Monday, November 10, 2008

Cycling Mt. Lemmon: You Can Do It!

Here we go!

Unofficial start of Mt. Lemmon Climb, mes amis--Le Buzz. This morning it was cold, and the sun was not quite warming the patio, hence--only the most intrepid cyclists. Without the cyclists, the locals were in abundance. They seemed quite nice and didn't mind us click-clacking around. Last time I was here, I was by myself, and the place was full of cyclists with the current most expensive bikes from Europe--and Lycra advertising corporate France and Italy. This time, there were some serious looking back-packers and hikers--getting that last cup of joe. Coffee is good, as is the food. So--if you are in fact going to ride Mt. Lemmon, why not treat yourself?

We've driven to the base. You will need water and Cliff Bars and Hammer Gel, as you will burn calories quickly. It will be cold, then hot, then you will be cold--and then hot again. You will need to bring the right clothes if you plan to ride to the top as coming down will be chilly.

Its a few miles out until you actually start climbing. The newly completed Brad Gorman Memorial Hwy is smooth and comfortable. A local rider who loved this climb, Brad, was killed by a reckless motorist. We owe gratitude to his family and friends who went the extra mile and stood up to indifferent law enforcement and an uninterested justice system--to make sure we all have a safe place to ride.

We pick up some other riders and invite them to climb with us. The sun is out and time to shed some of the cold weather jackets.

Dave Glasgow--Ultra Rider of the Year, RAAM Qualified, Furnace Creek 508, Fireweed 400, Super Randonneur--just to name a few of the epic and ultra rides Dave has ridden. Dave is the consummate cyclist, Domestique, and guru of ultra riding.

Get ready for a great climb!

Its cool today, so that makes this first part pleasant. I must tell you that in summer and spring--very hot and you can use up your water quickly.

We are all of us at different levels of fitness. John and Kathy will ride strong and steady. Dave will press on ahead and ride fast, as he knows how to climb at maximum efficiency. The other people in our group have never climbed Mt. Lemmon before and will go as far as they can today.

Mt. Lemmon is difficult, but you can do it--if not the first time, then maybe the second or third attempt. A few times I've had to turn back because I was not quite fit enough. I'd had the flu a few weeks before, or hadn't rested enough from a brevet.

Some people will go up and have no trouble, and if that is you, you will certainly enjoy the ride and fellowship of all the other cyclists coming up and down. Stronger riders will pass you, and you will no doubt find yourself passing other riders as you all make the climb. That is okay! There is plenty of room at the top for all!

Climbing Mt. Lemmon.

Kathy leading the way.

John and Dave--look how high we've climbed in such a short time!

There's a stop at Malino Basin with a camp ground and restrooms. No water here however. Malino Basin will be just past the fee station. If you are on a bike, you will not have to pay. Ride through, and if you need to stop for a break, and to regroup, this is a good place.

Before you know it, you are in the pines. They are dark and cold this morning. In other times I've ridden with Steve, they offer welcome shade.

We are at the halfway point and Windy Vista is a good place to turn around if you feel the need to call it a day. There are the radio towers and they can be seen at night from Tucson, as can the telescopes. I can see the telescopes from my house in Dog Mtn, about 35 miles to the West.

Dave has gone on ahead, and John has waited for Kathy. Kathy has had a cold, and she's feeling a bit weak today. I went up a few miles to Windy Vista. As stated, this is the turn around point for a lot of people. Really Gentle Readers of This Blog, you have done the hard part and if you're here, you've done well. Many local riders just ride to this point and turn around. Their training ride is complete and they need to scoot home. Climbing Mt. Lemmon is an all day affair, so if you have all day, great--if not--Windy Vista is still a good climb.

No turning back for me. There are still some challenges ahead. Remember, you've gotten this far--you can do it! Keep going!

If you keep your groove going, like I was luckily enough to do this time, you will amaze yourself at what you've accomplished! This has only been a few miles of climbing--I'm exhausted and need to rest a few minutes--whoa! This has been some serious climbing mes amis!

Your chance for water here at Palisades. I have used up my camelbak and one water bottle for the climb. If you are fit you could ride with three water bottles--be careful because if it is warm, you will sweat, be hot, and drink most of your water. By the time you get here and if you've run out of water, you could really be hurting. To turn back here would be okay.

Also, there's been no cell phone service for most of the trip. My phone went off to tell me I had a message. John and Kathy have turned around at Windy Vista. They'll wait for me at the cafe. I could not get a call through to them with my phone.

There is a pay phone right across from you at this water and bathroom stop. If you need to call and talk to someone--as you will not have cell phone service even at the top--you can use that phone to leave a message or talk to someone who's maybe not on the mountain. Otherwise rescue may be awhile--but hey you're okay! Keep going or turn around--its all good. You have ridden well...

I believe I will go to the top after a short break to re-fill with water.

These last 10 miles--there and back--will be difficult. You are almost there, mes amis. You get a break with a few miles of fast descent--a nice but brief break from the climbing--but you have to climb again for a few miles, and then a short downhill to Summerhaven.

My base miles commuting, and doing a significant amount of climbing on that route to work, has made me feel pretty good today. However--I am tired and its cooling off. We are so close! Keep going!

Just as you enter Summerhaven, on your left, is the Mt. Lemmon Post Office--it is easy to miss, as your eyes are on pedestrians and cars milling about. This is where brevet riders will drop off their postcards to prove they were at the top.

I have not stopped in the new community center but there are restrooms and possibly water. Really I can't stay too long today. I need to get a few pictures for the blog and get back. It would be nice to have a beer and a hamburger. If you have time--go for it! You earned it, Gentle Reader.

