Category Archives: Climbs

Climbs Project Completed (for now)

Independence Pass conquered!

There’s nothing like a nasty, lingering cold to help finish long-term projects. Since last year, I’ve been working on revamping the Climbs section to something a little more detailed and pleasing to read. I’m pleased and relieved to say that this project is done as of today. From now on, it’ll be a work in progress as I continue to explore this lovely planet.

Here is what is new:

Boone Climbs: Thanks to this past weekend’s Boone Gran Fondo, I was able to add many new climbs to the existing Boone list. It is now looking to be a pretty comprehensive list. There are a couple notable omissions, like Reynolds Parkway that will be climbed on this weekend’s The Ascent, but I’m unfortunately going to have to miss that one.

Colorado Climbs: There are all from last year’s trip. Most are up in elevation around Vail, Leadville, Breckenridge, with a couple near Denver, and of course, the highest paved road in the United States.

Georgia Climbs: At this point, these are mostly the gaps in the north Georgia mountains. There are some great climbing areas that I’ve had on my list to check out, such as Ellijay and Clayton, that I hope to one day visit. That said, the gaps are some of the best places to climb in the southeast, so I’m pleased with this list.

Tennessee Climbs: This is a fledgling page with a mere two climbs listed, one of which is the highest in the state. I have no plans yet this year to visit the state, but I have a couple rides in mind next year.

Virginia Climbs: This is another fledgling page, with only this past weekend’s foray into Grayson Highlands listed. I expect I’ll add a number of new climbs in a couple months when I ride the parkway.


Grayson Highlands, Virginia

Grayson Highlands

Since I would be up in the High Country a day early, I decided to make my warm-up ride a little more interesting. Usually I will spin for 10-20 miles before a big ride, just to get the legs fresh. This time I decided to do so at a state high point, Grayson Highlands, Virginia, which is about an hour north of Boone.

Since this is a warm-up ride for a mountain century, I didn’t want to overcook. The plan was simply to park at the visitor’s center, drop down to the entrance, turn around and climb back up. This isn’t my ideal way of climbing, sort of feels like cheating, but that was the plan.

As I drove up, I noticed that Highlands Parkway climbs to the base of Grayson, and the last couple miles are relatively steep. I decided to extend the ride a little bit, descend until the road becomes flat, and then turn around to climb.

The descent ruled. Just when you’re barely outside of the Visitor Center parking lot, there’s a view of 5,700 foot Mt Rogers. It didn’t come through on the pictures, but could be seen from the naked eye. I stopped for the photo op before dropping down the rest of the way.

The grade varies, but there are some nice, straight sections inside the park with 8-11% grades. I sailed down those until I reached the lighter grades at the bottom, where I had to keep pedaling downhill.

I turned left on Highlands outside of the park and continued the descent. This stretch had some tighter, steeper curves, which required a little bit of brakes, but it was still a blast of a descent. After a couple miles, the road straightened out and I expected flat. Nope. It was still dropping, although not nearly as steep. It was around the 2-4% range. I kept descending.

The road continued to gradually lose elevation. I was starting to get worried. By the time I turned around, this was going to be a long climb. Soon I was over 10 miles, and had descended over 2,000 feet.

As I passed 11 miles, the road began to turn up a little bit. Before I knew it, a dog darted straight at me. This was a big, white dog, and boy was he fast! He covered the few hundred feet from his house to my bike quick. The road had turned up enough to slow me down, so I whipped the bike around, and sprinted in the other direction. Instantly I was at 25 mph. I turned around, expecting him to be gone, but the guy was still chasing and barking! I yelled “NO!” and beckoned it away. He was within 10 feet of my rear wheel, charging hard before he finally gave.

Phew!

As I drove by later, I looked for the dog and instead saw a huge “Beware of Dog!” sign. Noted.

Now came the climb, and it wasn’t too bad. The grade for those first few miles was easy, in the 2-4% range. This turned out to be great as I needed something to warm up my climbing legs. The real climbing began near the end of Highlands Parkway when the curves began. That started with a stiffer grade, and for a short stretch it was in the double digits before relaxing to 8%. I was careful to watch my pace and keep things comfortable, and chewed the miles away.

This is one of the tight Highlands Pkwy sections.

This is one of the tight Highlands Pkwy sections.

