Sunday, July 13, 2014



On the eve of leaving for California with Mike Smith a number emotions are running through me.  I am definitely excited to take on the challenge of climbing 10 of the 100 most difficult climbs in the U.S.  Five of those climbs are in the top 15 of difficulty. I will be trying to do nearly 50,000 ft. of climbing in 8-9 days of climbing.  I am also feeling some apprehension if at almost 64 years old that I am ready to take on such a challenge.  I am grateful that Mike is joining me in this adventure.  He plans to do the 5 most difficult climbs and possibly some of the others.  The forecasted 100 degree daytime temperatures make me feel uneasy about it adding to the challenge.  If it was going to be easy, two Cyclopaths would not be taking on the challenge.  Odd as it is my right knee is hurting today after a week of easier riding. Perhaps it doesn’t like me taking it easy.

Monday we left Tacoma around 12 and spent the night in Klamath Falls.  After 7 hours of driving on we arrived at Sonora West Climb #34 on Summerson’s list.  At 9,400 feet the temperature was 80 degrees.  I descended the 9.1 miles and started my climb.  This climb is noted for a large sign that indicates grades of 26%. How hard could a 9.1 mile climb be, I thought to myself.  The pitch immediately jumped up as the 90 degree heat at 6,000 feet jumped up. Very soon I was sweating away and struggling to keep my breathing under control. In the first 11 minutes of the climb I had already climbed over 500 feet.  The  first 3 miles were horrible with nothing below 10% and segments and ramps up to the 26%.  Two separate times that magic number crossed my Garmin.  I finished the 3,300 ft climb in 1:23 min of riding time.  I was pleased with that but not pleased with how tired I was after my first of ten climbs. 5 of those climbs are ranked in the top 15 so lots of hard work ahead of me.  

              Leon at the top of  the tough Sonora Pass  with a 26% section #34 on Summerson's list

Wednesday had me doing Pine Creek just outside Bishop (2700 ft just over 8 mi.).  This is a climb Conor did last year that was the 3rd climb of the day.  He did it under those circumstances and still did it in 45 min compared to my 1:03.  It is a very nice consistent climb that follows a creek to the camp ground.  The grade was very consistent around 6-8 %. I was able to start at 7 but already it was 75 degrees.  We are now in Lone Pine where it was 103 degrees today.  Mike has graciously agreed to get up at 5 and to try and start riding at 5:30. 

                                                    Pine Creek Road Climb #81 on list

Thursday we were on bikes by 5:40 and 68 degrees. Horseshoe Meadow’s # 6 on Summerson’s list of difficulty is 19 miles long with 6,500 feet of elevation gain ending at 10,034  I must have looked a little strange have a ace sock tied around my neck at 5:40 in the morning but it proved real helpful because as soon as the sun started hitting us I warmed up real quick.  I was sad that the ice only last 1:30 minutes. The beginning grade of the climb was fairly easy but the road was very rough and made the pitch seem steeper as we road along rather slowly. Mike’s hip had been bothering him so he encouraged me to go ahead and head off by myself.  The climb soon became more challenging. The climb has the 3rd most difficult 10 mile climbing segment in his book with a 7.9% average. At mile 16 Summerson showed a slight descent but in actuality it was a mile long descent with 13% +.  It gave me a chance to cool off some and let my legs rest but then I realized that I need to reclimb the 200 or so feet I just descended.   HM is also rated as the 7th most scenic climb and that was very true. Views of the valley were incredible.  It helps to distract me from the pain of climbing. I ended up doing the climb in 2:36 as made it to the #10 spot of all aged riders climbing HM.  I was rather surprised by that.  My climbing rate of over 2,400 ft an hour was the best I have done on a long climb in awhile. Mike was not far behind and is now the 3rd fastest in our age group.  We were so glad we went early the heat came quickly and so did the wind.  102 today with 20-25 mph wind. After I headed down the thought of being done with a tough climb was at the top of my thoughts.  After 3 miles those thoughts quickly left as I hit the 1 mile climb up double digit hill.  It was painful physically and mentally. The remainder of the downhill went well except for the 1-2 inch cracks across the road that gave us a jolt when we hit them.  I rolled along fast wanting to get down and ride back to the hotel before breakfast was over (10:00) I was grateful to get back to the hotel by 9:30.

