Very brief update since I need to hit the road and head home. This was definitely the coolest of the 3 road climbs. Onion Valley is the hardest climb in California, and #57 in the world. A pretty solid continuous grade to the top (no false summits!) and the terrain is varied and interesting vs. mile long switchbacks and the usual epic scenery.
Since this was my last climb, I was also able to ride it at a more aggressive pace which is good because it was also the COLDEST day. 37F and a stiff breeze coming up the valley – I never took off my windbreaker the whole ascent.
I took a lot more pictures on the way down, because it was so cold my fingers would go numb and I’d start shivering. I’d pause in the sun to warm up a bit and continue on. Winter was definitely in the air!
The expansion cracks were actually better than Horseshoe – most had been filled in and I didn’t see a lot of tire eaters on the way up, so mostly it was just annoying KERTHUNK KERTHUNK KERTHUNK
Oof, that was pretty tough – it has been a while since I did a 11,582 ascent day.
Tackling two of the hardest climbs in the country in a single day was a bit ambitious. Horseshoe Meadows is #7 in the US and #69 in the world. Whitney Portal is #14 USA, #122 in the world.
Horseshoe Meadows starts off a few miles south of Lone Pine via Lubkin Canyon – you can also do it the long way from Whitney Portal, but I was going for steepest/shortest.
It starts off with a gradual climb up Lubkin over pretty broken pavement, then you hang a left and do a lonnnng drag to get to the ominous switchbacks.
In general nothing too extreme, but the pavement is pretty rough, above 7000 feet, there’s a lot of broken expansion cracks. 700×32 tires suggested.
There’s a false summit around 8600 feet which is annoying, then you eventually end up in the camp ground areas – not much to see up there other than trees!
The descent was pretty crappy coming off Horseshoe – those expansion joints are brutal, some were tire eaters, so I had to go slow. Even down low, the pavement was pretty choppy.
After a quick snack and reapplication of sunscreen, I drove back to the hotel and started off on Whitney Portal.
This is another long drag and then 2 (or 3) huuuge switchbacks. My legs were definitely feelin’ it by the time I hit the first switchback, which, coincidentally, is when the grade kicks up to 10-15%, yech.
Pictures declined significantly, which usually means I’m groveling. I did, eventually, make it to the top.
Good news is the pavement on Whitney Portal is good, so I was able to blast back down the mountain.
Well, been a while since I’ve done a blog post from my android phone on the road.. not even with the motorcycle this time. Only a few days off and I wanted to bring two bikes.
Day 1 is a full dirt climb up to an old mining site, Cerro Gordo. Notably, by FIETS score (16.98 FIETS, Pike’s Peak is 17.8) so this would be a solid Top 10 in the USA if it was paved – it climbs 4600 feet in a little less than 8 miles. It starts about 15 miles south of Lone Pine toward the Panamint Valley and then onto Death Valley.
There’s a whole bunch of interesting history in this area related to the Water Wars where LA diverted their river – it’s still going on to this day over toxic dust clouds caused by the dry lake.
Anyways, it kicks off in Keeler, where a few hardy souls still hang on, and a lone US Post Office outpost.
Once you roll out, it takes you onto a pretty well maintained dirt road (and in fact I passed a grader on the way back down) – the washboard was not too bad on the lower slopes and the first 5 miles is a pretty gradual (heh) 8-10% grade.
It kicks up in a few spots, but nothing egregious. At this point I was wondering what the fuss was about and figured it was cake.
Then you get to about mile 4.8 and take a small downhill, and the rest is pretty brutal. Solid 15-20%, and I saw upper 20s a few times. The road surface becomes a lot more challenging – much looser and more washboard. I don’t advise trying to stop: You may fall over or may not be able to get going again!
The summit gives you a peek over into the Panamint Valley and you can check out the old buildings and random artifacts related to the old mining history. I didn’t hang around for a tour and headed on down.
The upper descent was definitely sketchy on skinny gravel tires. You don’t want to get too much speed going on the loose wash board, or you may run out of traction. Being solo, I took it easy.
Once onto the lower slopes, I met up with the grading tractor knocking down all the washboard (what luck!) and it was smooth sailing.
As usual in this part of California, epic scenery abounds!