By the time I turned back into Grayson, the sun was out and the view was beautiful. This is a nice climb. The scenery reminded me of Brasstown Bald, only without the punishment. The early part of the climb was not too difficult. Around the middle, after the ranger station, it gets a little tougher. That long 8-11% section that felt so great going downhill didn’t feel as great now. Again, I took it nice and easy, and felt alright.

There is not a natural summit. The climb ends at the visitor center, and from there you can hike about a mile to two viewing points – Little Pinnacle and Big Pinnacle. I changed out of my cycling gear, and took to the woods. It was worth it. The overlooks were gorgeous, and afforded views of nearby Mt. Rogers, Whitetop Mountain, and others in the area.

The view from Big Pinnacle. That's either Rogers or Whitetop.

The view from Big Pinnacle. That’s either Rogers or Whitetop.

It turned out to be a good ride. And another state highpoint can now be checked off the list. I’m ready for the big ride tomorrow.

Strava Link

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South Carolina Climbs + Odds and Ends

Pedaling up Caesar's Head, slowly but surely.

Caesar’s Head Mountain

The sick bug continues to plague me. After a week of relatively heavy training, it became much worse, developing into a painfully uncomfortable cough this weekend. Rather than continuing to train and possibly making it worse, I decided to take it easy for a few days.

That gave me some time to do some catching up with the website and various other things.


The Climbs section has been updated yet again. This time I completed with the transition of the South Carolina Climbs to the new and improved format. There are now two new sections:

Columbia Climbs: I was surprised to come up with such an extensive list for Columbia. It isn’t thought of as a climbing city, but with a couple lakes and several rivers in the area, there are plenty of hills around town. Many of these hills have proven useful training for climbing in the mountains.

Greenville Climbs: The majority of these hills are in the North Greenville area up to the state line. These are more traditional, lengthy climbs that are either in, or lead up to the mountains.

There are some notable omissions. The most glaring is that Spartanburg is not mentioned. I’ve ridden plenty in the area, and know of some good hills, but the majority of the climbing near Spartanburg is shared with North Greenville, or just across the state line in the Tryon and Saluda area. At some point if I get to ride more in the city, I may make a Spartanburg section, although I expect there will be a lot of overlap.

Another omission is the far northwest corner of the state, beyond Greenville, around Clemson and Anderson. I have a few Walhalla climbs that I know from Issaqueena’s Last Ride, but the remainder of the area has not been explored. There are a couple of friends and readers in the area who have invited me up to ride. Hopefully at some point I can take them up on the offer.


Blue Ridge Breakaway

Waterrock Knob

Next month I’ll be participating in the Blue Ridge Breakaway ride. It was my favorite ride in 2011, and is among my favorite events that I’ve ever attended. The organizers have offered me a handful of $10 discounts off registration through Active.com. Those interested can use the code steepclimbs at checkout to get the discount. There are only about 3-4 codes remaining, and they expire in a few days. Please either comment below or on Facebook if you use a code.


The response to the Blue Ridge Parkway trip has been tremendous. A number of you have expressed interest, and I think we are nearing a full group. If you are interested in taking one of the last couple spots, please let us know soon.


I cannot give details yet, but I’ve been asked by a couple publications to do some writing. One of them is a paid gig and feature article. I wish I could say more, but all will be revealed in time. I love to write about my hobby, so I’m pretty excited about both projects.


The weekend rest has done me good. Still probably a couple days away from resuming my training, but I should be okay for next week’s Roan Moan and the busy August schedule.


Mount Charleston, Fail

mt charleston rd

Our timing for Vegas couldn’t be worse. We happened to be traveling during a record-setting heat wave. The temperatures have been in upper hundred-teens. Yes, that is teens with a 100 in front of it. I’ve been to Vegas in the summer, and it is always going to be scorching, but I don’t remember experiencing anything like this.

The only option for riding was to head out at the crack of dawn. Even then, it was 95 degrees when I left. My east coast friends will remind me that this is a dry heat. That might make a difference at lower temperatures, but anything above 110 is flat out painful, dry or otherwise.

I drove to the beginning of the Mount Charleston climb before the sun was out, and was ready by sunrise. Still reeling from the heat, I was hoping that climbing into elevation would give me some respite. I got myself situated with the rental bike as much as possible, but I didn’t want to waste time. The longer I waited, the hotter it would get.

