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San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Santa Cruz Mountains – Hicks Road North/Mt. Umunhum Climbing


4.1 miles. 2,199 ft elevation gain. 10.2% average grade. 17% max grade.

Let that sink in for a minute. Over 4 miles of climbing at over 10%. If that doesn’t scare you just a little bit, I don’t know what will.

Anyway, this is, not surprisingly, another climb listed in Summerson’s The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike) in California. In this book, Hicks Road North/Mt Umunhum gets a few noteworthy mentions..

For all of California:

  • #7 Most Difficult Half Mile: 14.3% (mile 0.3-0.8)
  • #5 Most Difficult Mile: 13.9% (mile 0.1-1.1)
  • For the San Francisco Bay Area:

  • #1 Most Difficult Climb
  • #5 Steepest Climb (10.2%)
  • #5 Most Technical Descent
  • #4 Highest Elevation Attained Climb (2,846 ft)
  • #5 Greatest Length of >10% Grade Climb (1.6 miles)
  • With this many mentions..and an entire mile at 13.9% (!), I had to try this out. Somehow, I actually also convinced my mom to attempt it as well. She is an avid cyclist, but stats like these give her pause. Anyway, despite the ridiculousness of the grade, she was game (after thinking it over for a few minutes). Sweet.

    The first part of Hicks Road consists of rolling bumps that gradually bring you upwards (<400 feet gain in 5 miles). This stretch is semi-scenic:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb
    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb
    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    There is a bit of car traffic along here though, so watch your line. The only real climbing in this first stretch is a short, but steep, bump up to Guadalupe Reservoir:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb
    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb
    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    Enjoy the respite along the reservoir. It will not last. After you round a sharp bend (and cross a second small creek crossing), you are suddenly faced with a wall of pain..

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    Sadly, I was not able to capture the full extent of the misery/steepness of this portion. There are no real switchbacks that easily show the grade. So, keeping in mind the 14% nature of this part of the climb, here is my mom powering on up:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    And looking up from that point:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    Looking back from the top of Hicks:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    The last section of Hicks is quite mellow compared to the first climbing section. It is still in the 8-10% range, but is a welcome break from 14%. Of course, despite this easier section, the Hicks Road North section still averages about 12.4% for the entire climbing section. So yes, 13.9% for an entire mile and 12.4% overall. Of course, why not make it harder by including Mt. Umunhum? This is just another 2.9 miles at 9.5% (and 1,450 ft ascent). Easy, right?

    If you are up for that, turn right on Mt. Umunhum Road to complete the rest of the climb:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    Along here you will be riding through the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    The climbing is initially mellow, but gets tough (once again!) pretty quickly:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    Occasional shade along this steep route:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    Partway up Mt. Umunhum Road, the road is closed to car traffic (aside from government and resident traffic):

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    The gate at this point means that, basically, you have the road to yourself for the next 1.2 miles.

    Climbing higher and higher:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    Almost there!

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    So close..

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    Success!

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb
    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    Elevation at the No Trespassing line (beyond here, there are private property issues): 2,846 feet. How I wish I could continue on up.. maybe in 2013 when they finish cleaning up the asbestos and lead that will be a possibility. Until then, this is still an epic climb (I’d say epic is fair wording for 4 miles at over 10%). And, despite not getting to summit Mount Umunhum itself, you do get some rather close views of the infamous summit:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    Mt. Umunhum is easily recognized by its five-story box-shaped radar tower (the building seen in the above photo). This tower operated as an early-warning radar station until 1980. While no longer in operation, it is still a landmark in the Bay Area (even 30 years later!). So yeah, while ascending or descending, stop a second and enjoy the view of Umunhum and appreciate the history of this mountain.

    And, appreciate the fact that you will now be descending while taking in epic views:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    That would be me appreciating said fact.

    More of those views:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb
    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    Steep, but beautiful, descending:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb
    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    And some more descending..

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb
    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    Nice. Those two pictures should be all that is necessary to convince you to try this ride. But, if not, some more scenery..

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb
    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    And one more descending picture:

    From 2010-07-25 – San Francisco Bay Area Cycling – Hicks Rd & Mt. Umunhum Climb

    So yeah…not a bad ride. Extremely demanding and very scenic. This is a must-do for anyone looking for either tough climbs (and this is a tough climb) or scenic climbs (the views along Mt Umunhum Rd are very scenic).

    MapMyRide map of the whole climb (including the 5 mile warm-up):

    MapMyRide map of the Hicks Road North Climb (click the elevation profile for this climb!):

    And the MapMyRide map of the Mt. Umunhum Road Section (also an impressive elevation profile):

    Garmin Connect data:

    If you are wondering..yes, I did forget to turn the Garmin back on for the descent (of all the times to forget..oh well..).

    So, in conclusion, this is an excellent climb. Tough (very tough), scenic and fun. Give it a try.

