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Climbing San Marcos Pass

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Climbing San Marcos Pass

Old 04-21-21, 01:48 PM
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eddie_the_K
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Climbing San Marcos Pass

Any advice on riding a segment of CA 154, San Marcos Pass Rd? Only the 1.5 mile section between Old San Marcos and West Camino Cielo.


Planning a tour of the Central Coast this October (https://ridewithgps.com/routes/35768031). One leg takes me from Santa Barbara to Solvang. I am planning on Old San Marcos Pass Rd. to the intersection with 154. I have no interest in crossing 154 to the infamous epic climb on Painted Cave Rd, I plan a left turn onto 154 up to near the summit. There I will take another left onto West Camino Cielo to Refugio Road, then down to to Solvang. That section is closed to vehicles, so I will probably be portaging a short section. So I'm on the highway for just that 1.5 miles.


It's *only* 41 miles, but each one counts.


I drove that road many times when I lived in Santa Maria, 40 years ago. It was pretty busy then, so I can only imagine now. Has anybody seen it lately? Street View looks fine with a shoulder but the map is not the territory.


I'll be riding 40s or 50s for the whole ride, so W. Camino Cielo and the portaging should not be too bad. Any advice on that great opinion?
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Old 04-22-21, 01:41 AM
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as you guessed, the 154 has only gotten busier over the years. old san marcos is a pretty stiff warmup for west camino cielo.

you're kinda limited/challenged for routes from santa barbara to solvang that don't involve epic feats of climbing.
you can do as you proposed with a limited hwy 154 interface, choose to minimize the 154 interface but increase the
pain by taking the gibraltar/east camino cielo and crossing directly over the 154 (careful!!!) to the west camino cielo
start. can also do osm and descend the 154 to stagecoach rd and that for a few scenic, downhill miles before rejoining
the 154 into santa ynez. lots of traffic once back on the 154. some shoulder here and there on the 154 along with good sightlines.
most direct way.

can also blow off osm and ride the 101 all the way to refugio rd and ascend that, then descend to santa ynez/solvang.
climbing refugio is easier than gibraltar but still a beastie and the ascent pavement is not good but when you're going 6 mph...
or you can just take the longer, flattest way and do the 101 to buelton and then head east to solvang.
if your brakes are good, shouldn't have much of a problem doing the dirt(y) descent of refugio into santa ynez. not technical.

do keep an eye out once the road becomes paved on refugio after finishing the dirt descent. road had "dimples" in multiple areas
on the paved road and (depending on what time of day) some little depressions were hard to see and it would be easy to lose control
if you miss them so don't let up your vigilance lest you end up crashing on the slight but decent downhill on paved refugio.
some of the multiple bridge interfaces along that stretch also require your attention.

your proposed route is pretty solid as long as you're okay with the climbing and roughly 12 miles o' dirt. not exactly a shrinking violet
but easier than some of the routes proposed above. great views, wretched pavement, challenging and zero support.

Last edited by ooga-booga; 04-22-21 at 01:51 AM.
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Old 04-23-21, 05:18 AM
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This is great - you have done it a time or two. Sounds like you live in the area (or have at one time).


I am planning on starting in SLO and ride Harris Grade into Lompoc (yay! Lompoc!), then next day down to SB on 101. To turn around and backtrack on 101 would be a sin of some kind, despite getting to see the ocean up close again. It's up and over the Santa Ynez hills or bust. My wife will probably be following in a rented pickup so no luggage to carry. I'm going for broke, in the granny gear.


Riding 154 all the way is out of the question. It turns into blood alley as far as I am concerned. I would love to go over the summit to ride the old Stagecoach Road and get a snack at Cold Springs. But there is nowhere to go from there except into danger.


I climbed Mt. Diablo in northern Cal a few years ago and did alright. RWGPS says that is comparable, but I'm pretty sure they don't take the dirt on West Camino Cielo into account. I'll plan on a few breaks to look at the Channel Islands and dig out more water. Is the surface loose dirt? At least when you were there? Things can change overnight on the coast. It may rain in October which would be a drag. I met a guy with a Santa Barbara Search & Rescue baseball cap and asked him about the road, and he said he routinely picked up people on Camino Cielo. So don't say zero support!
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Old 04-25-21, 02:46 AM
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harris grade is fun and the road runs right into old dtown lompoc. it was in good shape when i last previewed it but that was april 2019...there are a few spots
on the northern approach/climb that could be seemingly problematic with water runoff. southern slope of the road heading into lompoc should still be okay.
websites/apps tend to not take dirt into account but if you climbed diablo via whatever route, then you know suffering. west camino cielo (esp after osm) will be a decent
challenge for you. there will be walking involved if you have the will and persistence, carrying enough water is your main issue. in october. you will want to reach the
summit of the west camino cielo climb by 10:30am at the latest because of the sun exposure (so that's probably hitting the bottom of the osm climb around 7:45am
to be on the safe side). that would very conservatively put you in the santa ynez/solvang/hwy 146 area by noon. october is a pretty reliable no-rain month for socal.
i'd personally be moreworried about fallout/road closures/air quality from wildfires that time of year and be monitoring that like a hawk.

weekends will have 4wd traffic on west camino cielo. weekdays, the random truck and mtn biker(s).

you're definitely going to burn some calories tackling osm>154>wcc>refugio.

Last edited by ooga-booga; 04-25-21 at 02:55 AM.
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Old 04-26-21, 10:15 AM
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RWGPS says the killer portion is 18 miles, from base to summit. That's a 4.2% average grade. No problem.

I am keeping the option of an extra night in SB to rest up and a second night in Solvang to recover.

I've got 6 months to burn a lot of calories and ride ride ride. Hills hills hills.
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Old 04-27-21, 03:09 AM
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[QUOTE=eddie_the_K;22032070]RWGPS says the killer portion is 18 miles, from base to summit. That's a 4.2% average grade. No problem.

I am keeping the option of an extra night in SB to rest up and a second night in Solvang to recover.

I've got 6 months to burn a lot of calories and ride ride ride. Hills hills hills.[/QUOTE]

where are you coming from? and yah...you'll want to be doing at least 1-100 (100 feet climbed per 1 mile-10 miles...1,000 ft climbed) rides the last month before the visit.
your osm/wcc stretch will be triple that so climb accordingly. another thing to consider is that many aren't used to grinding it away for 10+ miles uphill on a single stretch.
takes a little physical and mental practice. you've got a 10+ mile climb nearby? uh make it your new bestie.

Last edited by ooga-booga; 04-27-21 at 03:14 AM.
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Old 04-27-21, 07:07 AM
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Maryland - rolling hills. There are a few steep climbs within driving distance but not that long. I will have to do intervals. Not the same but it will have to do. It worked for Diablo. Again not the same.

I am planning on riding the Civil War Century again on September 11. Pretty hilly. My trip is planned for mid-October.

The map looks like there are two summits. Each climb is about 8 miles, so I'm planning on a solid break at the first summit. Then a downhill to the second 8-mile climb. Then a pause at the second summit for a Tarzan yell.
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