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Top 10 Toughest Climbs in California

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Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

Top 10 Toughest Climbs in California

Old 06-26-10, 09:05 PM
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Top 10 Toughest Climbs in California

I found out about the lists below purely by chance and decided tackle them since they were in close proximity to each other and to my home. These lists come from John Summerson's book the Complete Guide to Climbing (by bike) in California. After a couple of weekends I have completed the Most Difficult Climbs list and will now branch out and tackle the other two categories. There is also the Top 10 climbs in the nation which I may at some point plan trips to complete them but I'm not in a hurry for that. You may find the US top climbs at the bottom of this post.

Blog Post -Onion Valley, Horseshoe Meadows and Whitney Portal

Blog Post- Whitney Portal day after 3-bagger

Blog Post-White Mountain and Glacier Lodge

Blog Post-Shirley Meadows and Sherman Pass

Blog post- Emigrant Pass


Most Difficult Climbs:

1) Onion Valley — DONE 6/10/10 !!
2) Horseshoe Meadows - DONE 6/10/10!!
3) White Mountain– DONE 06/25/10!!
4) Sherman Pass– DONE 6/24/10!!
5) Whitney Portal — DONE 6/10/10!!
6) Mount Baldy– DONE- too many times to mention
7) Shirley Meadows– DONE 6/24/10!!
8) South Lake– DONE as part of Everest Challenge Stage Race
9) Mount Palomar– DONE 6/06/10!!
10) Mosquito Flat– DONE as part of Everest Challenge Stage Race

Greatest Elevation Gained:

1) Horseshoe Meadows – 6,234 feet– DONE 6/10/10 !!
2) White Mountain – 6,204 feet-- DONE 6/25/10!!
3) 190 – 6,199 feet
4) J21/245/180 – 5,750 feet
5) Mosquito Flat – 5,548 feet- Done as part of Everest Challenge
6) Dantes View – 5,475 feet
7) South Lake – 5,445 feet-- Done as part of Everest Challenge
Sherman Pass – 5,316 feet– DONE 6/24/10!!
9) Emigrant Pass – 5,309 feet- Done 4/04/10!!
10) Onion Valley – 5,169 feet DONE 6/10/10!!

Highest Elevation Attained:

1) Mosquito Flat – 10,220 feet-- Done as part of Everest Challenge
2) White Mountain – 10,152 feet-- DONE 06/25/10!!
3) Horseshoe Meadows – 10,034 feet DONE 6/10/10!!
4) Tioga Pass – 9,945 feet
5) South Lake – 9,852 feet-- Done as part of Everest Challenge
6) Sonora Pass – 9,624 feet
7) Kaiser Pass – 9,184 feet
Onion Valley – 9,163 feet — DONE 6/10/10!!
9) Lake Sabrina – 9,141 feet
10) Sherman Pass – 9,126 feet– DONE 6/24/10!!

Below is a list of some of the top cycling climb bike rides that are listed in the book Best Cycling Climbs In The US. The book lists the 100 toughest USA road bike climbs from 1 to 100.

1. Mt Washington, NH
2. Haleakala, HI
3. Onion Valley, CA-- DONE 06/10/10
4. Horseshoe Meadows, CA-- DONE 06/10/10!!
5. Mt. Equinox, VT
6. White MTN, CA-- DONE 06/25/10 but at least 3x before
7. Mt. Baldy, CA-- DONE MANY TIMES!!
8. Mt Graham, AZ
9. Mt. Lemmon, AZ
10. Palomar Mountain, CA - DONE 06/06/10!!

Last edited by Vireo; 06-26-10 at 10:44 PM.
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Old 06-26-10, 09:54 PM
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Impressive to say the least...
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Old 06-26-10, 09:59 PM
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WOw, Haleakala is the second toughest road climb in the USA? I did it back in December and had no idea. Grade was never that hard but altitude + sunlight was brutal

Nice job there, you are a champion
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Old 06-26-10, 10:05 PM
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How old are you? I have the feeling you are above 60 and kicking ass.
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Old 06-26-10, 10:07 PM
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Originally Posted by 383
How old are you? I have the feeling you are above 60 and kicking ass.
Hardly.