Five miles back to Palisades Ranger Station. They will not be easy, so you still have to push yourself and climb out of Summerhaven. It will be cold for most of the trip down. Be prepared--I dug in a trash can and pulled out an old newspaper to put in the front of my jersey; that was just enough to block out the chill.

Traffic was light, so I got to ride down fast. But it was quite cold for the trip and didn't start to warm until just half way.

Catch my breath and take a photo.

Riding down can take about an hour—I have climbed for 25 miles, so naturally riding down at 25 to 35 mph means that you should count that time to your day. Traffic for the trip was light for me this time, so I enjoyed the smooth and winding road to the base. It can be biting cold the first eight to ten miles, so be prepared.

Also, going down is like being in a deafening wind tunnel, and before you realize it, you may have a motorist behind you. You should be alert to them and check up the road by looking over your shoulder when you have an opportunity. Be polite and move over as far as you can, where you feel safe, and let them pass—it’s my feeling that a lot of the local people that live on the mountain have a real dislike for cyclists—as will the redneck ignorant crowd. Just let them continue on for that beer run, or to get Momma’s bail money. But those types are few and far between thank goodness.

My trip up and down took 5 hours and 15 minutes. I felt like I had a good day. There have been times when climbing this hwy has been much harder. Since I’ve been consistently commuting to work and putting the time in the saddle—plus having lost a bit of weight—this was a respectable effort on my part.

You can do it—there will be the mental hills that are the real demons working against you, Gentle Reader. But you near the finish, you will find yourself looking over the other side of the mountain—gliding the last few miles into Summerhaven.


Paul said...

Thanks for the headsup and kudos for doing it back to back weekends! I can hardly wait to start up it after all this resting for my knee.

Doohickie said...

Wow, that's some climb. I couldn't make it; I'm too much of a flatlander.

my chariot wheels said...

we have a similar mountain here in Israel. its only a 30 km trip to the elevation of 1660 m' its the highest mountain in the country Mt Hermon. takes me about 3 hours to the top and 1 hour down.
Has anybody done both mountains, I wonder how they compare

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the account. I've gone up 3 times, a little more each time, but only made it half way. It's mostly psychological and running out of water. You've inspired me to go for the whole enchilada.

Bruce's Bike Blog said...

Dear Anonymous,

Good Luck, and thanks for stopping by my blog! I believe that late November or mid December, the water at Palisades gets turned off because the valve will freeze. Cheers! Bruce

Th'Robster said...

Hi Bruce. Thanks for your blog. I was in Tucson visiting relatives in Nov 2012 and to ride the Tour de Tucson, which was awesome. I was determined to ride Mt Lemmon too and your pictures and blog bring it all back to me - so excellent. A true bucket list adventure. We were also there in 2011 when I did the IM in Tempe, which was great. I'm from Northampton and love Tucson for its people, it's weather, it's lifestyle and the fabulous Mt Lemmon. Maybe I'll come back and do the marathon next time. Ha ha! Nice one mate - keep it going.

wufrs said...

thank you for the information. I will be in tucson in mid march 2013 and would like to rent a bike to tackle mt lemmon. Do you have any idea what the temp differential will be between the base and summit at that time of year?

Bruce's Bike Blog said...

Dear Wufrs--just getting back to you! I would say you will have excellent weather and temps, but I would take some arm warmers, or maybe a light or thin wind-breaker for the trip down. Start early in the morning because in late afternoon in the late winter and early spring, it can start to get cold at the top, and you will have a freezing cold trip down until you are just out of the pines. If you search my blog you can see where I've written about the November 200 KM Brevet that goes to the top. Again--in late afternoon, temps drop by 20 to 30 degrees in Summerhaven. Cheers! Bruce

Julian noriega said...


i'm planing on driving out to Tuczon (19 hrs drive) just to climb Mount Lemmon. i have the option of going out for 4 days on November or 6 days out in december. can you share some insight on terms of the weather during the last 6 weeks of the year?

thanks in avance.

Bruce's Bike Blog said...

Julian, I just re-read this post and it was written November 10th. Looks like I was okay with arm warmers, but I remember I wish I would have had a light jacket. I've ridden the 200 KM Brevet as late as Nov 15th - look on the AZ link on my sight on the right and I think Carlton has put up a cue sheet - I would say it will be a bit chilly in the morning, but be great as you start climbing. At the top, depending on the time you arrive, it can seem cold. You just need something for the downhill - it will be cold! I just know that getting into December, the water pump at Palisades can be frozen, or the Rangers turn it off. I have not done it, but you could try and call the Sabino Canyon Park HQ and see if the Rangers there know, or if they can direct you to the Mt. Lemmon Rangers. If anything, carry more water - it is dry in Tucson and you'll need the water - Hey you'll just love it! Cheers! Bruce

Anonymous said...

Great post, Bruce--thanks. We'll be in Tucson in mid-May. We're thinking about moving there soon. While my wife goes to job interviews and such, I plan to rent a bike and climb Lemmon. Do you think I'd be ok with 3 bottles and arm warmers at that time of the year, or should I bring more clothes. We're just bringing carry-on luggage, so I'm bringing as little as possible. Thanks--Charlie

Bruce's Bike Blog said...

Dear Charlie,

You will have perfect riding weather in Tucson for you May visit! The temps there now are and will be in the low 80's - so roughly that means by the time you're reaching the top it might be about 15 to 20 degrees cooler. The air and sunshine will be fantastic! Three bottles are a good plan. Drink up before you go, have full water bottles, etc. There will be water at the Palisades so if you make it there, you're good to go - water at the top. Light arm warmers for the ride down will make you more comfortable. Just keep going up - it may seem impossible and parts are intimidating - but you can do it! Even getting half-way up is a good ride. Good Luck! Thanks for reading my blog! Cheers! Bruce

Anonymous said...

Great! Thanks a lot, Bruce! I really appreciate your advice.