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Conquering Coal Bank and Molas Passes is a big ride—and you’ll often see groups of riders who are training for the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic on this route on a Saturday in mid-May. Purgatory is a great place to start. There’s parking at the entry to the resort, as well as accessibility to restrooms. Be sure you have a couple of bottles of water and some food to get you through climbing the three passes. (You’ll do both the North side and the South side of Coal Bank, since this is an out-and-back ride. Bring layers, since you’ll be ascending and descending, climbing a total of 4,138 feet.
Starting at Purgatory gives you just over two miles of warm-up before you start climbing the South side of Coal Bank Pass. This climb is about 5.5 miles beginning with the hairpin right turn that signals the beginning of the climb from an elevation of 8.769 feet to the Summit at 10,640. There are public restrooms at the Summit, but are typically only open in summer.
You’ll have a 2.79 mile descent down the North side of Coal Bank before starting the four-mile Molas Pass climb, which begins with another hairpin right. The hardest part of this climb is the last pitch up to Andrews Lake. When you reach the summit at 10,910 feet, be sure to take in the view before retracing your steps back to the Coal Bank Pass Summit. The North side of Coal Bank is a shorter climb than the South side, so the hardest work is behind you. The descent is fun, fast, and curvy.
The nearly 30 mile round trips ends back at Purgatory. You’re now ready for the Iron Horse!
Some advice from Gaige Sippy, Director of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic: