding slower/longer at higher elevation).
- 198 miles with 20,500 vertical feet of climbing (6187 meters).
- Half of the course above 7000 feet / 2133m of elevation, altitude up to ~10,000' (3048 meters).
- Can be very HOT and COLD the same day.
- Kingsbury Grade aka Daggett Pass (East) + Luther Pass (South) + Carson Pass (East) + Blue Lakes Road + Ebbetts (East) + Ebbetts (West) + Monitor (West) + Monitor (East). Regrettably, eastern Sonora Pass is not included (26% grade).
- Start/Finish at Turtle Rock Park in Markleeville, CA.
The Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge is substantially harder than the Death Ride, with 5500' more climbing and 70 miles longer.
The Devil Mountain Double is very difficult, as is The Terrible Two, but not as hard as Alta Alpina: those don’t ever ascend as high as the lowest altitude of Alta Alpina (4800 feet elevation). Nor do they have as much climbing (though DMD comes close). Still, with the right combination of conditions, they could be be just as hard (e.g., very hot weather). Of course if Alta Alpina is very hot, then it is the true death ride—be very careful of dehydration and heat stroke.
* Not the wildly inaccurate Garmin elevation figures some riders post for other doubles with deviations of up to 4000 vertical feet among different riders Garmin units. My personal experience with a Garmin Edge 500 proves Garmin altimeter to be junk (not always, but frequently).
Design your own any-passes route
You can design your own ride with any number of passes, a terrific way to slide into the event, working up to all 8 passes in subsequent years.
There are other ride variants, including the 5-Pass Challenge. But the 8-Pass jersey is available only to finishers of the 8-Pass Challenge. Fastest finishing time in 2011 was 12:23 for 8 passes— that’s fast.
I admonish anyone attempting this ride to spend at least one full day and the two nights prior at ~10,000' elevation the days before the event (camp). If not that, do not spend 3 or 4 days; jump to a minimum of 5 full days and nights, otherwise the body will be half-way adjusted which can be worse than either.
It’s not just the altitude, it’s the dry air that one should get used to. It can be done arriving from sea level the day prior, but your aerobic power will take a significant hit.
By 6+ days at high elevation prior to the event, your body will acclimate well, at least that’s how I do it for the Everest Challenge— works great for me and lets the body adjust almost fully.
For those who have the time, spend 5-6 days prior at high elevation, and enjoy the Sierra beauty in late June, which is spectacular.
The main risk in high Sierra riding is severe dehydration and hyponatremia (loss of electrolytes which can make you puky and end up with an IV in your arm, or worse). The use of a product like Hammer Endurolytes is essential. See also Dehydration and Fluid Intake for Endurance Efforts. Rest stops have all this stuff; it is very well organized.
Be prepared for just about anything, this is mountain riding! Some years there may be 10' deep snowpack at the passes! Late June is early spring at elevation in the high Sierra.
- It can be freezing in the morning, yet 90-100° by mid-day.
- Rain or snow are possible, even while it is quite hot at lower elevations!
- High winds are possible.
- Dehydration due to low humidity and high heat make hydration especially daunting. Do not underestimate the powers of evaporation!
2012 ride notes
I hoped to finish in under 15 hours and did even better at 13:45. The climbs and passes are quite “efficient” riding.
The course features nine fully stocked rest stops, two checkpoints with water, and lunch and dinner at Turtle Rock Park.
There will be a bag drop to the top of Monitor Pass for lights and warm clothing (both required after 8:58pm). You can bag your items at the start or when you get to the top of Kingsbury Grade.
Each rest stop has opening and closing times that must be respected and checkpoints will strictly enforce cut-off times intended to keep everyone safe.
This is the ultimate one day challenge and is for riders physically and mentally prepared for this adventure. An exclusive 8 Pass Finisher Jersey will be available for purchase to those who complete all eight passes.
Time Limit: You may choose to start during one of five start time windows: 3:30am-3:59am (with lights), 4:00am-4:29am (with lights), 4:30am-5:01am (with lights), 5:02am-5:29am (lights not required), 5:30am-5:59am (lights not required).
