Archive for August, 2009


San Diego – Palomar Mountain South Grade Climb

Palomar has been on my list of must-do climbs for a long time, but one thing or another kept it from happening. The distance to get to the climb from Long Beach also didn’t help. Nor did the reports of reckless motorcyclists and other enthusiast drivers on weekends. Nor the reports of the high temperatures to expect during the summer. But, finding myself with a free Friday (being unemployed at the moment does have a few advantages), I decided to tackle this climb at the last minute. While this meant only a couple of hours of sleep, it also meant some pleasant temperatures.

The Harrah’s casino seems to be the popular spot to park, so that was my official starting point. After rubbing my eyes a few times and strapping on my shoes, I headed north along Valley Center Road. My first thought was basically questioning my sanity in waking up so early to simply torture myself with cycling up thousands of feet. Must be a disease. I’ll have to ask my doctor about that.

Anyway, Valley Center Road is mostly forgettable. One cow crossing, a few buildings, a couple of side roads, decent traffic and a touch of climbing. Pretty boring but it quickly led to the turn for 76 (aka Pala Rd). This intersection is home to the Taco Shop, the (un)official start of the climb. Start your timer here!

The climbing also kicks up immediately here – nothing all that steep, but some good, consistent climbing. This section was actually a little creepy – heavy fog silhouetting the occasional palm tree with some wickedly thick wisps of fog..

From 2009-08-14 – Palomar Mountain Cycling

Another mile or so and I’ve ascended above the fog level. Continuing along 76, the scenery is actually pretty nice:

From 2009-08-14 – Palomar Mountain Cycling

Some fog back in the distance, left behind:

From 2009-08-14 – Palomar Mountain Cycling

Continuing on:

From 2009-08-14 – Palomar Mountain Cycling

76 passes quickly enough. While decently scenic, I was still glad to hit the the turn for South Grade and shed a bit of the traffic. That said, 76 was actually pretty calm – don’t know if this is always the case or if it was just because it was early enough. On to South Grade! This road is a solid climb. Nothing crazy-steep, but it consistently climbs. Soon enough I hit 3,000 feet:

From 2009-08-14 – Palomar Mountain Cycling

Heading up around one of the many switchbacks:

From 2009-08-14 – Palomar Mountain Cycling

A little farther and a very beautiful switchback:

From 2009-08-14 – Palomar Mountain Cycling

Above 3000 feet the views really start to open up:

From 2009-08-14 – Palomar Mountain Cycling
From 2009-08-14 – Palomar Mountain Cycling

That, right there, is one reason why I torture myself in attempting such climbs.

Another half hour of climbing and I hit the ridge line. Despite being rather tired, I was happy to have maintained a 2600 feet of climbing per hour pace. To finish the climb, I throw in a few hundred more feet along Crestline Rd up to Palomar Mountain County Park. This last bit leaves me with a finishing elevation of 5600 feet. Nice little park:

From 2009-08-14 – Palomar Mountain Cycling
From 2009-08-14 – Palomar Mountain Cycling

Sadly, this park affords no expansive views of what you have just conquered. It does, however, offer a bathroom. This more than makes up for the lack of expansive views.

Finally, heading back down:

From 2009-08-14 – Palomar Mountain Cycling

A fair warning! This is a very fun descent (minus the 3 or so cattle crossings)! My average speed from Palomar Mountain Park all the way back to my car at Harrah’s was 29mph. 40.0 mph top speed as well. This descent is both fun and challenging – tons of 180+ degree switchbacks to keep you alert! Can’t wait to try it again and see if I can up that number.

The full route map:

Just the South Grade climb portion:

Also, socalvelo has an excellent page on Palomar.

In conclusion, this is an excellent climb. Solidly steep for many miles, nice views and not too much traffic (at least on a Friday morning). Next time, I have two things to add to this ride – a visit to the observatory and a cruise down E Grade to Lake Henshaw. These two attractions alone will keep Palomar high in my to-do-again list. And, next time, a stop at Mother’s is definitely in line as well!



