Mount Lemmon

A word to the wise: don’t ask Doug Jansen for advice about selecting the best route for doing a climb, at least if you don’t want to be in a world of hurt. I actually don’t mind so much, so I’m glad I did ask him for advice on my trip up Mount Lemmon. Apparently, most Tucson riders who do Mount Lemmon turn around in Summerhaven (…Khalid? you?). That would be about 28 miles from the base, and I would have been perfectly happy had I done so. The climb had become difficult, but primarily because of its length and a little because of the altitude. At that point I had been climbing for close to 2 3/4 hours. I had kept up a decent clip, but nothing too strenuous. Above 7000 feet, the elevation started to become a major factor, so my average speed had dipped from around 11, to just under 10 and I was riding mostly in the little ring (with which thankfully my rental bike came equipped.) As I finally reached Summerhaven, I was feeling pretty well cooked. If I had turned around and gone back down, however, I would have recovered fine and the whole ordeal would have seemed like no big deal. Instead, I turned onto Ski Run Road and followed that road up to the summit. The average gradient on that section is 6.8% as compared to 4.2% for the whole climb. However, there’s also a lot of steeper road in that section…some over 10% and even a little section of 19%. Factor in elevation, and fatigue from the previous 28 miles and the last 3.4 miles (which gain an additional 1281 feet) is as hard as anything else I’ve ever done, including Lincoln Gap and Ascutney. As Doug had predicted in an email to me, I was “sucking wind” and had to stop a few times to recover. I thought about telling myself “most people don’t bother with this part of the climb” and turning around. Thankfully I persevered and was rewarded with a great view of Tucson.

Here’s a gradient map for the last 3.4 miles:

The descent down the summit road was nasty. lots of bumps and I was riding the brakes most of the way, though the rims never got red-hot like they do on Ascutney or Okemo. Adding to the difficulty, my rental bike was a bit too big and my arms were extended pretty far to ride on the brakes, and it was pretty cold up there as well. My arms and hands weren’t feeling so good when I got back to Summerhaven. The rest of the descent from Summerhaven was pretty easy…smooth pavement, nicely banked curves. Unfortunately, I’m still a bit of a skittish descender, so I didn’t go all that fast.

And for the BRENTACOL rating, I’d like to start factoring in elevation. I’m thinking something like: add x percentage points per 1000 feet of elevation (over a certain threshold, like maybe 5000)…suggestions welcome. In any case, Mount Lemmon scores 1982 from the bottom to the summit. That makes it the highest rated hill I’ve done (but frighteningly, still 500 points easier than Mount Washington). I’d say that’s right. Although if I factor in elevation it might bring it close to Washington.


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