As I began the ride, I had a feeling of unfamiliar discomfort. The Scott Speedster 40 that I rented was a good bit heavier than my bike, had different components/shifters, and was fit differently. It just felt wrong, but was something I could suffer through.

The climb begins deceptively. It has the look of a long, flat desolate road in the desert. That is a false flat, as it turns out. The grade was usually only 2-3%, enough to keep myself moving slowly, yet not nearly enough to hurt. I was still climbing. At one point I looked down and was surprised to see I had climbed almost 1,000 feet.

At one point, it seemed like the pedaling became more difficult. The road looked the same, but something was noticeably wrong. I felt something on the back tire, at first thinking/hoping/wishing that it was the contours of the road that made it feel off. Then it hit me. I had a flat on the rear tire.

It was 4 miles into the ride. You have to be kidding me!

As I ruffled through the saddle bag, I could feel the sun on my back and neck. Even at a slightly higher elevation, it was getting hotter.

There was no tube. There was a multi-tool, and that was about it. I had a tube in the car, which I had forgotten to bring, not knowing I would need it.

I knew right then that this wasn’t going to work. This was a foreign bike, with different types of components, and the flat was on the back wheel. Even if I grabbed the tube from the car, and got it road ready, I would be going up a massive mountain in dangerous temperatures without a safety net.

That was the end of the ride for me. It was a tough time even getting back to the car. The valve stem was broken, so despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get air in the tire with the hand pump. I had to alternate coasting with walking. It took me almost as much time to get down those four miles as it did getting up.

IMG_4440

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s missing exercise. Rather than ruin the morning, I drove the 18 miles to where the road ends. The temperature dropped to a cool 70 degrees, and the views were spectacular. Since I still had a few calories to burn, I took the hiking trail towards Cathedral Rock. It was a pleasant hike, with new views every time I turned a corner. There was the option for a steep hike to the top of Mount Charleston, which was 8 miles, would have taken awhile, and would not have been feasible for a guy wearing flip flops. I turned around about half a mile from Cathedral Rock, close enough to see it. That was plenty for the day. Even though the ride didn’t work out, I had a great time.

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Assault on Morrow Mountain, 2013, Locust, NC

Nasty cloud cover ahead for the climb.

The plans were up in the air again this week. The coastal ride I had registered for was canceled because of Tropical Storm Andrea, which had passed through later in the week. That left me with Plan B (actually Plan A, long story) heading back up to Charlotte to participate in the Assault on Morrow Mountain series.

This isn’t a cookie ride, but instead a “Show & Go” ride, overseen by Jeff Viscount, the Mayor of Biketown. The cost to ride is a mere dollar, and only the first 200 riders will be permitted access to Morrow Mountain State Park. Typically crowds are around 250, with the max at around 400. We had a much smaller number on Saturday, with most people sufficiently scared off by the weather.

Speaking of which, it was iffy that this ride would even happen. The tropical storm had come and gone, but there was another system that threatened to ruin our day. Most of the rain passed through overnight, and Jeff gave the all clear. We started with some damp roads, but at least we had (mostly) dry helmets.

As we lined up, I looked to Wade, who had invited me. ‘Is this more of a casual ride or a hammerfest?’ I asked. He pointed to a team of anxious riders, lined up in matching green jerseys. ‘Oh yeah, people like to hammer. You can try to keep up with them, but I’ll be riding in the back.”

My host, Wade, at the starting line.

My host, Wade, at the starting line.

As the ride started, I found myself with the front group. I was able to hang on without much issue as we sped down the mostly downhill, easier riding in the beginning. With some standing water on the ground, I was a nervous descender, and found myself uncomfortable in such a big group. After the 10-mile point, I was more apprehensive than the rest of the group at an intersection, and got dropped crossing the highway. That was just as well.

I wasn’t the only dangler. I hooked up with Steve from Fort Mill and we rode as a twosome for a number of miles. We rode up Chicken S**t Hill together (named for the smell, which was pleasantly absent that day). After nearly puking up my breakfast (warning: don’t have Bojangles before a ride), we latched onto another group of around eight. We rode with them the rest of the way to the state park.

Riders have two options to ride up the mountain. They can descend another two miles to the base, and climb the 3+ miles to the top, or just climb the upper half. Having driven all the way here, I was going to get my gas money worth. I descended with my group to the boat launching platform, then turned around and climbed back up.

