TR: Climbing Mount Lemmon - on two wheels!! (OT)


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Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 16, 2008 - 08:29pm PT
I figured with all the bike riding climbers on here, a little off-topic topic about a truly great bike ride would be okay to post.


Climbing Mount Lemmon - On Two Wheels!

A long time back, I used to bike race. Mind you, I wasn't that great at it, being shaped more for a career in football, rugby, or fireplug, but I gave it a go and we had fun doing it. Even back then, I always wanted to ride up Mount Lemmon, one of the biggest climbs (bikewise) in the state of Arizona. It doesn't hurt either that the Mount Lemmon summit ride is always one of the classic rides on any list of the best mountain climb bike rides in the United States. Add onto that riding through no less than like seven "life zones" from saguaro, prickly pear, and barrel cactus-filled desert to ferns and pine forest on top, and it is indeed a fine ride. A few statistics on the ride: 28 miles or so from base to the parking lot near the observatory on the summit. Total elevation gain is around 7600 feet. It's not all climbing, you actually also drop 1400 feet or so during the course of the ride, mostly coming during a big descent after you climb a hill past the Palisades Ranger Station near the 21 mile mark. I read somewhere that during his Tour de France days, Lance Armstrong even rented a house up on top of Lemmon and would ride up the mountain to the house after putting in a training day. Alas, we never got around to it when we were young and in good shape.

Flash forward a bunch of years. I'd been riding a bike fairly steadily over the years, usually mountain biking in the winter, and road biking in the Phoenix summers, when some of my rides home from work have been with the mercury topping 118 degrees. Worst thing in the world is to hit a red light when the temperature is that high... you nearly bake from the heat off the pavement while sitting there waiting for it to change!! Anyways... last year I got the wild hair to ride Lemmon. My buddy Bill (from Colorado) was soon on board for a fall trip to join the ride, assuring me that I didn't need to "train" to do the ride, but I wasn't taking any chances and set out to make sure there was at least some enjoyment along the way. My old racing buddy Tim (local) also opted in early on.

The plan was a go for late September. Bill flew in the night before from Boulder. We drove down, camped on Lemmon, then got up in the early morning and shuttled Tim's van to the top of the mountain. This was done to facilitate the second part of the plan; to do a little rock climbing on Rappel Rock after we got done riding up the mountain (no round trip this time around). After stashing the van and driving back down the mountain (strategically stashing water at the Windy Point parking area), we got racked up to go.

Bill and Tim locked and loaded.

We started up the mountain soon after. You start climbing almost immediately, and there are a few hairpin turns near the bottom before you sort of straighten out as you pass the USFS toll booth.
Bill and Tim hitting the first turn.

As Bill had flown in, and lugging your bike along on a plane is a huge pain in the a** these days, he was riding on Tim's old bike a late 80's or so, Trek 1100. An okay bike in it's day, but compared to today's rides, it's heavy, only has like 14 gears (vs. 20 today), and this particular bike has a bunch of mileage on it, so I'm sure it's a little gooey in it's action. That was not a problem for Tim and I because Bill is an aerobic monster and climbing freak and we needed an equalizer if we were to stand a chance to keep up with him.
Bill trying to figure out the downtube style shifting of the Trek 1100.

We climbed out of the Tucson basin quickly and soon the city was just a remote view. Once we got warmed up a bit, the riding was very pleasant and the miles and elevation started to roll by.
Tim and Bill with Tucson off in the distance.

The road basically snakes up the mountain, sometimes following canyon bottoms, sometimes perched along the side of deep ravines. You're always pushing for the next turn and the next enjoyable view.
Bill and Tim turning the corner to head up into Bear Canyon.

We had soon gone from desert to pine trees as we passed mile 10 and pushed on into Bear Canyon. There are some good crags here including the Green Slabs and Chimney Rock that have great rock climbing routes on them.
Tim and Bill riding in Bear Canyon.

After a grunt of a climb, we reached the midpoint of the ride at Windy Point (tons of great climbing!). We had a bathroom break, refilled our water, and checked out the cool views before continuing.
Bill taking pictures of Tucson far below over the railing at the Windy Point parking area.

