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Figueroa Mountain Loop (east side ascent)


Figueroa Mountain. One of the famous Santa Barbara County climbs (though a bit of a drive from Santa Barbara proper!). Training ride for the Discovery Channel Pro Team. Often compared to classic European mountain climbs. 3,000+ feet of strong climbing. With such a reputation, this had been on my must-do list for a while. As my family lives in Santa Barbara (well, Goleta, technically), and my mom loves cycling as well, a free weekend was all the reason I needed to hop in the car and head up to SB County. That, and a pick-up party at Foxen Winery (with about a dozen, awesome Foxen wines available for tasting!) sealed the deal. On to the ride!

Woke up at just after 7 (not a fan…not a morning person…grrr), got ready and got the bikes and supplies loaded into the car. A short, coffee-enhanced 45 minute drive later, we were parked in the too-cute town of Los Olivos (highly recommended, actually…beautiful and lots of great winery tasting rooms all around..and the sandwiches at Panino are quite good). So, just mom and me gearing up for the ride:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Parked right outside…you guessed it…a winery tasting room (it would seem that half the buildings in Los Olivos are tasting rooms!). Heading out, we went south on Grand, which shortly turned into Roblar after veering east. Roblar Avenue is home to Roblar winery (hmmm, wonder if there is a connection with the names…), a gorgeous establishment you pass right before crossing 154:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

After crossing 154, you meander through the beautiful countryside of the area. Relatively flat for this section, you pass vineyards, farms and horse stables. Tough not to stop every mile or so to take photos!

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling
From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Not too long after (and shortly after seeing a hawk snacking on a freshly caught mouse!), we intersect Happy Canyon Road and truly commit ourselves to this ride. Can’t believe I talked my mom into this! Actually, she can more than handle this sort of stuff..pretty cool, no? Happy Canyon quickly turns into a true country road – barely two lanes, no lane markings, etc. Is that a problem? Not at all. The drivers are courteous and infrequent. The scenery is wonderful:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

And the signs along the road…not something I see every day in Long Beach…

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

And nature even provides for some of its own art:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

And, back to the riding! While being relatively flat to this point (some false flats and some rollers, but no real climbing), the climbing is soon to start! Rounding a bend on Happy Canyon, the real climbing starts:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

The wind, at this point, is basically absent. The temperature is not too bad (despite being early June, this day was relatively cool), but the climbing and the absence of a breeze still makes this part hard enough. Nothing crazy, but some good, solid climbing.

Pretty soon, we are quite exposed and get some incredible views:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

The golden hills surround us. A bit more climbing, and just after passing a shooting ground (gun shots are surprisingly startling when heard in what is otherwise such quiet countryside!), we hit the 9/10s of a mile of unpaved road. Having driven this previously, I was actually kind of worried about riding over this on a road bike. It definitely did not look welcoming to standard road bike tires. And walking almost a mile while pushing a bike along did not..surprise, surprise..sound fun. So, I picked the (theoretically) fastest option…to ride straight through. Dumb, maybe. But, I also had two spare tubes. Anyway, despite being slow, I made it (and with nary a flat tire!). Fun though was hitting the slightly steeper sections..the smallest amount of torque would spin the rear wheel!

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Finishing the unpaved section unscathed, we get a nice respite in the form of a small descent nestled amongst some beautiful scenery (of course, the whole thing basically has great scenery):

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

After this, we encounter a nice, shaded section with a couple of creek crossings (this time of year, the water was only about 2 inches deep at most, so no worries there), before finally starting our relentless climb up:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

In this section, the road basically winds along the canyon. While it doesn’t give you expansive views, the canyon itself is quite rugged and scenic. At this point, the road has been one lane for quite a while with basically no traffic. Lots of debris as you climb (so if you descend this, be careful). So, finally, almost 20 miles in, we hit Cachuma Saddle…a huge, highly-trafficked intersection:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

