2012 Climbs of the Year – Top 20 to 11

There were so many amazing climbs this year. Last year I divided them up by length and difficulty. This year that was a far more challenging task. Since the focus was exclusively on new and interesting climbs, there were just too many good candidates.

Instead, I am doing a straightforward top-20 list of climbs experienced for the first time in 2012. You could call these favorites, most impressive, most interesting, coolest, or whatever. There is no secret formula. These are just the ones that, in hindsight, I “enjoyed” the most.

Town Mountain

Town Mountain, Asheville, NC.

20. Town Mountain – It’s a thrill to start a climb just outside downtown Asheville, and end up at the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The climb is no cakewalk either, with a lot of kick especially on the lower half. When you get past the first initial climb, it is mostly rolling climbing until the parkway.

Seven Devils conquered!

Seven Devils conquered!

19. Seven Devils / Hawksnest – This is a hidden gem, right in between Banner Elk and Boone, NC, on the opposite side of Grandfather Mountain. The initial climb is up to the small community of Seven Devils. From there I made my way towards Hawksnest, a ski resort with a famous zipline, then up into the steep subdivision. It was a difficult climb, especially the morning after completing Blood Sweat & Gears.

Wolf Pen Gap.

Wolf Pen Gap.

18. Wolf Pen Gap – Of the gaps that I endured on Six Gap Century, this was among my favorites. It helped that the climb was not nearly as difficult as some of the others in the region. The peaceful, covered tree canopy didn’t hurt. Since I was nursing an injury, I was able to ride up slowly and enjoy the scenery.

Wiginton Overlook.

Wiginton Overlook.

17. Whitewater Falls / Wigington Overlook – This was the signature climb in Issaqueena’s Last Ride, which came about halfway through. It started by riding North, away from Walhalla, SC, up towards Whitewater Falls in NC. We didn’t quite reach the waterfall, but instead turned left on a brutally steep mile until reaching the summit. The reward was a spectacular view, which my iPhone camera unfortunately didn’t do justice.

Lookout Mountain.

Lookout Mountain.

16. Lookout Mountain – The first climb I attempted in Colorado was unlike many of the others. It begins in the heart of Golden, CO, not far from the Coors beer factory, and climbs a few miles up to Buffalo Bill’s gravesite. It is an arid, dry climb, with a lot of winding switchbacks. The view of the city below is spectacular and visible around just about every corner, hence the name. It was neat watching the buildings get smaller and smaller the higher I climbed.

View from Jefferson Mountain.

View from Jefferson Mountain.

15. Mount Jefferson – This was the optional, additional climb after completing the Blue Ridge Brutal, a century ride with nearly 10,000 feet in climbing. Needless to say, only the truly crazy (and stupid) attempted it. Even though it was a struggle, it was worth the punishment. It is only three miles, but it sits right in between Jefferson and West Jefferson, NC, and has a few gorgeous overlooks along the way.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock

14. Chimney Rock – There is only one opportunity all year to climb this popular gem in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. I entered the time trial race for this very purpose. The climb itself is not too difficult, and the views are mostly shaded forestry until you reach the very top. From there, it is simply breathtaking. After completing the ride, we did some hiking throughout the park to really appreciate the views. Even if you don’t (or can’t) ride up, I recommend visiting the park sometime.

Becky Mountain.

Becky Mountain.

13. Becky Mountain – Brutal, that’s the only word to describe Becky Mountain. Many in the area are familiar with the painful grind up Howard Gap. As Jay told me along the way to this monstrosity, “Becky is Howard’s Momma!”. That she was. The climb is short, but consistently uphill at a very steep grade. At the top is a graveyard, where I almost took up residence.

Mount Pisgah

Mount Pisgah

12. Mount Pisgah – We took the Blue Ridge Parkway from Asheville up to Mount Pisgah. This is the longer, easier way compared with 151, which I will probably try on my next visit. As always, the Parkway is pleasant, scenic climbing. While it may not lay the smack down as far as grade (although a couple sections are surprisingly steep), it makes up for it in length. The climb was about 15-miles long and travels through a number of tunnels along the way. Don’t forget the headlights if you attempt this one.

Vail Pass

Vail Pass

11. Vail Pass – Speaking of long climbs, Vail Pass is around 20-miles from first pitch as you pass by the Village of Vail. The best thing is that most of the climb is on a rec path, so traffic is never a worry. A lot of the grade is gradual, which is the case for a lot of the Colorado climbs in altitude, but there are some steep sections that catch you off guard. My only complaint about this climb is the lack of a payoff at the end. The summit is the highway rest area.

Coming soon .. the Top Ten.


4 responses to “2012 Climbs of the Year – Top 20 to 11

  • Ed

    Great reviews so far. How do you plan your hydration stops when you go on the unsupported rides….especially when you’re on your own or in unfamiliar territory? I use familiar stores when riding around town, but find it harder to “plan” when to refill especially when a lot of these places are pretty remote. Thanks for your wisdom. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

    • aaronwest

      Hi Ed. Thanks for stopping by. Very good question. Fortunately on organized rides, you don’t have to worry about hydration. The volunteers do that for you. On solo or group rides, I try to scope out the area in advance so I know there are store stops if needed. I will usually try to consume one bottle per hour on a difficult ride, so if there are no options, I’ll carry a third bottle in my jersey.

  • John

    Love the narratives, keep up the good work. GI john

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