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Fact Table:

Location South Central
High point 11312 ft
Max Grade 7%
Arv Rt Grade 5.2%
Dist to High pt 10 mi
Elev Gain 2750 ft
Rating Moderate
Access City Sargents

 

Location South Central
High point 11312 ft
Max Grade 7.5%
Arv Rt Grade 4.9%
Dist to High pt 11.5 mi
Elev Gain 3000 ft
Rating Moderate
Access City Maysville

 

Ride Tips:

  • Bring and use sunscreen with you. The West side is in the open and you'll be cooked if you don't
  • This pass has services at the summit. However, bring water and food for the climbs
  • Watch for high traffic on weekends
  • Watch for rapidly changing weather. Bring wet and cold weather gear with you.
  • This pass is over 11K. Watch for sign of altitude sickness.

 

TopView east from Monarch Pass
SargentsApproach to Monarch Pass from Sargents area
MaysvilleApproach to Monarch Pass from Poncha Springs
East ClimbMonarch Pass climb from Maysville
Fr eastEast side climb of Monarch Pass
SargentWest side climb of Monarch Pass
Sargent2West side climb of Monarch Pass
Near topNear top of Monarch Pass
Profile

Monarch Pass Summary

From Maysville to Sargents it’s 21.5 miles, with the summit 11.5 miles from Maysville.  Because the elevations of Maysville and Sargents are roughly the same, one might assume that the east and west faces are pretty similar, even the profiles look about the same.  However, as is just about every pass in CO, the two sides of the mountain are very different.  From the east, Maysville (Poncha Springs), you’re leaving the CO banana belt…  A very warm, if not hot, agricultural and farming area.  You make a fairly straight climb through a rather scenic valley with the Arkansas River flowing wildly downhill to your left.  From Sargents, you are climbing from arid ranchland and wide open high plains.  You follow winding mountain roads and face a number of miles literally on a ledge carved into a mountain face. 

On both sides, the roads are wide and good, though you don’t always have shoulders or guardrails.  On the east side, you’re somewhat protected from the sun by hills and trees.  On the west side, use sun lotions and blocks liberally as you are in the sun for most of the climb.  In many places the only relief is found in the shadow of a road sign.

From Maysville on the east, you enter the San Isabel National Forest under a moderate climb averaging about 4% for the first five to six miles.  It certainly is not too difficult, but you do know you are climbing.  However, just before the small town of Garfield, the road ramps up a bit and the remainder of the climb averages around 6%.  Short segments mid mountain and near the top approach 7% to 7.5% for a brief stint, but the sections are fairly short. 

Unlike most passes, at the top of Monarch, you will find a gift shop, snack shop, and even a gondola lift if you want to get a bit higher to the top of Monarch Ridge (almost 12K high).  The view to the west is impressive, but is nothing compared to the view to the east.  You will be inspired.

From Sargents, it’s pretty much a ten mile consistent climb.  The first nine miles average just about 6% with the final mile a touch steeper.  Also, mid-climb you will come across a roughly half mile segment that tops a 7% grade.  Since this road twists and turns a lot, you really won’t see the summit until you are almost on top of it.  In fact, once you pass Agate Campground (about 3 miles out of Sargents), the road really starts to wind around.
Much of this climb up the Sawatch Mountain Range is literally cut into the face of mountains.  Agate Creek rumbles below you, to the right, through the Gunnison National Forest.  Because this road follows the contour of the mountain face, you are on a ledge in the open sun and at this altitude, you do need sun screens, sun blocks, and extra water. It’s a fun climb on good roads.  Shoulders or guardrails are sometime missing. 

I rode this pass for the first time in 1999 during a Ride the Rockies tour.  While the owner of a trailer that caught fire on the climb (and stopped us for 90 minutes) won’t really have the greatest of memories, I do recall this climb fondly.  The sight of 1500 cyclist lined up on the edge of the road doing the wave, passing time until the road was re-opened, was astonishing.  I’ve since ridden this pass an additional four times, twice from each side, and always enjoy it.  The climbing does not seem too steep… but, in all honestly, seems never ending from the east.  From the profile, you can really see that this is more or less one consistent climb with little to no grade breaks.

Downhills are fun in either direction.  Downhill to the east is a touch shorter, but you do have the opportunity to more or less coast into Poncha Springs.  The west side is a little longer and steeper.  The roads winds more than on the east, but with ten miles of 6% downhill grades, you are sure to get a good amount of speed going.

Bottom line, this is not a lung busting leg cramping climb.  What it is, is a very scenic and consistent ride convenient to both Gunnison and Salida.

Alternate Routes

Anyone near Monarch Pass may want to consider a nice out and back up Cottonwood pass.  The west face of this pass is still unpaved, but the last time up it, I actually found the packed dirt to be better than some paved road (even in the rain and snow of late June 2009).  The paved road has recently been resurfaced and is smooth and fast, and has a section approaching a 10% grade… If you are going down, it’s long and fast.  If you are going up… gravity is not a friend. 

Cottonwood is one of the passes that I have a more detailed description of and recommend that you review that report.  In short, the pass is 12,126 feet high and the route described runs from Almont to Buena vista It’s a beautiful ride unless it rains and turns the road to mud.  If it’s dry, you’ll have the roads to yourself and will see some of Colorado’s best scenery.  The west face has a number of steep switchbacks toward the top, and the view to the west is fantastic.  The lower part of the eastern side into Buena Vista is very straight and offers a nice four to five mile run-out into the town.