Today was gonna be a long one – I planned to ride up Mount Shasta (#60 in the US, ~4000 ascent) early, and then motorcycle the 300+ miles home in one shot. “Dangerous heat” advisory starting Monday, and the idea of slogging down California during the week day commute period made doing a double seem more appealing.
Rolled out at first light and headed up, got a mile out and realized I forgot my cell phone – oops. Coasted back to the hotel and started again.
The climb up Mount Shasta was very pleasant and relaxing – no traffic, a pretty consistent 5 to 6% grade. The lower half doesn’t have much scenery, just trees and quiet.
3/4 up things open up a bit and you can see a bit more, and the final 3 miles are entirely closed to traffic (I don’t know if I count as traffic, I didn’t ask) – at the top, the landscape is scoured pretty clean from heavy avalanche/snow I assume.
The closed section was a bit dirty and bumpy, but nothing too bad, and after that the descent is pretty much no brakes to get back to the valley floor.
This was a great final climb for my trip, peaceful and nothing too extreme. Plus it put me in a good frame of mind to tackle 300 miles of mind numbing interstate, which I did in a one stopper because it was already 97 degrees at 10 AM in Redding. So that’s all I’ll say about that part of the trip.
I’ll put together a trip summary post in a day or two, but I’d say it was successful! Epic and awesome and great bicycling!
Running out of mountains to climb! Today I headed up Mt Spokane, which is probably just out of the top 100, but still pretty notable for the area, with a 4000+ foot ascent. [Strava activity here]
Since I knew this was pretty easy, I decided to just ride to the 15 miles to the start of the climb instead of starting at the base. Especially with all the delicious oxygen at 2000 feet above sea level.
The first 15 miles were through the rolling hills off Spokane wheat country, one thing that I found interesting is there are housing developments scattered within the fields – either these are the richest farmers I’ve ever seen, or these are separate houses that just happen to be within the fields – interesting locale to live in.
Once the sun came up, I turned onto the highway that leads into Mt Spokane park, and eventually the climb starts. I say “eventually” because it is pretty gradual for the first 10 miles or so.. and back in the tree tunnels.
When you turn off into the actual park, the grade kicks up to a more reasonable 6 to 8% and it feels like a real climb. Unfortunately the last few miles turn into mega-huge switchbacks and it eases off again, which is the reverse of most climbs – usually they’re steeper at the end.
You really only get vistas starting in the last 2 miles, and unfortunately things were pretty hazy – either due to the fires or just high clouds.
Due to the gradual grades, the descent was pretty non-technical and I just cruised back down for some pancakes!
2 more climbs to go – tomorrow I’m going to do the motorcycle-bicycle double on Mt. Hood, since it is also a gradual climb.
Late posting today due to aforementioned motorcycle excitement.
But to start with the bicycling – Big Cottonwood is another one of the top 50 climbs in the US, combined with Guardsman from Park City, it’s a pretty stiff climb – I had dreams of adding Little Cottonwood, but after the descent took what felt like forever, and pretty gusty tail (ie, headwind the way up) – I declined.
Once more up Guardsman, combining parts of 2 of the climbs I did last time, and then the long descent down the canyon.. it goes on and on!
Finally, after reaching the bottom, the long drag back up – this is a pretty heavily trafficed route, and seems very popular with cyclists too.
So after roughly 4+ hours, I returned back to the hotel and got breakfast. On my way back, I decided to check on the motorcycle annnnd… flat rear tire. Totally flat.
Now normally that’s just annoying. Given I was in a nice, flat, cool enclosed garage.. spending 2 hours to change a tube is not a huge deal.
But in this case, I couldn’t find what made it flat! If there was a nail or screw or something, fine. But.. no.. nothing. I even doused the whole thing with soapy water, and the only bubbles were coming up around the valve stem.
I don’t like mysterious mechanical things several thousand miles from home, so I phoned around and found a shop about 30 minutes away (on a Monday no less, which is a miracle in itself since most motorcycle shops are closed Mondays.)
So, I pumped the tire back up and determined it was losing about 3 PSI per 30 minutes, enough time to get over there.
They took it apart and….. they were stumped too!
Nothing in the tire, the puncture is on the tread side (not the rim strip.) and nothing.