                  Heading up Horseshoe Meadows  6,600 ft of climbing over 19 miles. #6 on the list
 Horse camp at the top of the climb. Horse trails from here head towards Mt. Whitney the tallest    Mt. in the Continental US
View of the valley from HM climb. Dried up Owen's Lake below. HM #7 on Summerson's list of most scenic climbs.
Whitney Portal was on track for the 4th of July.  I wore my USA world championship jersey to celebrate. WP is #10 on the list and with its 4,580 ft. of gain over 11.3 miles gives it an average pitch  of 7.7% It’s 10 mile average of 8.0% is number 2 of the steepest 10 mile segments in the US.  The average pitch scared both Mike and I.  We started off rather slowly but our effort and speed increased as we went. The pitch never went over 13% and allowed us to get in a good rhythm. The riding surface was relatively smooth and the 11 + miles went by fairly quickly.  The descent was hair raising.  Summerson has it listed as the 9th fastest descent. I was up to 47 mph without pedaling. The climb starts and finishes 1 mile from the hotel so we made it down for breakfast.  I was grateful for having a hotel with a 5-10 a.m. breakfast time. 

  A friend greeting me as I head up Whitney Portal # 10 on the list 7.7 av. gradient for 11.3 mi. #2 on  the list of most difficult 10 mi segments in the U.S. with a 8% av. Also #9 on his list of most scenic.

                                                  Waterfall at the top of Whitney Portal
For those planning summit Mt. Whitney this is the place where they park their cars and start their   trek to over 14,000 ft.  They have a resteraunt that has a spectacular hamburger to fuel climbers.
An area  above is called the Alabama Hills It is an area where many of the Western films were filmed
                            A huge bolder that greets you as you ride through Alabama Hills

Some of you may not know but Conor is doing a race in August that races up Horseshoe Meadows on day 1 and Whitney Portal on day two.  I wish I was able to be here to watch and cheer Conor on.  It should be exciting. They are both challenging but beautiful climbs.  Mike and I left a little surprise for Conor.

July 5th climb was up Onion Valley.  OV is # 5 on Summerson’s list of US most difficult climbs.  Not sure why we ended up keeping the highest rated climb on the trip after HM and WP but we did.  5,169 ft. of climbing was ahead of us.  7.8% average gradient and a 10 mile segment of 8.3% the most difficult 10 mile segment in all the US bike climbs.  OV is a very similar climb to WP just a little longer and steeper.  Even though we started riding by 6:00 I was sweating bullets before we were ½ way up.  I tried to stay focused and stay confident.  I made it up just less than 2 hours meaning 2,500 + ft of climbing per hour.  I was happy with that.  As I approached the top a saw a dear near the 9,200 ft summit, I kept expected him to run off but he stayed until I was within 50 ft. of him.  Mike made it up a few minutes later and the deer was there to great Mike too. It was fun being greeted like that.

Top of Onion Valley Climb. #5 on list. #1 in toughest 10 mi. segment with a 8.3 % average. Full     climb is 12.5 mi. and 5,169 ft of climbing. #3 on is list of most scenic.