    The Discussion

    see what everyone is saying

    • Harold B August 2nd, 2010 at 6:56 pm #1

      How does this climb compare with Sierra Road or the back side of Mt. Hamilton?

    • rallison August 3rd, 2010 at 7:28 am #2

      While I have never climbed Mt Hamilton East or Sierra (they are on my list for some future visit), based on stats, this climb is likely tougher than either of those. Hamilton climbs 1992 ft, but at only 5.5%. Hicks/Umunhum gains even more elevation (2199 ft) at almost double the grade (10.2%). Needless to say, there is no contest there. Sierra, however, is closer. At 9.8% for 1816 ft of elevation gain, the stats are more comparable. Based on stats alone, Hicks/Umunhum is probably still tougher (steeper, more elevation gain…plus that mile stretch at a ridiculous 13.9%). Sierra, though, sounds like a pretty solid climb. I’ll report back when I do climb it (but still, I doubt that it will prove to be as tough or tougher than Hicks/Umunhum).

      It sounds like you have climbed Hamilton and Sierra – when you get a chance to conquer Hicks/Umunhum, I’d love to hear what you thought of it in relation to Hamilton and Sierra!

      -Ryan

    • Will October 14th, 2010 at 5:22 pm #3

      Stopping at the White Line of Death is for wimps! Risk a ticket, continue to the crest, and it is 5 miles, 10% grade, the third steepest 5 miles in America, and this side of Mount Washington.

      http://connect.garmin.com/activity/32761653

    • rallison October 19th, 2010 at 11:33 pm #4

      I was tempted…however, I had heard too many stories of residents threatening those continuing on and park rangers writing tickets that I actually decided to play it safe this once. On this topic, it does sound like the state is looking to clean up the site and fully open it up for public use in the next couple of years.

    • [...] I took off for Hicks Rd. on a very, very cold morning. I don’t care what some of the East Coast folks have to say about California weather – 30 degrees is still 30 degrees. If I felt strong at the top, I was going to go all the way up to Mt. Umunhum, which is 3000+ ft up. I can go into details of this extremely tough climb, but toughascent.com does a fantastic report of it HERE. [...]

    • [...] I took off for Hicks Rd. on a very, very cold morning. I don’t care what some of the East Coast folks have to say about California weather – 30 degrees is still 30 degrees. If I felt strong at the top, I was going to go all the way up to Mt. Umunhum, which is 3000+ ft up. I can go into details of this extremely tough climb, but toughascent.com does a fantastic report of it HERE. [...]

    • zor May 30th, 2011 at 4:32 pm #7

      me and a couple friends hiked up this from the start of quicksilver in almaden (so about 26 miles in all). took all day. we wanted to get to the summit and passed the no trespassing signs but some dude who owned private property shut our efforts down while we were almost at the top. bummer.

    • rallison May 31st, 2011 at 11:29 pm #8

      Umunhum has quite a history and reputation..the property owners up there really seem to dislike those who want to summit. The road itself has a No Trespassing line that is apparently followed up by security cameras and a motion sensor that activates warning lights. Possibly slightly ridiculous.

      26 miles hiking only to get shut down at the very top? Ouch.

    • Dion Rides Bikes September 2nd, 2011 at 2:45 pm #9

      Hey Ryan,

      I cross linked your site because you do a good account of this climb. I live out here in Almaden, and although I’m mostly a Cyclocross/MTB rider, I’ll do this climb every once in awhile just to check myself. I did it the other day with my compact crankset.

      Here’s my cross post: http://www.dionridesbikes.com/2011/09/road-riding-is-hard.html

      Even though I have a “bail out” cog in the back (34T), the 1:1 gearing was very tough compared to the triple crankset I had on my bike before.

      Folks, I’ve done Hamilton, Sierra, Jamison Creek, etc. and Hicks to Umunhum is by far the hardest climb around.

      Good write up on this! Advice to all – go out and do this climb… it’s a test of will.

    • PB November 17th, 2013 at 11:34 pm #10

      Thank for such a great post. After reading your post, I went to Hicks Rd today. But unfortunately I did not find this climb as difficult as I expected. The grade is definitely impressive but overall not as difficult as I thought. For me the most difficult ride is still the skyline via pagemill (especially the gate 3 to gate 4 segment).

    • Joebar March 24th, 2014 at 11:18 am #11

      My wife and I just rode up Hicks Rd yesterday. But that was only half the climbing… We continued up on Woods trail to the top of Kennedy trail and down we went. It was a beautiful tough ride!

      On Strava:
      http://www.strava.com/activities/123470406

      On Garmin Connect:
      http://connect.garmin.com/activity/466733909

      On Kinomap (Video + GPS tracks):
      http://www.kinomap.com/watch/sj9c4v
      http://www.kinomap.com/watch/eqgkw5
      http://www.kinomap.com/watch/46vuhd
      http://www.kinomap.com/watch/k7vp7a
      http://www.kinomap.com/watch/a98sd6
      http://www.kinomap.com/watch/ch688n

      Enjoy!

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