Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mt. Lemmon

Probably any cyclist or triathlete has heard of Mt. Lemmon.  It is, according to some, one of the "best" climbs in the United States.  Mt. Washington back in New Hampshire is considered another, although I have to tell you that that is probably the one route in which I'd actually rather do the run than the bike.  I just can't even imagine riding my bike up a 22% grade.  I think I'd begin going backwards and never be heard from again. 

While Mt. Lemmon cannot boast the steepness of the 7-ish mile climb to the top of New England, it certainly makes up for it in duration and altitude.  In fact, I just found a list of the hardest climbs in the US and #1 is Mt. Washington and Mt. Lemmon comes in at a paltry #9, so I can see I have a long way to go before I even consider my home-state climb.  A look at the numbers tells me that Mt. Lemmon ascends 5400' in roughly 26 miles.  Mt. Washington ascends 4586', obviously less, but does so in a mere 7.6 miles.  Ouch.  Someday, maybe if I'm feeling crazy enough I'll try it.  If I chop off one of my arms maybe first, or have removed some of those pesky internal organs that seem to serve no purpose other than giving me extra weight to carry uphill.  They still don't really know what our appendix is for, right?  I've been lugging that thing around all these years for nothing...

Anyway, being in town for three months in such proximity to a legendary climb makes it seem almost sacrilegious not to do it, so I finally broke down and went for the ascent.  To be fair, as recently as two weeks ago I couldn't have ridden up at all because it snowed and only cars with chains on the tires were allowed, so I guess it's not so bad that it took me ten weeks to head over there.  One concern since I'd be heading up to an altitude that I've only once ever been at, not counting airplanes of course, was the possible huge temperature difference from the bottom to the top.  Fortunately, the weather has been unseasonably warm around here, in the 80's, so the chances of it being frigid at the top were almost nothing. 

The climb never got particularly steep, and the only reason I ever got out of the saddle was just to change positions for a while rather than because I needed to stand up in order to keep moving forward.  It is, however, pretty relentless.  I recall one or two spots where I kind of, sort of went downhill, but for the most part it was 21 miles of up, up, up.  Each mile slowly ticking off as I passed those green mile marker signs lining the highway and coming up far too slowly.  Until I reached about mile 12, I wasn't sure I really wanted to keep going all the way to the top.  There were also signs each 1000 feet we ascended, the first of such I noticed was 4000, and the last of which was this one:

The only other time I've been that high was when I went skiing at Steamboat Springs in Colorado.  Or at least I think it was that high, I'm not entirely sure.  I really have no idea if the altitude did anything to make the climb seem any harder than it should've, my heart was beating just as fast at 4000 feet as it was at 8000, it's just that my legs were probably burning more by the time I got to this point since I'd been climbing for what felt like an eternity. 

As I neared the top there were some shadowed areas that still had some snow, remnants from the freakish little storm we had a couple of weeks ago.  But with all of the going uphill at a whopping 8mph much of the time, I certainly didn't feel cold.  Maybe until it was time to turn around and start heading down.  You know a stretch of road is tough when it takes you well over two hours to go in one direction and maybe forty minutes to go back the other way.  Fortunately the chilliness of the descent didn't last long as I got back into the 80-degree temperatures pretty quick.  My legs were immensely grateful for the break. 

I also snapped a couple of other photos:

I believe this one I took at windy point, after climbing a particularly steep section.  Down there you can see the road that I had already ascended, probably not too many miles back but certainly a whole lot lower.  I believe this is somewhere around mile 14, Windy Point.  Contrary to its name, when I went by it was not windy.  I do know that I spent a lot of that climb though contemplating turning around and riding back down.  Nobody would have to know, I would think to myself.  But then I also thought to myself that this could be the one chance I ever had of climbing up, and I knew that when I went to bed last night, I was going to feel a whole lot better if I had climbed it all than if I had turned back halfway up.  Besides, it had been quite a while since I did something that really seemed difficult to me in that way, so I knew it would be good for me. 

This is essentially the same picture from a wider angle.  All in all, it was a pretty good day.  And anytime I am not enjoying it I have to remind myself that any time spent out training, no matter how painful orFor sure I still don't feel like the athlete I once was, but we're slowly moving back in that direction.  I still on occasion feel like someone who snuck in for a little while only to eventually become an outsider again.  But at least for now I'll keep plugging away. 


  1. wow, is all I have to say. Great job and thanks for sharing your pics.

  2. I really liked that climb when Ange and I went out there last year and did it. It is not so very unreasonable.... just, as you said, it's long.
    I think I understand what you mean about sneaking in for awhile, and now you are outside again. I have never been in there...and I actually see you as still occupying that terrain, but I can see what you mean, still. You are more real and interesting and likable on the outside, if that is any consolation. :) And also I think this is the season you enter those sacred ranks again, anyway.

  3. incredible climb! makes me wanna go ride my molehills here. thanks for sharing and have fun