Tag Archives: climbs

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.

Hincapie Gran Fondo Announced

Those who mourned the loss of the annual Marquis de Sade ride will appreciate this news. George Hincapie, Tour de France legend and Greenville superstar, has announced his own Gran Fondo taking place on 10/27/2012. It will feature many of the same quad-killing climbs as good ol’ De Sade.

What makes this ride special is the celebrity of Hincapie and perhaps some of his closest friends. He and his jersey company have become the face of Greenville cycling, and hopefully will continue to contribute to the community for years to come. Hincapie should be riding along with special guests. They have not yet been named, but I expect a lot of BMC riders (maybe Tejay, Cadel?), and perhaps some other tour pros. Since this is Hincapie’s retirement year, the inaugural event should be extra special.

The longer ride is 80 miles and features the toughest climbs in the area. It starts outside of Greenville and heads straight to the Tryon/Saluda area. I have long complained about Skyuka / White Oak Mountain in the past. We’ll be reunited again, as it appears to be the first major climb. After that will be its younger brother, Howard Gap. It appears that they have eliminated the dangerous descent, as we’ll take the higher elevation route to Saluda, alongside Interstate 26. From there we’ll descend Holbert Cove, and come back through Green River Cove Road. Since Tour de Leaves is the week prior, that means I’ll be climbing Green River two weekends in a row. Ugh!

While these climbs will certainly be painful, they should be equally gorgeous. The fall leaves should be at their brightest in late October. That’s a worthwhile trade-off for the cooler temperatures, which from my experience will most likely (hopefully?) require arm warmers and little else.

There have been a lot of rumblings ever since the event was announced. One of the reservations people have is that this is a Gran Fondo, meaning it is timed. That timing chip tends to attract the hardest of the core, but with a 3,500 rider maximum and a difficult course, I expect there to be a healthy mixture of paces. Regardless how fast or slow you are, there will probably be many others right with you. I know that when I’m going up Howard Gap, the timing chip isn’t going to get me to the top any faster.

The other thing is the price. This is an expensive ride. The longest route is $170, and it scales down from there. A jersey is included in the price for the long ride, so there is that, but it’s a lot more than most. Mitchell is close, but with all the logistics to get people and their bikes up and down the mountain, it makes sense. That said, I think the price is fair for this type of event. Copper Triangle was similar. It was close to the same price, also included a jersey, and was superbly organized. I expect the same, if not better, from Hincapie. However expensive, this event could immediately become a major attraction, putting the area on the map for many.

Hincapie Gran Fondo

Colorado Wrap-Up

Summit Lake from the top of Mount Evans.

A few times while I was riding above the treeline, I recalled the movie Contact. Towards the end, when Jodie Foster’s character discovers the beauty of space, she sighs and says “They should have sent a poet.” I’ve thought of this as one of the cheesiest lines in film, but it made sense to me while riding in solitude surrounded by overwhelming mountain scenery. The fact that I achieved these sights under my own power made the experience that much more special. It reinforced and reinvigorated my love for climbing.

In my week of cycling, I achieved 280 miles, 25k feet in climbing, conquered eight mountain passes, and the highest paved road in North America. It far exceeded my goals and aspirations.

That may seem like a lot, but I had plenty of other activities. I attended a Colorado Rockies game, a concert at Red Rocks, a Denver Goth club (!!), toured a number of breweries, and ate my weight at local restaurants. I spent the trip with my lovely wife and some good friends.

The website now has new content areas: There is a new Photos section for the Colorado trip, a new Colorado Climbs section, and there are a lot of new additions to the Conquered Photos section.

Here are the blog posts from the week:

Day 1: Lookout Mountain
Day 2: Mount Evans
Day 3: Hoosier Pass
Day 4: Copper Mountain, Vail Pass
Day 5: Loveland Pass
Day 6: Independence Pass
Day 7: Copper Triangle

And here are some pictures of the adventures I had off the bike.

Fabulous 4th Bike Tour, 2012, Tryon, NC

I love Tryon, NC. As long-time readers of the blog know, I’ve been here quite a few times. Of all the nearby hills, it is by far the most bang for the buck. More importantly, I just love it here. It did not take much convincing for me to sign up for the Fabulous 4th Bike Tour.

This one starts from Harmon Field in Tryon, does a small loop through Landrum and back, then heads through South Carolina, up Callahan Mountain and then the Watershed. It ends with a screaming descent down the Saluda Grade. This year’s ride was organized by Katie Malone, former director of the Assaults, and she did a fantastic job.

I am still in casual riding mode. I am not concerned with any sort of time or mileage per hour, just that I get a good workout and enjoy myself. My strategy has been to see how I feel, and let that dictate my ride.

After some minor mechanical issues, I started feeling a little frisky this morning. After a little back and forth, I settled into a relatively fast pack of maybe 15-20 riders, who I drafted with for around a dozen miles.

