Donner Pass/Donner Lake Triathlon



I did this ride over the Memorial Day weekend, and I can tell you it’s both tough and gorgeous. Ride starts from the park at the west end of Donner Lake, and IMMEDIATELY starts jacking up the Donner Pass highway, at about a 7.5% gradient. There is a respite after a few hundred yards, but after that it’s really steady going at that gradient. The steeper sections such as they are happen near the top, and it’s exposed and beautiful the whole way. Road surface is surprisingly good, seeing that the climb is covered in snow much of the year. The signature of this climb is an old 1930’s style bridge, like you’d see on the Big Sur highway, which takes you out over a hairpin bend just before the crest of the climb. Stunningly beautiful, and a classic California highway scene.

Once over the top, it’s a long slow descent down into Kingvale, dropping about as much elevation as you just gained slogging up Donner Pass. You pass a bunch of the little ski resorts that are sprinkled around the pass, as well as high alpine meadows and lakes. Then you cross over the 80, and it’s into the tall pines for a few miles before the turnaround in Kingvale.

The climb back is a grind. Pacing yourself seems to be the key here, and mentally allowing for the slow speed on the return climb up. It’s my view that this is the make or break section of the route, being the most mentally tough. On the initial ascent of Donner Pass, it’s a steep climb, and you really have no other option than to settle in and go threshold at your best pace–something that’s much easier for me to do on a steep climb than a slow, shallow dragger with lots of little rollers.

The descent is dangerous. Corners are tight, drops are precipitous, and taking chances doesn’t seem like it’s going to do much for your overall time. It is a fun descent with the incredible views of the high Sierra and Donner Lake almost the whole way, and as soon as you drop into the trees and the view evaporates, the road straightens out and it’s time for a tuck anyway.


After 3 days and some relatively easy riding on the “flats” at elevation, this ride was not as hard as I’d have imagined it. I did repeats of the climb on Tuesday, and did 21:35 and 22:17 in that order, which seems pretty decent compared to climb rates over Old La Honda, a very similar ride in Woodside (bay area). Recovery the next week was slow, and that’s the main thing I suffered with due to the elevation training. I’m looking forward to a nice jump in fitness next week.

Originally uploaded by zekeydekey

Here is the profile and course map for the bike leg of the Donner Lake Triathalon. The goal was to scout out the course for the upcoming July 15 event, and get in some hard training at altitude. Always a challenge with 2 kids under 2 yrs. in tow. Thanks to “Map my Ride“, for the map and elevation profile. First time using this service, and it’s interesting if a little slow. Hope they keep working on it, it’s a great start.

Start Elevation: 5951 ft
Max Elevatoin: 7169 ft
Vertical gain: 1218 ft
Length: 3.05 mi
Avg. Gradient: 7.5%
3.5 out of 5
1” = Commuting to work in traffic
5” = TDF mountain stage, summiting at l’Alpe d’Huez

The Good: Scenery, Scenery, Scenery. Mountain and lake views. Minimal wind. Great steady 3 mi. climb, minimal traffic. Great training at altitude.
The Bad: Short, but that can be adjusted. Start at park gives no warm-up. Dangerous but fun descent.



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