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Vacaville – The Diabolical Duo – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon (Super Steep) Hill Climbing


Mix Canyon and Gates Canyon. Two truly insane climbs. The two toughest medium-length climbs I have ever ridden (and I have ridden a lot of steep climbs!). You would have to be slightly demented to attempt them.

Mix Canyon

Stats from John Summerson’s Climbing (By Bike) In California book for Mix Canyon:

  • Elevation Gain: 2178 ft
  • Length: 4.0 miles
  • Average Grade: 10.3%
  • Steepest Mile: 15.8%
  • Steepest 3 Miles: 11.8%
  • Steepest Mile in California at 15.8%. Second place goes to Old Priest Grade at 15.0%.
  • 3rd Steepest 1/2 Mile in California at 16.2%. First place goes to Marin Avenue (18.1%) and second place goes to Mattole Road South 2 (17.5%).
  • Additionally, a separate half mile stretch of Mix Canyon appears at the #6 spot in the toughest 1/2 mile climbing section category (15.4%)
  • Most Technical Descent in Northern California
  • Needless to say, Mix Canyon, by the stats, is an epic climb. Gates Canyon is no easier.

    Anyway, I started out at Alamo Creek Park Park in Vacaville. From here, I headed north on Alamo Dr, quickly turned left on Foothill Dr, then turned right right on Pleasants Valley Rd. Pleasants Valley is a pleasant, scenic road:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    After about 4 miles of rolling terrain along Pleasants Valley Rd, I hit the infamous Mix Canyon:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Initially, Mix is an easy, scenic ride through pleasant farms:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Soon, the canyon closes in and you ride along a lightly flowing creek:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    As you can see, the road is rather narrow. The last section, while easy compared to the rest of the ride, is no walk in the park. Shortly after, the road rises above the creek and the grade kicks up a bit:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    A short while later and you experience true suffering:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Bring your climbing gears!

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From HQ Panoramas

    Click on the last image for a nice HQ panorama.

    Cute house at this point in the climb:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    The climbing from this point is just insane. The scenery, however, is great:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Of course, you are likely to miss the beauty while trying to keep upright at 15%+. Keep in mind that this mile averages 15.8%. Fun. If that is not ridiculous enough, this half mile averages nearly 17.5% (assuming semi-accurate numbers from mapmyride). Insane.

    Finally, a sane switchback:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Why is this sane? This switchback contains the easiest grade encountered for the last half mile or so. This is, basically, your respite. Enjoy, as it won’t last..

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Climbing up from that switchback the even more insane section starts. Still can’t quite believe I climbed this road..and, without stopping. It doesn’t get any easier..

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Ridiculous climb:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Beautiful:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    The top of the climb:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    From here, you can continue to the right:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    And continue along Blue Ridge Road (hard pack/gravel) for some nice views..

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    The descent sucks. Prepare yourself. Overly steep. Rough. Poor engineering (technical curves). Narrow road (one lane width, basically). This is one of the toughest descents in California. Be careful.

    Gates Canyon

    Gates Canyon is only 2 miles from Mix Canyon, yet is rarely mentioned. This is unfortunate. Gates is nearly as tough as Mix. Despite its proximity to Mix and a mention on Stanford’s cycling site, Gates seems to be basically invisible. I hope to change that as Gates deserves a place on the list of ridiculous climbs in California. Gates is arguably tougher than Mix..and that is saying quite a bit.

    Gates is gentle and scenic initially:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Gates stays gentle for quite a while along a small creek:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Eventually, the grade kicks up a bit:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    And the pavement ends:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    The next 0.65 miles are unpaved. Well, sort of.. This section appears to have been paved at some point in the last few decades. However, it has been left to degrade back to nature. As such, it is now basically hard pack with gravel on top. Despite an average grade of almost 11% for this stretch, a road bike with decent tires will get you through this. I ran Michelin Krylion tires and got up this section with minimal trouble (keep your pedaling steady and you won’t spin the rear tire too much).

    Of course, just as the unpaved section ends, you hit a wall of pavement:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    The above photo does no justice to the grade of the road.

    This, however, serves justice to the grade:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    As does this:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Seriously? Those two photos are ridiculous. Have you ever seen a road as steep as that? Ever wonder what it is like to climb at 95% of your max heart rate and yet be crawling along at 3.5mph? Welcome to Gates. Masochists, please apply here.

    A slightly easier section:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Of course, that is by no means easy..