Old Waterman Canyon Rd, CA-18 (Rim of the World Hwy) & CA-138 to Crestline Loop

A few weeks ago I was hunting for a new, long climb to do within an hour or so of Long Beach. Flipping through my Complete Guide to Climbing book (a must have for anyone who enjoys climbing), I decided on CA-18 heading up to Crestline and the Lake Arrowhead area. 18 is pretty heavily trafficked and the speeds are high (55mph speed limit), so early Sunday morning was the chosen day. And, more importantly, I found out about Old Waterman Canyon Road – a steep, super low traffic road that takes the place of 18 for about half of the climb.

Sunday morning. 6:15AM. Already around 80 degrees. Luckily, a layer of clouds took the edge off of the heat. Climbing in hot weather can, of course, be masochistically grueling. Those clouds stuck around though, so the heat was bearable for the day.

After climbing a bit on 18, I turn on Old Waterman Canyon Road. This road takes a route mostly parallel to 18, but, instead of lazily winding up along the hill, basically goes straight up it. This is a tough, almost 3 mile climb. The average gradient is around 8.6%, with the last mile and a quarter averaging 10%. I would have taken pictures, but I was too busy suffering my way up. Next time!

After those tough 3 miles, 18 was a nice relief when it came to the grade. 5.3% grade for just over 4 miles and 1200 feet more of gain. The road itself is huge – two lanes each way winding up into the mountains:

From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

The views along the way are very good – Rim of the World Highway is a very appropriate name for the road:

From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

This would qualify as an exceptional climb in my book – lots of elevation gain, great views along almost the whole thing – if it weren’t for the traffic. 7 or so in the morning on a Sunday and there was already a somewhat consistent stream of cars heading up at the 55mph speed limit. The shoulder was decent enough for most of the way, but there are a couple of spots where you will have to hop into a traffic lane for a few feet. That said, the road itself is pretty impressive:

From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

4 more miles down and I am to the junction with 138. This rather precariously placed junction itself is rather amazing to look at:

From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

By the way, if descending 138, make sure to scrub some speed before hitting the junction. Unless, of course, you like descending a couple thousand feet in a matter of seconds. 138 itself is quite steep for this portion. This shot gives a rather accurate idea of the grade:

From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

My legs were burning going up a couple of the steep switchbacks. This portion is only a mile long, but averages around 10%. And, finally, civilization:

From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

There are a couple of restaurants here to grab a bite to eat..well deserved after nearly 4000 feet of climbing. From here, Lake Gregory is very nearby and Lake Arrowhead is only a few miles away. While I didn’t have time to do this, grabbing a sandwich at a store or restaurant up here and bringing it to one of the lakes would probably be quite pleasant. Continuing on Crest Forest Drive, I enjoyed the peace and quiet of this heavily forested road:

From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

Light traffic, thankfully. Additionally, it got me above 5,000 feet – no way I was finishing at 4,800 feet at the village when I could continue going up and get above 5,000. Rolling over those thousand foot increments is just so satisfying. I also found a road called Great View that I figured would lead to some great views. There were some great views along the way and some rather amazingly located houses. Imagine your backyard looking down 4000 feet, unobstructed, to the valley below. I also found that this road is private (it is only posted at such at the other entrance to the road…grrrr…) and, more importantly, contains two dogs that will chase you for daring to glance at them. Actually, I imagine they will chase you no matter what. So, yeah, you may want to avoid this road. Aside from that, riding around here was very pleasant!

Finally, you reconnect with 18:

From 2009-07-19 – CA-18, Crestline Cycling

From here, the descent is great. 9 miles of almost continuous 35+ mph riding. With two lanes descending, taking the lane was no problem at all (and traffic wasn’t going that much faster). Top speed of 45 mph – while pacing a car to my left and watching an officer run radar on the side. Fun!

Ultimately, I enjoyed the ride. I just wish the 4 mile stretch ascending along 18 was nicer. The rest of it was great. And Old Waterman Canyon would make for a great training road or repeat road if you lived in the area.

Back down by about 9:30AM and the temperature was already approaching 100! Glad I left when I did!

The whole ride:

Just the Old Waterman Canyon part:

Make sure to click View Elevation for that. It is a nice graph 😉

And, the full set of pictures can be viewed here.


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