And, by highly-trafficked, I mean virtually no traffic. Good hiking if you head towards Nira. You can get to Hurricane Deck out there by hiking (also something on my to-do list..the views are supposed to be really good). Anyway, a little break for refueling, and off we go up Figueroa Mountain Road:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Figueroa Mountain Road, quite literally, cuts right into the mountainside:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Incredible road and incredible scenery. Of course, the road itself is a decaying, slight strip of asphalt:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Rather narrow at times:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

But, can you beat that scenery? Wow. That is the sort of road I live for. And, of course, lots of rock/gravel in certain sections:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Doesn’t matter too much when ascending though, since you are going so slow! And finally, the last 200m:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

And you even get some well-deserved cheering at the top:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling
From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling
From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Awesome. Seriously. That made my day. Happy to be at 4500 feet:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

And happy for a descent too! The first short section of the descent is quite forested (quite odd for being so high and having been exposed for the last 2500+ feet of climbing). Nice change of pace though! After a couple of minutes of this wooded section, we break out:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

And are left with a wonderful, rolling ribbon of asphalt:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Once out to some sun and hitting some incredible views, we take a 5 minute break to rest and refuel. The scene out towards Lake Cachuma is truly incredible:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

After some more nice descending (with some very cool rock formations):

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

We hit one more last ascent. Only a couple hundred feet, so it really wasn’t that bad. The top of this little ascent is also the turnoff for the Figueroa Lookout Day Use Area:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

I have fond memories of going up here as a kid when it would snow. Cool area. Descending beyond this, we start to encounter more of a mix of environment..and some steeper, winding sections of asphalt:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Fun, no? And, one of many cattle gates:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Nearing the last few miles, we start to get into some steep switchbacks:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

And this section here was very steep as well:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Without much reference, it may not look steep. But, it is. Having also climbed this section a month or so previous, I hated this stretch. Steep. No wind. Sun beating off the rocks. Fun times :) And, a bit farther, another steep switchback:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

High speed descent:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Into a beautiful, moss-covered forest:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

And yeah, that section is steeper than it looks as well. The first two miles of the climb on this side average around 10%..maybe slightly more. But hey, at this point, we are basically at the bottom. Round the steep curve at the bottom (where the bridge is), and we have finished Figueroa Mountain. We are not back to the car yet, but we are done with the mountain and, thankfully, have only a nice, scenic, slightly downhill 7 miles back to Los Olivos. Pass Neverland Estate on the right after a mile or two (yes, the infamous estate of Michael Jackson..and no, you can’t actually see anything interesting from the road aside from the gatepost), then on past some cattle farms…with some awfully cute young ones getting a taste of the world/their pasture:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling
From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

And, finally, just 40 miles of cycling later, we are back in Los Olivos. Load the bikes back on the car, stop in to Panino for a prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato and basil sandwich and a chicken, sun-dried tomato and provolone sandwich and head over to Rusack Winery (a 5 minute drive from Los Olivos), for the reward:

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

We earned this stop ;) A couple of happy cyclists (and a supportive dad…well, he was drinking good wine, so he would be happy anyway!):

From 2009-06-07 – Figueroa Mountain Cycling

Ok, long post! Guess I liked this ride! Having ascended from the west side previously, I was very glad to do the backside ascent. Both are incredible ascents. This one (the east side), is more rugged but doesn’t have some of the ridiculously steep sections like the west side does. Tough, but the grades are more consistent than the west side. Also, the east side has extremely limited cell phone reception. Bring a buddy, multiple spare tubes and extra water/food – there is little traffic and Happy Canyon can get very hot. Be prepared. Of course, if you want some nice torture, the first 2 miles of the west side ascent sure are fun ;)

In summary…incredible ride, scenery, climb, etc. And both the east and west side ascents are worth doing separately – they are each unique. Do the loop counter-clockwise first, then do it clockwise next. Anyway, the route map:

And, the full album can be viewed here.

Enjoy!

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