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John  Must Do Climbs

 by: John Summerson  7/15/2010

California Dreaming

Someone recently asked me to recommend some road bike ascents to do in California.  The inquirer had two weeks for a big trip and wanted to climb as much as possible over that timeframe.  With so many available could I pare a list down to the essentials (climbing wise)?  It was a very interesting idea and was enjoyable simply to ponder.  Well let’s see, if I had two weeks to live(ride) in CA…..

Starting down south and generally heading north, I would not miss Tramway Drive in Palm Springs.  Fairly short and steep, it will be hot in the warmer half of the year but its descentis worth the effort to get to the top (take the cable car at the end of the road if you have time – big views and cool temps up top – that is a big hill).  The biggest climb in SoCal is Mount Baldy northeast of LA and I would highly recommend it.  Its statistics are just beyond those of the Tour de France climb of the Tourmalet and with a more difficult upperend.  Just keep in mind it is a beyond category climb.  Head west to Malibu and if you get there try to hit Las Flores Canyon Road and Piuma Road.  They both end at the same spot and are scenic and challenging.  A bit further north short and steep Deer Creek Road should not be missed with its PacificOcean views.  Keep riding at its summit and eventually hit Yerba Buena which can return you to the coast highway.

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         Looking up Tramway Drive near Palm Springs

Heading north I would to ride Sulphur Mountain Road near Ojai.  Short and steep and one lane for the most part it is a dead end climb and its scenery and isolation are what will stay with you.  Up the coast in Santa Barbara ride San Marcos/Painted Cave Road; it is just hard and very scenic up top.  Gibraltar Road is another great climb right in town that should not be missed.  Further up the coast you can climb Nacimiento Fergusson Road off of Highway 1 north of Cambria.  I won’t say anything more about this one as you just have to see/ride it.

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            Views from Nacimiento Fergusson Road

The really big stuff of course is in Owens Valley and as you head north along Route 395 try to get to Whitney Portal and Onion Valley Road.  You cannot find more classic alpine climbing and there are others of note nearby.  Just keep in mind they are both beyond category climbs.  On the western slope of the Sierra Nevada head to Shaver Lake east of Fresno (or ride Tollhouse Road/168 to get there) and ride Huntington Lake Road.   It is a short and difficult road along a wide single lane, ending at the picturesque lake.  Just a bit further south Sequoia is great but has traffic.  Heading north, just south and west of Lake Tahoe, try short and sweet WrightsLake Road off of Route 50

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Wrights Lake Road off of Route 50

In the Southeast region of the Bay Area don’t miss Welch Creek but also tackle Tour of California regular Sierra Road and Quimby Road which are both close by.  A bit closer to the coast along Route 17 between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz ride Black Road/Gist Road. Steep and steeper but it leads to Skyline Blvd which is one of the neatest roads around (it sticks to the ridge with multiple roads accessing it from below).  Just a bit further north Tunitas Creek Road (Tour of CA in 2010) should not be missed.  Not a difficult ascent but you will see why it is must do once on it.  In Saratoga ride Bohlman/On Orbit for as steep a two mile stretch (almost) as you can get. If there is one climb however to do in the Bay Area it may be Alba Road in Ben Lomond.  Over 10% average grade and as scenic a climb as one can find.  A miniature version (and local favorite) of Alba is the east side of Old LaHonda Road near Palo Alto.  North of San Francisco ride steep Fort Ross Road from the coast highway.  It is a bit difficult to get to and very steep but worth the effort and there is great riding nearby.

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                         Steep QuimbyRoad

Heading north in the central valley an isolated and challenging climb on the way to far north California is Wilson Hill Road located between Redding and Lassen National Park.  Wilson Hill is fairly short and steep and along a one lane road over much of its length.  It is isolated but worth the effort. The big climb of Mount Shasta should not be missed and the road is open almost all the way to the top year round.   In the far northern part of the state Scotts Valley west of Yreka has great cycling and the north side of Scott Mountain Summit is a must.    Happy Camp is hard to get to but worth it for its isolation and challenge as is the riding along the Klamath River to get there.

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            The top of Scott Mountain Summit

Getting to all of these climbs within a two week time frame is a bit ambitious but I don’t think anyone would be disappointed with any of these ascents. Perhaps it is best to take them on one or a few at a time but regardless of how many you may be fortunate enough to get to, good luck and keep on climbing. 

John can be reached at jsummers@wfubmc.edu

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