If you click on the blog posts I have plenty of pictures of myself for you to guess my age
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Old 06-26-10, 10:12 PM
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Vireo, now that you have done all the epic climbs in CA, which one(s) do you personally rate as the most difficult and why?

I've done 6 & 9 but I did not have my bike with me when I was @ Kings Canyon and Sequoia
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Old 06-26-10, 10:19 PM
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Ah, I see you got Sherman Pass and Shirley Meadows. Of course you had already done White Mountain as part of EC...
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Old 06-26-10, 10:24 PM
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Excellent.

I was looking for something to do Monday too. Glad I saw this.

Thanks George!
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Old 06-26-10, 10:29 PM
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Vireo, I just read part of your blog, strike my question since it seems moot now. Maybe nothing is the "the most difficult" when you are doing 17,000+ feet of climbing in one ride...
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Old 06-26-10, 10:36 PM
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Originally Posted by kimconyc
Vireo, now that you have done all the epic climbs in CA, which one(s) do you personally rate as the most difficult and why?

I've done 6 & 9 but I did not have my bike with me when I was @ Kings Canyon and Sequoia
I will be putting together a blog post answering that very question. I haven't decided yet which is the toughest but I can by process of elimination tell you which I don't think are "that" difficult.

Sherman Pass was long but not that steep it was also exposed for the first 10 miles or so. I didn't think it was that difficult but I was tired from not having slept the night before and driving straight from an afterwork function with Oakley. And then doing a Century. I don't think it should be placed at #4

Mt Palomar was my weekly training Ride so I was surprised to see it on the list. It's tough but there are tougher I think it is well placed at #9

Mt Baldy is tough and it can be really hot in the summer, fully exposed, and very steep the last four miles but I don't think it should be #6.

Onion Valley #1 was really tough but Horseshoe Meadows #2 really destroyed me mentally and physically. I am debating if those two should switch places. Since it was my second major climb of the day Horseshoe Meadows was A LOT harder than Onion Valley -- almost twice as long as Onion Valley and fully exposed.

White Mountain is tough and the last three miles at 10% after you have been climbing for 17 miles really hurts. I think it is ok at #3

Whitney Portal at #5 is in a good spot. WP could move up to #4 if I slide Sherman Pass down one slot to #5.

The biggest surprise for me was Shirley Meadows. It is the sleeper on this list. I rank this climb much higher than #7!! Ramp upon ramp of 10-12% grades with a 5 mile section averaging 11%.

South Lake is just one long boring grind on the highway and doesn't get really tough until you turn off the main road and hit the ridiculous steep ramps through the campground. I think it is safe at #8

Mosquito Flat is an awesome climb and I could easily move that up to #9 and slide Palomar to #10.

I don't know if that helps you but it is helping me with my next blog post
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Old 06-26-10, 10:49 PM
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Wow,

Thanks for that write-up! I really need to do Onion Valley and Horseshoe Meadows now (although probably not like you in one ride ).

I'm really curious how the CA climbs measure up to the European climbs in terms of difficulty because they seem to be very much passed-over (talking about CA) in the world of cycling.

Everybody knows Ventoux, Stelvio, Alpe d'Huez, etc. But who, outside of people traveling inside CA, has ever heard of Horseshoe Meadows?

I remember seeing the pros @ the ToC Big Bear stage this year and none of them looked like they were having too much fun and the climbs you just mentioned seem way harder than Big Bear.
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Old 06-26-10, 10:58 PM
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Originally Posted by kimconyc
Wow,

Thanks for that write-up! I really need to do Onion Valley and Horseshoe Meadows now (although probably not like you in one ride ).

I'm really curious how the CA climbs measure up to the European climbs in terms of difficulty because they seem to be very much passed-over (talking about CA) in the world of cycling.

Everybody knows Ventoux, Stelvio, Alpe d'Huez, etc. But who, outside of people traveling inside CA, has ever heard of Horseshoe Meadows?