There are 9 rest stops on the course plus a lunch stop and two checkpoints. You must reach each rest stop and checkpoint before its listed cut-off time in order to collect 8 pass stickers. Riders headed towards a closed location will be turned around and directed to the next open stop. The course will be open for 19 hours and 30 minutes. All riders must be off the course by 11:00pm.
Anyone who refuses to abide by the rules or the instructions of CHP, County Sheriff, or ride officials will lose all their stickers and be listed as DQ. These rules are in place to ensure the safety of all participants and to satisfy the requirements of county and state agencies.
As emailed to me prior to the race.
Please carpool if possible to the start/finish, at Turtle Rock Park. TRP is halfway between the towns of Woodfords, CA and Markleeville, CA, on the west side of Highway 89 (across the highway from Airport Road). See mapquest.com for the location of Turtle Rock County Park, between Woodfords and Markleeville.
YOUR START TIME IS 4:00 am.
Pre-ride check-in is at the community center building at Turtle Rock Park. Please check-in on Friday if possible: Friday evening check-in is from 6:00pm to 9:00pm. Saturday morning checkin will be open from 3 am onward. You need to have photo ID with you on the ride, please bring it to check-in (we don't want to give your ride to someone else by mistake). (We'll also have same-day registration for the folks who procrastinated on registering until we fill all 250 spots so feel free to bring along a friend.)
At pre-ride check-in, you'll receive a rider number and wrist band that you'll need to wear during the ride to identify you as a participant. You'll need to be able to show these at the rest stops. Both will have your start time on them.
Please wear your number on your back so that our SAG drivers can see them - they'll be keeping track of where our riders are. The number will also be used to collect the stickers that you'll get at the top of each pass, so it needs to be accessible. You'll also get an optional number tag for your bike just in case you get separated from your bike for any reason.
You ordered one of our exclusive 8 Pass Finisher Jerseys in Voler Men-L club cut. If you don't complete the full 8 pass course you will receive one of our beautiful Ride Jerseys instead. A limited number of jerseys will be available at check-in after the ride. If we don't have a jersey for you at the end of the ride we will mail it to you after Voler produces a second run of the Jerseys.
Parking for all participants is in the large dirt parking lot near the Turtle Rock Park community center. The county does not permit overnight parking in this lot and the Sheriff will be enforcing this policy (their substation is in the community center building). Parking is also prohibited along the side of Highway 89, due to fire hazard, as is sleeping overnight in your car at TRP or along the highway (enforced by CHP and the Sheriff). However...
There is a campground at Turtle Rock Park, and sites are available on a first-come first-serve basis. As mentioned, camping is prohibited at the TRP parking lot and along the highway. However, you can sleep in your cars in some nearby areas. For all accommodation, camping, and sleeping-in-your-car information, please see: www.altaalpina.org/challenge/travel.html
We don't have a Friday dinner planned, however there are a number of nearby restaurants that you might want to check out.
The Woodfords Inn is also hosting a dinner for participants that spend the weekend with them. See the list at the bottom of the page on our travel page: www.altaalpina.org/challenge/travel.html
Ride conditions were superb, with temperatures ranging from 48° to about 95° F at the bottom of west Monitor Pass (always hot). My SRM read up to 103° F, but the unit heats up in the sun, so I discount that to 95° F. But that was a peak temperature only at the lower portions of Monitor Pass east/west.
Clear blue sky, and it never got very hot. The gentle dawn up Kingsbury Grade was lovely to behold. Traffic was light. The wind was low to moderate, though it became strong up and down east and west Monitor Pass, strong enough to make me very conservative about descent speed. But it added a welcome cooling effect.
The main item of note was fog-like clouds of pollen wafting off the pine trees at the 7000-8000 foot elevation. Nasty stuff to which I have some allergy; my lungs were irritated for a week. Anyone with allergies/asthma might want to dose-up on antihistamines and/or asthma meds prior. This pollen is common at that elevation in late June.
By and large the pavement is excellent, with some notable exceptions, namely the section of Hwy 8 from Woodfords to the Luther Pass junction. The pavement there is cracked with some potholes, and it’s worst traffic of the ride (but not bad at all early in the morning). Still, the pavement is not really that bad, not compared to some of the junk in my own area, just pay close attention on the way down.