                           Views of the road and the valley coming down Onion Valley Road

After completing the 3 top ten climbs in the Lone Pine area we headed for Wofford Heights and the west side of the Sierra  Mts.  Neighboring Lake Isabella showed the signs of the drought.  Very,very low water level.  One of the residents said some of the water was being diverted to Southern California. SAD. Mike chose not to do either of Shirley Meadows West # 91and Shirley Meadows East #19 so I was up at 4 and headed to the start the two climbs. There are times that climbs/rides turnout exactly the way you plan them and other times the plans don’t really workout, this ride was going to be one of the later. I had plans to drive to the top of pass and start with the 2 mile climb to the ski area.  I knew that I could start climbing about 15 min earlier if I was headed uphill. When I arrived at the top of the pass the road was closed only open to firefighters. So instead of starting to climb I sat in the car until there was more light.  The SM East climb is short but very steep.  Several sections had pitches of 16-19% pitches. It climbs 4,100 ft in 9.9 miles with an average pitch of 7.9%. The climb went fairly well and after filling my bottles at the car at the top I headed down to do the 22 mile descent to the small town of Woody. About half way down I decided to hide one of my bottles and avoid carrying it 20 miles in heat down and back up hill.  The ride to Woody went rather slowly.  It may sound strange but sometimes on long rides like this I say the rosary.  On the way back up the pass I started a rosary.  Prior to finishing the rosary I remembered to start looking for the bottle I had left.  “Where is it,” I thought.  It should be around the next corner but it wasn’t.  Well maybe I am not remembering correctly.  Should I go back or should I just keep riding.  I check my bottle and I had only 1/3 of a bottle left.  If I go back and don’t find it I will have wasted some valuable time and energy.  What should I do???  I finally decided to keep riding with the home the bottle was farther up the hill.  I had over 10 miles of climbing and about 3,500 ft of climbing yet to do.  Perhaps it was the thought that I had not found my bottle but the sun seemed to be getting stronger and my throat getting drier.  At that point I stopped drinking and started sucking on “blocks” to keep my throat wet and to give me some electrolytes. The miles moved by slowly.  Up ahead I saw a building for the park service so I stopped hoping to find someone there.  Nope, no luck.  Remounted my bike and continued my ride worrying about how I might have made a huge mistake losing my bottle.  About 5 miles from the top I saw some firefighters standing next to a truck.  I rolled up and pleaded for any water.  They not only had cold water they offered me some Gatorade.  I was so grateful and so lucky!!!  Another couple miles up the road another group of firefighters were near the side of the road. All of them started applauding and encouraging me. Little did they know how close I came to disaster.  I finally reached the top at 11:00 a.m. with 88 degrees F. and a tired rider who had ridden 60 miles and 8,800 ft.  LUCKY! Having completed both climbs we tried to change our hotel reservations to get closer to Sequoia National park but they would not allow us to cancel and switch our reservation.

                 A view of Isabella Lake from part way up Shirley Meadow's East #15 on the list.

The next day was Sherman Pass a remote climb into the Sierra Mts. The climb is #8 on the list with 5,316 ft. of climbing over 15.2 miles. Mike and I started off early again to try and avoid the heat.  I had my neck sock filled with ice like usual.  Mike and I stayed together and talked a lot about a variety of things.  One of the topics was the feces’ on the road.  I told Mike that they were cow pies.  He wasn’t sure I was correct since there was no sign of a ranch or of any cows.  About half way up we came around a bend and 5 cows were there one of them being a big bull. I slowed some noticing that the bull was keeping a close eye on us.  Soon the group started running up the climb.  Since both sides of the road were rather steep the cattle had no choice but to continue running up the road.  This went on for about a half hour until a spot on the road allowed them to get away from us.  Around the next curve brought another set of cattle that we followed for 15 minutes or so. The time we followed the cattle helped the time go by quickly and we were over 13 miles.  We both picked up the pace and finished the climb challenging our fitness.

      Kern River a view on our way to Sherman Pass.  Most years this river supports a big rafting.

                                Our Sherman Pass friends who escorted us up part of the climb!

