Archive for the ‘Mt Lemmon’ tag
On my second attempt, I finally made it to the top of Mt. Lemmon! This time, I started earlier in the day (8:30am at the base rather than 12 noon on my first try). Still, the temperatures climbed into the upper 90s during long portions of the ride and I wasn’t really in the kind of shape to make the ride carefree and enjoyable.
It helped that I went with a friend (thanks Marc!). He’s in good shape and runs 5x a week and described this ride as very, very tough. We took our time. Well, I took my time. I stopped 4-5 times, 10-20 minutes each time to rest, refuel, drink water, and desperately find some tiny patch of shade. And, once again, I still didn’t bring enough water. My two bottles were virtually depleted after the first 20 miles of hot, uphill riding.
Plus, the altitude is a factor. I noticed the air above 6,000 feet is palpably thinner. I honestly thought I might abandon midway through the ride. Nonetheless, I soldiered onward and upward. After 4+ hours of riding and stopping, I had a re-birth and actually began to feel pretty good. But that was when my friend Marc had his trouble spot. He wasn’t drinking much water and was eating little if any food (while I had consumed an apple, a little cheese, two small granola bars, some nut bars, and even a power gel). So I found a package of powdered electrolytes in my handlebar bag and poured this in his water. That seemed to bring him back to life for the final 5-mile climb to the summit, which took us over 8,000 feet in altitude.
At the top, we each savored a pizza at the pizzeria in Summerhaven. Best pizza ever — we both agreed.
I force a stop on the descent to make this image. The descent is about 60-minutes of pure downhill riding in which the air progressively grows hotter and hotter until, dare I say, it feels as though you are riding through an actual oven.
Last year, I wrote about my attempt to ride the Catalina Highway all the way to the little town of Summerhaven on the top of Mt. Lemmon. That attempt — for the record — was unsuccessful.
I attempted this epic climb again this past week-end and — this time — I reached the top! The long climb was quite challenging for several reasons. I plan to write a brief report about this 53-mile climb and descent soon.
Meantime, here is a view along the descent (and oh my, what a descent it is!), which takes you from Conifer forests above 8,000 feet in elevation down to the valley floor in Tucson.
Ascending from the valley floor in Tucson to the top of Mt. Lemmon is equivalent to traveling from Mexico to Canada — in terms of the biological diversity and the number of ecological zones one passes through.
These high elevation mountain zones are called Sky Islands:
Weldon Heald coined the term “sky islands” in 1967 to denote mountain ranges that are isolated from each other by intervening valleys of grassland or desert. The valleys of this basin and range country act as barriers to the movement of certain woodland and forest species, somewhat like saltwater seas isolate plants and animals on oceanic islands – hence the common association with the archipelago phenomenon. Other species, such as mountain lions and black bears, depend on movement corridors between mountain islands to maintain genetic diversity and population size. (from The Sky Island Alliance website)
In Tucson summer is still hanging around with temperatures in the mid-to-high 80’s, but up at 8,000 feet in the Santa Catalina Mountains Autumn is in full swing.
The Aspen Loop from Marshall Gulch is alive with color this week.
Full disclosure: I didn’t bike all the way up Mt. Lemmon — I took an automobile — but there is precedent for me posting a holiday (e.g. Haloween, Xmas, Solstice) photograph, whether or not there was any riding involved. And now that the weather is cooling down, I plan to revisit the idea of bicycling to the top……really I do!
Descending the Catalina highway toward Tucson.
With about 10-12 miles of downhill miles remaining, I’m feeling pretty good about the day.
I’m just now getting around to completing Part II of my ride report covering the scouting trip I made up the Catalina Highway toward Mt. Lemmon a number of weeks ago.
To recap: as I described in Part I, I was only about 6-7 miles and 2500 feet up the mountain before I began to succumb to the high temperatures, lack of water, and gusty winds.
However, as I contemplated ending my ride another bicyclist happened along. She had abandoned her efforts around the 11-12 mile mark anxious about the high wind and the dangers this could poise during the steep, twisting descent. Since she no longer needed all her liquids she offered me half a bottle, which contained some kind of energy, mineral, or electrolyte-infused water.
To my surprise, drinking this helped me recovery most of my energy and instilled a renewed spirit for pushing onward. As I climbed, I actually began to gain strength. I passed a group of three mountain bikers and settled into a good rhythm, climbing for another 5-6 miles which brought me to about 6,000 feet above sea level.
I pulled into the Bear Canyon picnic area around 3:30pm feeling really good.
I attribute much of these good feelings to the Ponderosa Pines (Pinus ponderosa) now populating the landscape. Seeing this majestic species with its distinctive orange-ish bark (a common sight when I bicycled in California) thrilled me to no end. Plus, it signified that I was transitioning through one of the many eco-zones along the route.
However, given that I was out of water again (and it would be 8-9 more uphill miles before I could count on finding more) I decided my exploratory ascent would end right here.
My Mt. Lemmon ride was rather ill-planned, meant only as an exploratory trip to see what this mountain is all about.
It began on a Sunday afternoon, fueled by a morning capuchino and cinnamon roll from Cartel Coffee Lab (which was excellent and made me wish I had snapped a picture for an espresso review — click here for the review archives…but I digress).
Getting off to a late start (about 12:30 with the sun already directly above), I parked at the Safeway on Tanque Verde and Catalina Highway, 2-3 miles away from where the road begins to steepen. I wore wool shorts, some puma shot-putting shoes, a cotton tank-top with a lightweight, long-sleeve polyester shirt over that, a scarf-like buff around my neck, and zinc oxide sun protection on my face. I put a vietnamese-style baguette sandwich in my handlebar bag and a full water bottle in my downtube cage.
I felt great the first 7 miles as I climbed the initial few thousand feet. With each switchback the valley began fading away. I remarked to myself that this was the most comfortable I’ve felt on a bike since coming to Tucson: few cars, scenic views, and to me, the satisfying rhythm of a long, hard hill climb (which is what I was used to in California).
Just after making the above picture of this prickly pear cactus, the sound of rapid gunshots rang out from a pickup truck directly across the road. I quickly ascertained the pistoleros were not aiming their bullets at me, but I still felt vulnerable. I didn’t linger.
As I covered this initial ground, I guzzled water at a rate that naively assumed I could fill-up at the numerous official campgrounds en-route (e.g. at mile 6, 12, 18 etc.). So I rolled into the Molino Basin Campground — at around 1:30pm and well into the heat of the day — with a nearly empty water bottle. It was only then that I learned there would be no more water until the Palisades ranger station (more than 14 miles ahead and 4,000 feet above me).
I gamely rode another mile or so, but began to tire. The hot and extremely windy conditions made for tough riding. At times, it felt as though I was barely moving at all as I hammered my lowest gear into 30-mph gusting headwinds.
The opportunity to take a rest and eat something arrived in the form of the Gordon Hirabayashi recreation site. My energy was mostly spent and I was out of H2O. I ate half a sandwich and thought that this would be the end of my climb….
…TO BE CONTINUED in PART II
This past Sunday I decided to head toward the top of Mt. Lemmon to see how far I could get. It’s a tough 20+ mile ride going from the desert floor (at around 2,000′ of elevation) all the way up to a subalpine forest (around 9,000′).
I hope to have a detailed report and more pictures soon. Suffice it to say: I only made it about half way (around 6,000′ just below Windy Point).
Q: do you notice anything wrong with the picture above?
A: the single water bottle (and lack of water along the route), which proved to be my critical undoing!