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My Favorite Local Hills

December 28, 2011

To see the original list from September of 2009, follow this link:

This is my ever-evolving list of the toughest climbs in the area. I’ll only rank the ones that I’ve actually done. There are several good resources for finding the hard hills to try. You don’t have to just go out and ride to find them! Check out the following links:

Top 10 Hardest Climbs (that I’ve done!):

  1. Alba Road (3.8 miles -2030 feet -10.2% grade)-If you look at the stats, it looks significantly harder than Bohlman On Orbit Bohlman. But because of the flat parts on BOOB and the downhill, Alba is really about the same. It gets the nod from me as the most difficult because it has no real respite from the climbing. Once you turn off of Highway 9 near Ben Lomond, the climbing starts. And it doesn’t stop until you get to Empire Grade Road. A great ride, especially if you combine it with some or all of the other tough hills that top out at Empire Grade (Bonny Doon, Felton-Empire, and Jamison Creek.
  2. Erik on On Orbit

    Bohlman On Orbit Bohlman (4.3mi -2030 ft- 9%) -The pride and joy of Saratoga… This beast will make your quads scream for mercy. But regular ascents will make you stronger! Hah! The views are spectacular, especially when you are coming down the hill. It’s hard to look around when you are climbing since you vision is blurred by the superhuman effort that it takes to keep the pedals turning! Picture to the right is Erik Strom on the steepest part of On Orbit.

  3. Cyclists descending Mount Umunhum Road

    Hicks Road North/Mount Umunhum Road (4.1 miles – 2199 ft – 10.2%) -On paper, this climb should be harder than the others mentioned. But I think the average grade is a bit misleading since a large portion of it is the section on Hicks Road that is really steep. The ride up Umunhum is lovely, as the views looking out over the Santa Clara Valley are very nice. This is not a climb for hot days, but is well worth checking out!The photo the right is a group of my friends descending Mount Umunhum Road.

  4. Welch Creek Road (3.9 miles, 1904 ft, 9.2%) -Welch Creek is a very worthy side-trip from the Calaveras Loop. It’s a lovely ride on a seldom-traveled road in the hills south of Sunol. It has somewhat inconsistant grades, but is a great local hill climb that everyone should do at least once!
  5. Wildcat Variation of BOOB (4.3mi -2030 ft- 9%) -This climb has the same reputation as BOOB, though it doesn’t seem quite as hard when I do it. The first time I did it my time was 3 seconds faster than BOOB. And that was immediately after I rode my personal best time for that ascent!
  6. Soda Springs Road (5.3 mi, 2485 ft, 8.8%) -This one may be a little out of the way, but the climbing is massively fun. The road is basically a residential road in the hills above Lexington Reservoir. This makes it lightly traveled. The only real downside is getting to it. You can take the gravel trail from Los Gatos to Lexington if you want. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, you could ride BOOB, then ride down Montevina to get there. That would make for a fun ride… Especially riding back up Montevina or Black to get out of that area!
  7. Montevina Road (3.5 mi, 1760 ft, 9.5%)-The other side of the ridge that BOOB is on. This one is nice and sustained. And the steepest part is at the top where it belongs! You get bonus points for doing another hill to get there! This would make an especially nice out-and-back by riding BOOB, riding the .9 miles of fire roads connecting the two roads, and then descending Montevina before coming back up!
  8. Sierra Road (3.5 miles, 1816 ft, 9.8%)-Try this one on a hot day or at mile 150 of a ride if you don’t think it’s hard enough! I’ve done this hill so many times that I can call it mine. I love combining it with the Calaveras Loop and maybe Palomares as well. But that’s another blog entry…
  9. Black/Gist Roads (3.1 miles, 1590 ft, 9.7%) -This brutal climb is one of the hidden gems in the area, I think. Gist doesn’t see the cycling traffic it deserves… The climbing is a constant steep grade except for a short respite when you pass Lakeside Elementary School about 1.7 miles up Black Road. Take advantage of the water there if it’s not a school day! On winter days, the road can be a bit slick, so be careful especially on the descent.
  10. Jamison Creek Road (3.0 miles, 1470ft, 9.7 %) -This is sort of Alba Roads slightly tamer younger sibling. It’s damned hard in its own right. But when you put it next to Alba (which it pretty much is), it looks fairly mellow. This road makes for a great alternative when riding to Santa Cruz, as you can bypass the narrow section of Highway 9 by riding down Empire Grade. Of course, this “little” hill will kick your butt after having already done Highway 9-East to get to it!

Honorable mentions…

  • The oh so boring finish to Bohlman Road

    Bohlman Road (4.3mi -1970 ft- 8.8%) -Even without the detour onto On Orbit, this is still a crazy hill! The photo to the right is me at the oh-so-exciting end of Bohlman Road.

  • Quimby Road (4.6 miles, 2011 ft, 8.3%) -This shortcut to the halfway point on the ascent will leave you begging for oxygen. There’s a bonus though… The rest of the climb to the top of Hamilton will seem like nothing after Quimby!
  • Joan on the hard side of Mount Hamilton

    East side of Mount Hamilton -This is one brutal climb! If it’s hotter than 80, it will be a sufferfest for sure… The climbing is unrelenting for 5 miles or so. The views will make the suffering worthwhile, of course! And the descent down the front side into San Jose will keep your attention as well. The picture to the right is Joan on the hard side of Mount Hamilton.

  • Black Road (5.3 miles, 1780 feet, 6.3%) -It’s a rather annoying place to get to on a bike. But the hills out there are worthwhile! I still need to try Gist Road which looks considerably harder…

Top Three Favorite Climbs Anywhere (that I’ve done, and so should you!):

  1. Onion Valley Road (12.5 miles -5169 feet -7.8% grade) -From the town of Independence, CA; this climb starts off as a reasonable climb. Then you actually hit the mountains and the fun begins. The views help to keep your mind off the suffering. The road dead-ends at the Onion Valley Trailhead. Stop a few times on the way back down to soak in the scenery and let your rims cool down. This road is spectacular!
  2. White Mountain Road (20.1 miles -6204 feet -5.9% grade)-This road is a big taste of some of the best riding to be had in California. From the town of Big Pine, CA, the road heads up into the White Mountains. Up to Westgard Pass, the climbing is sustained and not too horribly steep. It just goes and goes and goes. When you top out that pass, you turn left onto White Mountain Road towards the Bristlecone Pine Forest and the real fun begins. The altitude will most likely get to you (this is the second highest paved road in California (after Rock Creek Road). But the views of the Sierra Crest to the west will buoy your spirits for sure! At the end, you’ll have one heck of a long descent to get anywhere! I’ve only done this climb as part of the White Mountain Double Century, so those descents for me have been down into Nevada.
  3. Rock Creek Road (20.5 miles -5548 feet -5.1% grade) -Combined with Lower Rock Creek Canyon, this is one heck of a climb. The climbing starts off just north of Rovana, CA and takes you from the high desert environment into an alpine wonderland. The climbing isn’t terribly difficult (the steepest parts are near the bottom), but the altitude and the views make this one not to miss.