I was feeling pretty good by this point. Since I had legs and Morrow Mountain is not the toughest climb in the world, I decided to attack it — something I haven’t really done with any climb since the injury.

The climb begins easily enough, with low grades that can be powered through in the big ring. As we get towards the turnoff, the road turns up a little bit to around 10%, before dipping slightly. I huffed and puffed up the steeper grade, then kicked it up a notch for the flat. As I veered into the park, Jeff shouted “He’s flying!”.

There’s one steep section of Morrow Mountain that gave me some fits. Not far from the top, the road turns up and stays at around a 13-14% grade for several hundred feet. That took some of the wind out of my sails, as my body still doesn’t handle the steep stuff that well. I gave it all I had, and arrived at the top breathing heavily with a heart rate above 180.

Morrow Mountain Conquered!

Morrow Mountain Conquered!

I would be disappointed when I saw my results later, but at least I pushed. It’ll take awhile to get back into climbing shape.

We had heavy cloud cover as we were climbing up the mountain, and a few drops of rain. I understand it is usually scenic at the top. It wasn’t bad today, but I’m sure it would be gorgeous on a clear day. I guess this means I’ll be coming back.


The mountain split up most of the groups, and the way back was considerably tougher, with plenty of big, steep hills. I was spent from the mountain and hadn’t eaten enough (see above: stomach troubles). I fell in with two ladies, who dropped me on a steep climb. After a number of miles riding solo, I fell in with another pair, who I hung with until about a mile to go, coasting into the parking lots by my lonesome.

All in all, it was a blast of a ride, on quiet, smoothly paved, country roads. I cannot thank Jeff enough for all that he does for the cycling community. Also thanks to Michael Hernandez for being our photographer for the day. You can see a lot of his images at The Good Ride’s Facebook page.

Strava GPS link

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Jump Off Rock

Props to Jim for giving us this idea for a unique photo.

When I woke up Sunday morning, my hip and especially my back were a little sore. The prior day of riding had taken it’s toll. My first inclination was to rest. After taking my anti-inflammatory and eating a hearty breakfast, I felt better and decided to participate in the easy ride of the day. It would be a 30+ miler with a short climb to Jump Off Rock.

Seven us departed the cabin in shivering, windy temperatures. We began with a steep descent, which we knew would hurt when we returned later. Even though it was bone chilling, it was a refreshing way to start the day.

This was mostly a casual ride, although three of us tended to get out in front. Scott from Simpsonville, and Jim Parker of Lumberton with his speedy Cruzbike were the frontrunners. I stayed with them as much as I could, which was not a problem early as we got warmed up, but would give me headaches later.

Not too much draft behind a Cruzbike.

Not too much draft behind a Cruzbike.

Most of the road was flat and enjoyable until we approached the neighborhood of Laurel Park, not far from Hendersonville. It was there that we started to gain elevation, although very gradually.

After we passed the gated Somersby Parkway (which we initially thought was our turn), the road pitched up to a double digit grade as we climbed up Hebron Road. We turned left at the four way stop, and all of a sudden we were on one of my favorite types of climbing roads. This section of Hebron Road has an easy grade, but is a narrow, winding road, that seems bolted to a mountain ridge. Several times we marveled at the steep drop just off the road.

The remainder of the climb was relatively easy, with a couple steeper sections. We turned onto Laurel Parkway and followed that to the dead end. These were neighborhood roads, not too exciting, but paradise awaited us.

Jump Off Rock Conquered!

Jump Off Rock Conquered!

Jump Off Rock, at about 3,000 feet of elevation, is a local marvel. It affords gorgeous views from all directions. We could see a lot of our favorite climbs, including Pinnacle Mountain, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a couple people thought they could make out Mount Mitchell in the distance.

I immediately placed my bike along the railing for the conquest picture above. After snapping the photo, Scott grabbed my bike, held it above his head, and told me to quickly take the picture. My heart almost stopped when I realized that a gust of wind could have ended the life of my Cervelo (and emptied my bank account in the process.) I snapped the photo without hesitation, and then beckoned him to put the bike down. However stressful that moment was, the picture came out pretty well.

Thanks Scott for the photo op.

Thanks Scott for the photo op.

We had a relaxing time at the rock, taking our time to enjoy the sights and enjoy each other’s company. It is quite the gem of a vantage point. Scott snooped around and found that the rock protrudes from the hill, most of it unsupported. He said we would be nervous standing there if we could see. I didn’t follow because of my injuries, but I saw some pictures later that made my jaw drop.