I remember seeing the pros @ the ToC Big Bear stage this year and none of them looked like they were having too much fun and the climbs you just mentioned seem way harder than Big Bear.
Baldy is like Alpe d'Huez

John Summerson, the author of the book, makes parallels to the climbs on the list with the European climbs. Don't forget the Cali climbs are in miles and most of the climbs in Europe are not 20 miles long-- 20km maybe but not 20 miles. The Galibier is one of the longer ones at 40km (I think) but not many are like that.

Also don't forget the pro peleton can take a 6% grade climb and really hurt each other with the speed and intensity that they climb.
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Old 06-26-10, 11:04 PM
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Darn.. Palomar is towards the bottom of the list of climbs to have been completed.. Impressive.
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Old 06-26-10, 11:23 PM
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Originally Posted by cyclezealot
Darn.. Palomar is towards the bottom of the list of climbs to have been completed.. Impressive.
Palomar is still my favorite ride in the world--Goldilox, not much traffic early weekends or weekdays any time of day, not too long, not too hard, good food at the top, horchata at the bottom .
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Old 06-29-10, 02:59 PM
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I love that book - so many great climbs. Onion Valley is at the top of my to-do list when I make it up to that area.

For those who haven't done Baldy (who hasn't done Baldy?), here is my blog entry for it: Mt. Baldy Road to the Ski Lifts!
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Old 06-29-10, 03:28 PM
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canton_Avenue

Not as long as your climbs, but tough nevertheless: 37% grade.
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Old 06-29-10, 03:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Blackdays
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canton_Avenue

Not as long as your climbs, but tough nevertheless: 37% grade.
OUCH! i feel my legs burning just lookign at that street. I need a rest....
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Old 06-29-10, 04:05 PM
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It really isn't so bad...until you hit the cobbles...
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Old 06-29-10, 04:15 PM
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Originally Posted by Vireo
Greatest Elevation Gained:

1) Horseshoe Meadows – 6,234 feet– DONE 6/10/10 !!
2) White Mountain – 6,204 feet-- DONE 6/25/10!!
3) 190 – 6,199 feet
4) J21/245/180 – 5,750 feet
5) Mosquito Flat – 5,548 feet- Done as part of Everest Challenge
6) Dantes View – 5,475 feet
7) South Lake – 5,445 feet-- Done as part of Everest Challenge
Sherman Pass – 5,316 feet– DONE 6/24/10!!
9) Emigrant Pass – 5,309 feet- Done 4/04/10!!
10) Onion Valley – 5,169 feet DONE 6/10/10!!
Also, this list misses one great southern California climb. 39 all the way up to Dawson Saddle climbs continuously from ~1600 ft to 7901 ft. This would put it at the number one spot with ~6300 ft of climbing.

My ride report for 39 as well: CA-39 (aka Hwy 39 or San Gabriel Canyon Rd or CA State Route 39) Climb to Angeles Crest and Dawson Saddle (at 7901 ft!)

The road in question:

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Old 06-29-10, 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Blackdays
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canton_Avenue

Not as long as your climbs, but tough nevertheless: 37% grade.

That's not a climb, that's a freakshow. Kinda like Fargo St.:



(photo props to Dan Wyman)
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Old 06-29-10, 04:34 PM
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Vireo is an animal.
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Old 06-29-10, 04:41 PM
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Adding this thread to my research for a training camp in Cali. Awesome, thanks!
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Old 06-29-10, 04:52 PM
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Only thing I've done in the OP's first post was Haleakala... man I need to get out more Does doing the Auburn Century 110mi / Death Ride (in 2 weeks!) count?
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Old 06-29-10, 04:58 PM
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Originally Posted by acaurora
Only thing I've done in the OP's first post was Haleakala... man I need to get out more Does doing the Auburn Century 110mi / Death Ride (in 2 weeks!) count?
Only if you survive it.


Good luck, and have fun!
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Old 06-29-10, 04:59 PM
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I had fun definitely on the Auburn Century, and with the Death Ride it actually probably will be a bit easier since it is 5 climbs/descents, whereas for the 110 it was primarily entirely climbing the first half of the ride.
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