Jan 13, 2010

Climbing Mt. Lemmon

The 25 mile climb to SummerHaven was worth it. Look at that cookie!

I always considered myself a good climber, but I was never really certain. When it came to climbing roads in Cleveland, like Old Mill Road, I loved how easily I could go uphill. With that being said, I had no idea how 25 miles of sustained climbing would treat me... and then there was the altitude. I wasn't sure what I was in for.

I was lucky enough to have DJ Snyder in town from Houston for this workout. He was 4th M20-24 in Kona last year... he's the real deal. Climbing is much more enjoyable in the company of a good buddy. As we began the climb, I told DJ that my body has never been above 5000ft, except for in an airplane. He thought I would be in trouble once we hit 6000ft. SummerHaven, our turn around point, was a quick descent into the mountain after hitting 8300ft.

We started climbing and quickly found a good rhythm. The early miles seemed to fly by. I was so excited to finally climb Mt. Lemmon! The first several miles are some of the steepest with grades hitting above 8% consistently. I tried to relax as best as I could because I wanted to save my energy for higher elevation. After about 6 miles, I started feeling really good. We started to pick up the pace a little. In the first hour, we had climbed well past the 11 mile mark. I was very surprised at our pace up this mountain. We were now at about 5000ft above sea level, and I was patiently waiting to start sucking air.

Mile 15 - one and only break to put on arm warmers and a jacket

Right after we hit 5000ft, the terrain began to change dramatically. The desert landscape was replaced by forest. We were seeing evergreens, streams, and even a tiny bit of snow on the rocks. We kept the same pace up for the next several miles. We went through Windy Point and I was starting to wonder when the altitude would hit me. I still felt incredibly strong. The views from mile 14 - 16 are incredible...

After mile 17, it started to get a little chilly. However, the only sign of high altitude was the cold temperatures.  My body still felt really good, and I actually started climbing a little better towards the top. Again, we started to pick up the pace as we were enjoying some breathtaking views. At mile 21, we started to get excited. It was only one more mile before we began the small descent into SummerHaven. For the record, a few miles downhill at 8000ft above sea is exactly like riding in Cleveland in the winter. My toes, fingers and legs were numb. Once in SummerHaven, we went directly to the Cookie Cabin. There cookies were amazing, but I was more concerned with how awesome the fireplace felt on my cold limbs. We climbed 25 miles and 6400ft in 2:05... We thought we took it pretty conservatively too.

Getting back on the bikes with a pound of cookie dough in my throat was the hardest part. I finally started to feel the altitude. We had to climb 3 really tough miles out of SummerHaven, and the 40 degree weather didn't make it any easier. Luckily, the lady at the Cookie Cabin gave up some pizza boxes so we could stuff them in our jerseys for some insulation. Once reaching 8300ft again. It was finally time to descent! We had to be cautious for the first few miles because of all the snow and ice. There was almost a foot of snow in SummerHaven!

The descent was incredible to say the least. I threw my bike in the largest gear and started hammering downhill. I didn't touch the breaks for the first 8 miles. Right around mile 16, we were ripping down the mountain at 40+ with nothing but a straight drop to the desert floor to our left. It was incredible. The whole descent was the most exhilarating thing I had ever done in my life. This mountain was made for the descent... the courageous could bomb the whole thing without touching the brakes... maybe next time for me. We ended up finishing the 55 mile ride in just under 3.5 hours. The top speed on the descent was about 43mph.

For those people thinking about visiting me from Cleveland, you better start doing some hill intervals on your trainer because we are going right up that mountain. Be ready for the ride of you damn life.



  1. I will practice my ascents on the mountain of snow at the end of my driveway.

  2. 43 miles per hour...holy shit.