The descent was fantastic, and it was again Jim, Scott and I riding together. The rest of the group knew the way back, so we rode as a threesome to the cabin.

There is one stretch of road with time trial writing on the road. That was Jim’s cue to put his Cruz into high gear. Scott jumped behind his wheel and rode easily behind him. I hung on for dear life behind Scott.

As our speed increased, I had a lot more trouble. These were both very strong riders, and I am not yet even close to being in prime form. I hung in there for a few miles before dropping off the back. Not my time yet. They patiently waited for me at the next intersection, dropped me again, and finally we rode back to the cabin together.

The last climb up Lyday Creek Rd was a doozy, as we expected. It was just over a half mile, which ordinarily wouldn’t be too bad, but it was in the way of our post-ride meal. The last pitch was in the 11-12% range, which was a backbreaker (no pun intended), and punctuated what was a much tougher recovery ride than I had expected.

My weary bones held out, and I felt great throughout the ride. I may not be where I was last year, but I’ve improved and expect a smooth recovery.

Strava GPS Link

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Assault on the Carolinas, Redux

top of walnut

We arrived in Brevard Friday for our 4-day weekend. Two cabins, 21 total people, and overflowing dishes of food. It was a cyclist’s paradise.

The weather looked to be gorgeous for Saturday, very similar to the forecast we had at last weekend’s Assault on the Carolinas. There were three ride options for Saturday, a small, medium and large. The large was an enticing 100-miler that would travel up Mount Pisgah. The medium route was an abbreviated version of the Assault on the Carolinas, and the small went to a nearby waterfall. Pisgah was tempting, but I knew that it would be too much for me at this stage. Even the medium might be too much, but I opted for that knowing that I could potentially bail out around the Continental Divide.

We modified the route a little bit, beginning at a baseball field outside of Brevard, and taking a couple more scenic roads along the way. We also added a few miles, and I think overall ours was a slightly tougher version.

The big question was how well my injuries would handle another tough day of climbing. At first, it wasn’t looking so good. The cold weather particularly affected me, and I was riding stiff, feeling like I had a knife in my back.

Walnut Hollow happened, again. Ow. I found that Walnut Hollow is tougher when you can see where you are going. On AOTC, there are a sea of people climbing with you. All you see is polyester, which hides the steep grades ahead. Seeing what is ahead has a way of getting into your heads, which I think makes it a tougher climb.

I wobbled my way up, just like last week, hoping that would cure my pain. Not quite. As we rode on East Fork and Middle Fork, I started sitting up higher on my seat to ease the pain. It didn’t help. As we reached the intersection of Highway 178, I felt like I was done.

The others went on, and I stayed. I needed a break. I leaned against a pole for what seemed like an eternity, although it was probably no more than 10 minutes. For awhile I contemplated packing it in, giving up, maybe even riding back the way I came (including Walnut Hollow, ugh!).

This was almost my bus stop.

This was almost my bus stop.

I’m glad I got back on for a couple reasons. First, as I began climbing up Highway 178, I finally started to feel better. I put on a little more mustard in the hopes of catching my riding mates, which I think helped to warm my bones up. Second, it would have been a shame to not get the opportunity to descend Joccassee Gorges again.

Here is the full descent video that Jack, friend of mine, took last week. I wasn’t quite as daring as some of the guys that passed him by.

Eventually I caught up with the rest (in truth, they waited for me). After being bombarded by a motorcycle gang with 75-100 riders, we turned off of Highway 11 onto Saluda Rd, taking the quieter, scenic route to Caesar’s Head.

As I began the climb, I wondered why in the world was I doing this again. Caesar’s Head handily beat me up last week, yet here I was, pedaling away.

I took solace in the fact that I felt better this week compared to last week. I could tell that I was pedaling smoother up some of the easy grades. Once it got steep, I was practically worthless, and just willed my body up the hill. Me and the mountain had a few words on the upper portion, most of which cannot be repeated here. I made it, and found that I had beat last week’s time by several minutes. Progress is good, I guess.

As we headed back toward the baseball field, I was in a bonk-like state. My stomach was growling and I found that I had little energy left. I guzzled some Gatorade, which seemed to help me get the rest of the way home. I also have to thank Jana, who pulled me all the way across Wilson Road back to the car.

Strava GPS Link

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