Cycling Kootenay Pass
Well, it takes a bit of travel to get to, but it’s worth it! Ranked #6 in Canada, this climb, while on a highway, is extremely scenic and challenging.
The 8 kilometer climb entry is shallow at 3.3%, but the last 11 kilometers kick up to a 7% average. We began our climb around 8 a.m. on a weekday and traffic was light, giving us the opportunity to appreciate our beautiful surroundings, including Lead Creek -- which we are in eyesight and earshot of for the first 8 km/5 miles.
We are bordered by forest throughout this climb, and in July there were many wildflowers blooming along the side of the roadway. Much of the climb is through a wide canyon, giving us several good views of nearby rugged, snow-covered mountains. We are told this is an area for extreme snow sports and the pass is unique in that it is open year round.
Ride through a canyon on our ascent.
There are several long, steep, and straight grinder uphill sections to this brute, particularly towards the top. On each side of Kootenay Pass, we are tested much more at the top than we are at the bottom with its much milder sections. There is one particularly dramatic (or daunting, depending on your perspective; see slideshow) distant view of the road cut into the hillside ascending the canyon – one of those, “are you kidding me” sights – we prefer to be innocently oblivious to what’s in store . . .
Brake check is mandatory at the summit, a testament to the grade at the top of each side of the pass. This is the one pass that we climbed that actually had a sign designating the pass at its summit – several other passes had the pass sign and elevation at the bottom of the climb.
Well . . . it’s a highway, after all . . .
. . . but, we did feel safe on the ride and there is a wide bike lane.
Roadway Surface and traffic Report: The roadway is excellent and there is a paved shoulder throughout the climb. This is a highway and should be avoided by those sensitive to highway traffic. We recommend tackling this one early in the morning – we began at 8 a.m. on a weekday and traffic was light in the early a.m., but moderate later in the day while descending after climbing Kootenay east. The speed limit is 100 kph on parts of this climb, emphasizing that this is clearly a highway route.
Also note its a good idea to check the weather, as we were rained on July 6, 2016 – very cold and a good dumping of rain.
The beginning is a gentle stair step, rolling between two and five percent. As with the west side of Kootenay Pass, we follow a creek the first few kilometers or so. The first 19 km/12 miles are a mild climb at 2.9% average grade. We hit very significant sustained difficult pitches at kilometer 27.2/mile 17, where the road is straight and the grade averages 7.5% for this final 3.7 km/2.3 miles. The view up and down this straight roadway is exquisite, if we can detach ourselves from the energy it takes to rotate our way up to the top.
As with the west side of the pass, we are bordered by forest throughout the climb, and in July there are many wildflowers blooming along the side of the roadway – even more plentiful on the east side of the pass than the west. Bridal Lake, peaceful lake at the summit, has several picnic benches for a scenic break before heading down one side of the pass or the other.
Roadway Surface and Traffic Report: The report above for Kootenay West applies equally to Kootenay East.