The only odd thing is the tube does feel a bit squishy where the puncture was. Maybe manufacturing defect? Or something speared the tire and then left without leaving a trace?
Oh well. They put in my spare tube, put it back together, and I headed back.
Guardsman Pass from Midway is in the top 20, and Empire is in the top 50 or so, but I’ve a hard time taking any climb seriously after doing Pike’s Peak! Combined it was around 6000 feet of ascent. [Strava activity here]
Both of these have sustained sections of 10% or greater – the granny gear finally got serious usage (excepting that top part of Pike’s, which was more oxygen related than grade related.) The lower part of Guardsman is relentless 10-15% for the first several miles, I saw 22% on one switchback. The average grade was deceptive as there were a few VERY short downhill sections.
I didn’t take many photographs, the mosquitos were out again and I have barely recovered from the last round of Colorado mosquitos – at least Colorado mosquitos didn’t seem to have whatever flesh eating bacteria lives in Wyoming mosquitos, they were more normal level of annoying instead of terrifying red welts the size of quarters.
I’ll be doing parts of this route again on Monday – Empire and the top 2 miles of Guardsman, before descending Big Cottonwood and then climbing back up.
The question is if I will also attempt Little Cottonwood – this is another 4K in-n-out climb at the bottom of Big Cottonwood. That’ll make for a 10.5K day – I’ve purposefully been keeping the bike legs relatively short to ensure enough recovery time between bicycling & motorcycling – but I have no climb (or even destination yet) planned after Monday, so I might just go empty the tank if I’m feeling good.
Tomorrow is a maintenance day (bike, moto, laundry, etc) so I’ll have time to figure out what I’m doing next!
This wasn’t on the big climb list, but on the “scenic optional route” list I had put together if the timing/weather/geography worked out.
It was definitely worth it – really epic scenery and a great route that winds up and over the terrain.
This time the sun was finally in my favor instead of riding directly into the sunrise.
The ride itself was very enjoyable, and I saw more cyclists than cars (at least early morning on a week day.)
After the quasi-summit, the descent is fast and technical – I did not take photos since I felt myself spending too much time staring at the scenery and not paying attention to the switchbacks, so I settled on safely getting back to the valley.
Tomorrow is a long motorcycle day to Park City, UT. Starting in Park City means I’ll be doing some double climbs (front and backsides) but I decided I’d rather be cooler in Park City than roasting in the valleys.
Wow, this was hard.. really really hard, steep and relentless, possibly the most difficult (subjectively) climb I’ve ever done. [Strava Activity Here]
I got out early and headed up the highway, and it pretty much goes straight to 6-8% grade right after leaving town. Zero shoulder and cars blowing by at freeway speeds, not fun.
After a bit of this you make a left and head up on the Pike’s peak road, and things get even more serious with 10% grade that just goes straight up. Just getting to the top of this section took about an hour.
I had left early figuring to beat the tourist traffic.. except in typical “zero research fashion” it turns out the road is only open at 7:30.. and they are quite serious about it, it’s a whole production: van loads of rangers and volunteers blanketing the mountain, 2 mobile EMT trucks(!), massive gates and toll structure.
So I had to sit around for an hour until the road opened, it was not particularly cold or windy, so it was ok.
From about 8K to about 10K, things were ok, the typical alpine tree tunnels.. at 10K I started feeling not so great, which is odd since for both Trail Ridge and Mt Evans I didn’t really feel poorly until 12K.
I can only assume the combination of the much steeper grades and it being significantly warmer (and no wind) were making things more difficult.
From 13K on up.. it was a death march.. just put it in the granny gear (helllo!) and tried to keep the pedals turning. The quantity of pictures declined significantly from here on out.
After what felt like forever, I made it to the summit and received many high-fives and fist bumps!
Whew, well, after Pike’s, nothing is quite as difficult on the list (I hope!)
My current plan was to head to Ouray, CO and ride Red Mountain Pass, but it looks like they are gonna be blasted out by thunderstorms over the next few days.
I had thought some of the valley rides I had on the list were not going to happen due to heat, but maybe they’re back on if the mountains are too washed out!
We’ll see what tomorrow brings – either way, it is time to start heading west, so probably a 400+ mile motorcycle day.