To make it to the Sequoia climb around 7 we had to get up at 4:00 .a.m. and leave by 4:30.  We arrived at our starting point by 7:00 and on our bikes by 7:15.  The highlight of the drive is that I found the water bottle that I had stashed on my Shirley Meadows West climb. In April of 2012 Mike Hassur and Scott Larson and I attempted this climb but were stopped by park officials because of road repair.  At 7:15 it was already 72 degrees.  The climb was a consistent 6% grade with frequent S turns.  Much of the route was shaded from the early morning sun.  We were grateful for that as it was warming up quickly. Not far up the climb road signs indicated road construction ahead with ½ hour delays possible.  Thoughts of Mike, Scott, and I being prevented from finishing the climb made me nervous. We kept riding hoping for the best. There were numerous sections of the road that had been dug-up but no road blocks.  Near the top numerous Giant Sequoia were near the road.  Their size was incredible.  The 16.6 mi. climb over 5,120 ft. went well.  After finishing the climb I quickly started the descent and had thought of driving north that morning and doing King’s Canyon the last of the 10 ranked climbs. The climb was a really fun descent with many s curves and a smooth road.  I think Mike and Scott would have loved it. Thoughts of trying to do Kings Canyon today would mean that we could both sleep in the morning have breakfast and then heading north.  When we got back to the car at 10:15 it was 99 degrees. After some discussion with Mike the decision was made to not try and do it in this heat but get up early the next morning and do it and then drive to Roseville.

                                        Pictures of Sequoia Climb in Sequoia National Park

The thought of sleeping in and having a leisurely breakfast sure sounded appealing but I think we made a good decision. We were up at 5 and on the road driving by 5:30. After a 2 + hour drive we arrive at King’s Canyon National Park and the start of our last of my last ranked climb in California. At the top of the climb it was 58 degrees and after some discussion we decided to drive to the bottom and climb while it was cooler and descend when it was warmer. The plan worked well and after using the rest room to change and wash up we headed to Roseville to have dinner with my daughter Rebecca who is a physician at Beal Air Force Base. After a wonderful dinner we headed for Weed California for our last night on the road.  We didn’t get to bed until after 10 p.m. but I was determined to get in 1 more climb. Sept of 2012 Conor and I had climbed Mt. Shasta and loved the climb. I was determined to enjoy this climb again and I also wanted to test my fitness compared to my ride with Conor prior to my broken femur.  Even though Conor and I didn’t TT up the climb we did work hard and I thought would be a good gauge of my fitness.  Up at 4 and on the bike by 5:15.  For the first time on this trip I did not need my neck sock with ice in it.  It was 58 deg. and it wasn’t expected to warm up real quickly.   The temperature up the climb was very much to my liking I worked hard and kept my HR near 160.  As I approached the top fatigue started to set in and I was anxious to get to the top.  I was so anxious that I had forgotten that there are two parking lots prior to the top and I had forgotten about both and was fooled thinking I was done twice. It is a smooth and consistent climb with most of the sections averaging 6%.  I covered the 14 mi. climb in 1:42 for the 4,300 ft climb. The descent was a little too cool for me but much easier than the hot temperatures we normally had.  Satisfied with my effort I headed back to Weed and head home.


                                                                   Kings Canyon Climb in Kings Canyon National Park  

When we left for the trip my intention was to write my blog entries each night and down the pictures and have it ready to submit before we got home.  It shouldn’t be too difficult when you are done riding by 10 a.m. on many mornings.  Living the life of a bike racer where ride, eat and rest is the mode didn’t leave us the time I thought.  Prior to the trip I feared trying to ride everyday over such challenging climbs. I even considered we might need to take a couple days off the bike. I was however able to do 11 climbs in 11 days with 49,700 ft of climbing.  Resting between climbs, eating well, starting early and using my ice neck scarf were real keys for me.  Mike never needed a neck scarf but he followed the other three keys to success.  Four years ago Mike and I went to a Redmond Cycling lecture at the Seattle REI on the three climbs we did out of Lone Pine.  They said to never try these climbs other than in late September. It is the only month that the passes are open and yet not incredibly hot. The trip was an incredible adventure.  Mike was a terrific partner.  No wonder we have been friends for over 40 years. I truly hope that all the Cyclopaths have a chance to take on such an adventure. Anyone interested in going to New England next April to finish the last 6 on my list including #1 Mt Washington please let me know.

1 comment:

  1. 50,000 ft; that's FIVE RAMRODS, but with steeper grades! Amazing.