    The views, however, just increase in beauty:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    A nice panorama from a bit farther up (click for a high res version):

    From HQ Panoramas

    More climbing:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Apparently abandoned buildings near the end of the climb:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Antenna towers up top:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    The final push:

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing
    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    The top..

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    Lake Curry (I think):

    From 2010-08-18 – Vacaville Cycling – Mix Canyon & Gates Canyon Climbing

    So yes, Gates Canyon is epic as well. I found Gates to be tougher than Mix Canyon. Of course, Gates was the second climb of the day, so I was already fatigued from having climbed Mix. Despite that, it seemed like Gates packed an even steeper section into an even shorter climbing section. I’m working on the stats and will update soon. In the meantime, you can assume Mix and Gates to be two of the hardest medium-length climbs in California. Enjoy!

    Update: A couple of quick stats for Gates..

  • Steepest Mile: At least 14.5% average
  • Steepest 1/2 Mile: Over 16% average
  • GarminConnect Page:

    Mix Canyon:

    Gates Canyon:

    Enjoy!

    The Discussion

    see what everyone is saying

    • Deborah August 23rd, 2010 at 9:16 pm #1

      At the top of Mix, if you bear left, will take you to those towers you referenced in the Gates Cyn. portion. My husband and his friends have flown their hang gliders from there.

      There’s a popular mtn. bike ride that goes up on cyn. and down the other. I have not done this; I am a roadie and cannot bring myself to ride mtn. However, they say those climbs are more approachable w/mtn. gears than with road gears. I figure I need to HTFU and work on those climbs with my Diva until I nail them.

      Thanks for a great ride report & pics. Well done on scaling both climbs!

      BTW, next time you’re in the area, holler and we’ll try to keep up with you. (c; debster50atgamail.com

    • rallison August 23rd, 2010 at 10:16 pm #2

      Hi Deborah,

      Thanks for the info on the towers – I almost went up the road to them but decided not to since the signs said no trespassing. If I ever make it back to Vacaville I will have to add that in.

      The mountain bike ride connecting the two climbs via Blue Ridge Road would be fun. It looks like the views along the ridge would be beautiful.

      And yes, decent gearing really helps on a climb like this. My low gear is 30×25..and I still wished for a lower gear!

      Thanks for the compliment on conquering both climbs! I’ll let you know when I am in Vacaville next (could be a long time though, sadly).

    • mark November 28th, 2010 at 6:35 pm #3

      Road Mix today on a MTB. Wish I had seen your post before. Was searching for some way to loop. Went about 2 miles past summit before turning back. I guess Blue Ridge Rd (extension of Gates Canyon) must have been one of those dirt roads to the left (south).

    • Chuck November 29th, 2010 at 5:59 pm #4

      Hi There:

      My brother and I rode Mix Canyon yesterday. What a killer hill we loved almost every pedal stroke! Thank you for the excellent write up! Great job and we really appreciate the work you put into it, photo’s and wonderful byline. Thanks again,

      Chuck

    • norm December 2nd, 2010 at 10:26 am #5

      Ryan, how would you compare Mix/Gates with Hicks/Umunhum? ‘Have not ridden Mix or Gates, but one of these days I’ll have to make that right turn and go… :)
      Thanks for the great write up and pics!

    • rallison December 2nd, 2010 at 10:54 pm #6

      Hicks/Umunhum is a challenging climb without a doubt, with that one mile on Hicks being exceptionally tough. However, I would consider both Mix and Gates to be tougher. Just going by the stats, Mix has a mile at 15.8% vs Hicks at 13.9%. Additionally, on Hicks, you get a break right after that tough mile. With Mix, it keeps on going on after the steepest mile section in addition to being steeper – and Gates is similar.

      So, to sum up.. Mix or Gates is definitely tougher than Hicks/Umunhum. Mix plus Gates on the same ride is true torture. The good kind of torture.

    • rallison December 2nd, 2010 at 10:57 pm #7

      Glad you guys got to ride Mix! It really is one amazing climb. Try out Gates next time too and let me know how you like it ;)

    • rallison December 2nd, 2010 at 11:02 pm #8

      Hope you get a chance to get back out there as you can definitely make a loop of it with a mountain bike. How’d you like Mix?