The Kingsbury Grade, Luther Pass are very good, Blue Lakes Road is awesome, and Ebbett’s (a few bumps and rocks though) and Monitor are excellent.
There is some rockfall hazard especially on Ebbett’s, but this is infrequent; note the areas on the way up and don’t assume that new rocks have not appeared!
I used Hammer Perpetuem almost exclusively for calories, along with 300-400 calories of energy gel and assorted minor amounts of regular food (oranges, a few small PB&Js, licorice sticks, a very few potato chips). But after Hermit Valley, Hammer Perpetuem just lost all its appeal (in part from dehydration, but it also warms up too much in the bottle).
I made a tactical error in not slugging down a can of Mountain Dew at the summit of Monitor Pass (or maybe it should have been Ebbett’s). I did slug one down after the final climb (east Monitor), and doing so restored full strength by the time I was down.
My theory is that the Mountain Dew combination of cold + caffeine + high fructose corn syrup fuels both muscle and liver glycogen— that late in the game everything is depleted. This observation is consistent with multiple other late-in-the-game Mountain Dew chug-a-lug experiences, and from now on I intend to make it part of my tactics late in such rides. I do NOT feel that Hammer Perpetuem does it all; when the liver is depleted of glycogen, then some fructose from a soda pop seems to be of real benefit (fructose heads to the liver and must be processed into glycogen, this takes some time, perhaps 60-70 calories per hour). And Mountain Dew just plain tastes damn good after 170 miles when I cannot gag down Hammer Perpetuem any more. Perpetuem warmed to 90° is not great stuff.
Some things I would do differently:
- Chugged a Mountain Dew at the top of Ebbett’s (if available) and at the top of Monitor before descending east Monitor. I think this would have recharged me significantly better for the climb back up east Monitor.
- Carried more energy gel, some with caffeine. They don’t give out the packets so a 5-serving HydraPak SoftFlask is in order so that one can fill it once or twice on the ride. Alternately, just carry 4-5 energy gels to fill in the gaps.
- Had a few licorice sticks at each stop. They break up the monotony.
I was the first person to finish the 8-Pass Challenge. According to ride organizers, I was edged out by Robert C who had a time 39 minutes faster (he started an hour later, so I was unaware of him, or I would have made sure to push harder, and cut out some wasted time).
I analyzed my ride and came up with the following time losses that I could have avoided. Most figures conservative estimates.
- Unnecessary dump on last climb. Lost 2:51 (exactly).
- Very slow descending east Monitor: Lost ~2:00.
- Slow descending Kingsbury Grade: Lost ~1:00
- Route check, minor deviation errors: 1:00.
- Needless delay at aid stations (no benefit): 15:00.
That’s about 22 minutes of time I could have cut out with no loss of performance. With proper fueling, the climb up east Monitor Pass should have been 5 minutes faster. So I reckon 27 minutes are possible with only a bit smarter riding. Also, it had been a long time since I had ridden these passes, and I wasn’t quite sure of the aid station locations (or rather the distances between them). Some optimization could be made there in terms of skipping some and definitely not skipping others.
One tactical mistake was not filling up / topping off completely at the Turtle Rock Park aid station, and then skipping the aid station at the start of Ebbett’s Pass. I ran “dry” by 2/3 of the way up Ebbett’s and dehydrated enough to become thirsty and to impair my performance. Fortunately the descent to Hermit Valley and the descent down Ebbett’s allowed me to slug down ~1.5 liters or so and have it mostly absorbed prior to the west Monitor Pass climb.
Ride statistics and graph
Statistics from my SRM PC7 with the SRM software.
Clock time (HH:MM:SS): 13:45:56
Roll time: 13:02:13 (on the bike) Ascent: 20,319' Watts: 185.5 Cadence: 63 rpm Average Heart rate: 122 bpm Max HR: 147 bpm Distance: 197.48 miles
There is clear evidence of an SRM software skew bug; observe how power and altitude are skewed at around the 11:00 mark. I have reported this bug and it has essentially been denied as real, but there it is.
Click for a larger graph.
Watch out for snowplows
My buddy Terry Morse of UDCTours.com (highly recommended tours), on the Blue Lakes Road. Make sure you ride fast enough uphill!