I’ve done Mt. Umunhum many times before, so this LKHC shouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary. When I read the LKHC web site, it was claiming that this is the highest rated climb of any of the LKHC. Now I know it is tough, but I still think it’s doable … so reading that it is the toughest came as a real surprise to me. It is true that in the past, I usually take a rest after taking the right turn onto Mt. Umunhum, and in this ride there was no stopping … but damn!
Courtesy William von Kaenel
There was roughly 128 riders, and taking a look at all the riders, I thought “What have I gotten myself into?” Plus, when I stepped up to register, I saw this really young looking chap in USA jersey … I wasn’t sure if this was something someone had just bought at a bike shop … and then when he announced his name, Adrien … everyone then said “Oh, that Adrien” … for those that don’t know, this is Adrien Costa. Ok, we all know he will be the first one to finish.
Registration was at Venture Christian Church, which was 4 miles from the start of the climb. The plan was to ride over to the start, and then start the climb. But I know this road, and the run up to the start is not flat at all … there are rolling hills, and one section that is a bit steep, and it’s not even part of the LKHC. So Sandra and I decided to just ride up ahead. Never before did I ride this stretch of Hicks, just for a warm up ride.
When we did start, I made sure I was off the back. This was a mass start, and eventually, everyone spread out after about 1/4 mile up the climb … and it was a steep climb. I mean, 20 yards into it, we’re grinding it up a 15% grade.
As long as I had someone in my sights, it still gave me motivation to continue pushing up the hill. In the 1.2+ mile section of Hicks, I was still in contact with the riders ahead of me. We make the right turn on Mt. Umunhum, and then it continues on some more. At this point, I usually stop off at the bathroom, and take a little breather, but not today. I didn’t feel dead at this point, so I felt confident enough to continue up the hill.
Courtesy Mark King
Photo coutesy Bill Bushnell
After about a mile of 15%+, this was just the start, and more 15% climbs up ahead. The fact that we’re able to sustain the steep part of Hicks seems to make the Umunhum part of the climb not so bad. I figure, if I could make it up Hicks, my body is already used to the pain, so just continue it for another couple more miles! I guess that’s why stating this is the most difficult climb of the LKHC season seemed a little odd. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.
As soon as I started thinking about how it’s not the most difficult, I sense others starting to pass me. I was thinking I was alone on the climb, and then I hear someone else’s gear grinding … Damn, I’m losing ground, and then I start ending up in the back.
I start seeing fast riders heading down the hill, and normally that would demoralize any rider, but on this ride, it’s expected. I just have to make sure I stay on my side of the road. Passing the gate at Bald Mountain, people are cheering us on, ringing their cowbells, it’s very motivating. I only wish I had a line of people ringing cowbells all the way to the end.
Courtesy Ryan PC Gibson
White Line of Death Courtesy Rich Hill
I finally made it to the finish, and I was sure I was the last one … But I forgot there was one other behind, who I saw as I descended down the hill. Major kudos to everyone who finished this epic climb. I can only imagine how epic this will be when it’s officially (and legally) opened to the top of the mountain. It will make other mountain challenges pale in comparison.
Here’s a portion of the climb I recorded on my Shimano Sports Camera