    • D. Freedlun January 29th, 2011 at 1:42 pm #9

      Thanks for the write-up of our Canyons. Both of these canyons were gravel in the 70′s then in the eighties some areas started to get paved.
      The connector at the top make for what we call a ‘canyon loop’. Up Gates down Mix or visa versa. Gates used to be much harder. There is now a more gradual S turn about a mile from the top that circumnavigates the original gravel climb that was near 20%. It was hell. Us locals have been climbing these canyons for decades. It was our secret. But we are glad to share! Thanks again and nice pictures.

    • rallison January 29th, 2011 at 10:14 pm #10

      Sorry to spill the secret of Mix and Gates ;) In my opinion, two of the best climbs in the state for those who like steep. I find it amazing that you guys have not only the steepest 1+ mile climb in the state (excluding fire roads and the like), but you have a second one just as ridiculous only a few miles away. Not fair! Actually, I shouldn’t complain, since the Los Angeles area has an amazing selection of climbs.

      I can’t believe that Gates used to be steeper. Amazing. Glad you enjoyed the writeup and pictures. Here’s hoping I get to ride those roads again sometime in the near future.

    • David July 22nd, 2011 at 4:07 pm #11

      I rode it today with a friend. That rode is no joke! Read my review here:

      http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1640658241

    • Dan Connelly October 31st, 2011 at 5:11 pm #12

      Nice blog! Low-Key Hillclimb up Mix this Saturday! Hope you can come.

      http://lowkeyhillclimbs.com/2011/week6/

    • rallison November 3rd, 2011 at 10:57 pm #13

      I wish I could, but Vacaville is a 7 hour drive from me. Not quite reasonable for a day trip. Enjoy the very low key hillclimb that is Mix!

    • Dan Connelly November 6th, 2011 at 6:31 am #14

      Absolutely epic! Thanks for inspiring us to do a Diablolical Duo Strave event in addition to the Low-Key Hillclimb up Mix! Seriously it isn’t possible to really appreciate how hard these climbs are without climbing them. Absolutely amazing stuff. Strava data here.

    • Darell January 6th, 2012 at 1:12 pm #15

      So fun to read this! I have done the Gates/Mix loop a few times. Only on my mtn bike so far. The gravel roads at the top are reason enough to have fat tires. The low gears for the climb are just icing on the cake! I’ve ridden my road bike up Mix plenty of times. The most memorable was this day: http://darelldd.com/bicycle/ride_reports.html#Mix

      Did you know it snows up there!? True story. Check the pic!

    • [...] mental. steepest street in the world (by certain measures) Wikipedia (Links) Canton_Avenue as far as tough ascents go this one looks fun http://www.toughascent.com/blog/?p=224 [...]

    • cycling mix | mt.dahhh.com February 21st, 2012 at 5:35 pm #17

      [...] yea, I knew it was a tough climb, but until Ray sent me this link (http://www.toughascent.com/blog/?p=224) I didn’t realize how tough the climb was. Apparently it has the steepest mile in California, [...]

    • Phoebe October 1st, 2012 at 8:22 am #18

      I rode Mix yesterday. Great fun! My ride report with pictures, Strava, Garmin Connect data, and my usual sufferfest video with 100% natural sound (no music covering up my effort on this climb) is here: http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php/849835-My-toughest-climb-to-date-Mix-Canyon-%28pics-amp-video%29

      According to Strava as of today (10/1/12), only 5 or 6 (depending on which segment you click on) other women have ridden it. I come in 3rd on all the segments that have the full climb (4.6 or 4.7 miles).

      I intend to check out Gates Canyon next! I passed it on Pleasants Valley Road while riding to Mix.

    • […] was hitting Mix Canyon and Gates Canyon in Vacaville. There’s a little history of the ride here. This reference doesn’t include the gravel private property ridge line we had to cross to get […]

    • FedererExpress April 14th, 2014 at 7:19 pm #20

      I don’t know if this counts as an official road, but Socrates Mine Road (HWY 175, north of Middletown just before the climb of Mt. Cobb) is completely paved and probably more difficult than Gates (3.7 miles, 10% avg grade). It may also have the steepest mile and/or mile and a half at 16-16.5% (according to the road signs and, roughly, my GPS) over the final seemingly endless climb to the top. It is only rated as a Category 2 climb (like Gates), so Mix still takes the cake for overall difficulty. You are rewarded at the summit with a great view of a power plant. :) There is a ridge road from there but I didn’t have time to see how far you can go.

      Of course, Mix and Gates are much more accessible (and scenic) than Socrates Mine, so it may not be worth the trip unless you are looking for a change of venue.

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