We were cruising along and the unthinkable happened. We were on a slight bank in the road, dodging some stray rocks on the road, when one rider turned at almost a 90 degree angle. He barreled off the road, flew off his bike and barely missed a tree. Holy smokes (that’s not what I really said!).

I flipped my bike around and was the first to see him. He was laying in a pile of bushes and was stone cold knocked out, but in a weird way. He was snoring, loudly! Yet this was not just any kind of snore. He was also hyperventilating. I wondered if he was in shock.

I was completely unprepared on how to handle this. I called 911 immediately. Fortunately a friend of his, Charles, came by and was able to lend a hand. Charles kept the rider, Brian, situated while I tried to talk to the emergency dispatch. The toughest part was figuring out where we were. A SAG motorcycle vehicle stopped by, and he was able to offer some assistance. Tomek from Epix Gear also stopped by and helped. A couple other riders also stopped.

As I was talking to the 911 operator, Brian started regaining consciousness. At first he was confused and wanted to get up. Charles kept him down, sometimes forcefully. After hearing he had been in a bike, the first question he asked what ‘What’d I hit?’ I was a few riders behind when the accident occurred and had a good view, but was not positive why his bike went left. I assumed he hit a rock or something, and explained as much.

Brian continued to try and get up. He was agitated, confused. He had some other medical conditions that were bothering him. He had a little bit of road rash and claimed that his knee and shoulder did not feel good, although it was pretty clear that there were no broken bones. Occasionally he would try to get up again, and Charles held him back. ‘What’d I hit?’ he asked again. He asked other questions repeatedly. He clearly had a concussion.

I was talking to the 911 Operator, while also talking to the people around that were trying to pinpoint our location, and also trying to help Charles keep Brian calm. I would answer his questions about what happened, albeit with less and less detail.

‘Do you hear an ambulance?’ the 911 Operator kept asking. Nope, nobody did. We kept waiting and keeping Brian as subdued as possible. All of a sudden, a ton of emergency vehicles showed up. There were ambulances and firetrucks from both NC and SC. After briefing them on what happened, we got out of the way and resumed our ride.

After having spent 30-40 minutes off the road tending to the accident, we were miles away from any pack. Tomek graciously offered to drive us closer, but we declined. It just wouldn’t feel right not riding the entire thing.

Fortunately a couple of my friends had stopped with me. We rode together and chatted. It was a nice, easy social ride in beautiful country. We caught up with some triathlete friends who I hardly get to ride with. We spent most of the time riding with them. We would pass them occasionally on climbs and always on descents, but we waited up.

The last 50 miles pale in comparison to what happened at mile 16. We just got lost in conversation as we maneuvered around the course. The roads were new to Team Schmitz, so I playing tour guide and enjoyed the scenic country through them.

Brian turned out to be okay. I saw him walking around at the end of the ride. I believe he had some road rash and a minor concussion. He got lucky.

Strava GPS Link


Newish Stuff

Over the last few months, I found myself committed to a number of different projects. The most notable was my 2nd Assault on Mount Mitchell, which you have doubtlessly heard (maybe a little too much) about. There have been other projects, most of which were not website or cycling related. In a nutshell, time has been scarce. Here and there I have dabbled with the website, slowly and secretly adding new content areas and growing the site.

This post showcases some of the newer stuff I have added.

A number of months ago, I pledged to build a ‘Links’ section. It was an ambitious undertaking, which I knew would take awhile. I nipped at it little by little, and it is now in decent working order, albeit far from completion. It can be accessed by the above ‘Links’ menu or by clicking here.

It seems like everyone has a blogroll. I wanted to do something a little different by making mine more of a database. There are a number of areas I am quite proud of, and have used for my own reference. My Blogs section is divided into four categories: Climbing, Local, General, and Everything Else. Rather than just list them, I tried to summarize the blog. Who wants to look at an endless sea of links with no explanation?

I am particularly fond of the Climbing and Regional sections. They have a lot of resources that I have referenced often.

I get asked more than anything about specific rides. The Rides section links to a number of organizer websites for rides I’ve done. Since there is a lot of interest specific to Mount Mitchell training, I added its own section, which I expect people will find interesting next spring.

Like with anything, these are constantly under construction. As I find more stuff, I’ll add it. Please refer back often for updates.

I added a bucket list of sorts in the Southern Sixers section. Longtime readers of the blog know that I tend to ride the largest peaks in the Southeast. One day I would like to ride all of them, at least all that can be accessed by bike. Over time (a LONG time, probably), I will keep this list updated. Hopefully one day everything will be conquered.

Finally, I have added a couple new photo gallery areas. The Blue Ridge Parkway is, as you would expect, pictures I have taken on the parkway. With a hefty summer schedule (more on that soon), I expect to add to this gallery a lot. Another new section is the Conquests area. Recently I have started taking pictures of my bike after conquering climbs. The gallery is small for now, but should grow in time.

If anyone has a suggestion for a link or anything else that might make the site more useful, don’t hesitate to Contact me.