I biked up Monarch Pass a few years ago on the east side:
(crappy pictures but proof)
I have much nicer pictures of Monarch Pass here:
(There is a CDOT web cam up there. You could lock your bike and rest with your friends watching you on the web cam!)
With the mountains, a lot of it is psychological. You just gotta take your time, one peddle at a time ... take a break if you need to ... go as slow as you need to, etc. The mental part is to stay positive and committed when your brain is screaming at you to stop and quit.
SADDLE BAGS - I never took them off. I just grabbed my most valuable stuff (wallet, camera, cell phone) and locked it up. I suppose someone could have just stolen my non-bicycling t-shirt, my tubes, my maps, etc., but I was more concerned about the entire bike being stolen. That is clearly the item of most value.
Now is the time!