Too soon, it was time to get back on the bike and start grinding up again. After leaving Windy Point, you have to do a bit more grunt climbing to gain the ridge just past it (seen ahead in the picture below). After getting up and on to the ridge proper, the angle tapers a bit and you can just keep spinning up the mountain. The views from this ridge are absolutely gorgeous and we had an incredible day to enjoy them.
Bill and Tim after leaving Windy Point, headed up the ridge past the 14 mile mark.

The constant climbing started to get to me a little at around the 18 mile mark. About the time we hit the San Pedro Vista, I started feeling the effects of altitude (over 7000 feet). This wasn't a huge surprise, given I live at around 1400 feet, but it did make it seem harder. While riding this section of the climb, you get a full on view of the horrific fire that decimated most of Mount Lemmon a few years ago. Thousands of black trees sticking up off bare slopes. Very sad to think they will never come back in our lifetime.
Tim and Bill passing the Palisades Ranger Station near mile 20 or so.

After the long climb up and past the Palisades Ranger Station, we topped a rise and we were soon screaming downhill, struggling to put on arm warmers . The 40mp-plus downhill fun and games only lasted about two or three miles and then it was time to start climbing again. Dang... we just lost over 1000 feet of hard-earned elevation gain! The climbing here isn't so bad, though, and you soon reach the turn off to ride up to the Mount Lemmon Ski Area.
Bill riding along the stretch leading up to the Ski Area turnoff. Lots of burned trees behind him.

The climb up to the Ski Area is a honker. The angle is steeper than anything you hit in the ride up to that point and it really socks those tired legs right between the eyes. Pulling up into the flat Ski Area parking lot, I took a short break to gather the reserves to push on to the top. The road pretty much goes to hell after you leave the Ski Area and and continue up the mountain. As you would expect, there's even a sign that says "road not maintained past this point". In a nutshell, it's a sort of half-chip-sealed potholed mess. No big deal when you just have to push the skinny pedal on the right to make the car go, but man it is hard on those legs when you can't even get into some sort of a rhythm because the road is too rough. By far, the most challenging part of the ride for me is the two miles from the Ski Area to the summit parking lot. What a grunt. But it doesn't last forever and we were soon hanging by the van chugging various liquids, getting snacks and trying to dry out a little. Game over!!
Bill and Tim riding into the parking lot near the Observatory on Mount Lemmon. Mission accomplished!

As I said, part 2 of this little adventure involved a bit of rock climbing on Rappel Rock, one of the so-called "summit crags" of Mount Lemmon. Bill had never climbed there and it seemed a fitting combo for the day. After rehydrating a bit, we changed clothes, and loaded up the packs and started off down the dirt road from the top to reach Rappel Rock. We planned to climb Chiboni (9+) to Black Quacker (7) for about 4 pitches to the top of Rap Rock.
Bill and Tim hiking down to climb Rappel Rock.

I always love climbing on top of Lemmon. The rock is awesome and it's just a great place to hang out no matter how you slice it. Sort of depressing looking at the many burned off trees the litter the slopes there, but there is green as well and there's no point crying over spilt milk, so we'll take what we can get. We were soon at the top of the upper/back part of Rap Rock.
The Ravens - one of the Lemmon Summit crags. There are some really cool routes over there!

At this point, I opted to sit out the climbing because time was getting short and if we had a group of three, we'd likely be climbing and hiking in the dark. I figured my goal was met (the ride) and I'd done the climb many times, so no biggie. I just lost my Curt Gowdy Extreeme Guy™ points. Tim and Bill headed down while I took nap, then hiked back out to the parking lot. With just the two of them, they reached the parking lot just as it got dark.
Bill and Tim head down the side of Rappel Rock to do the four pitch climb back out.

Bill leading the 9+ Chiboni pitch at the base of Rap Rock. All friction! (photo courtesy Tim S.)

Bill pulling a small 5.6 roof that we do as a detour from the regular Black Quacker line. I think it's part of a route called Black Magic Woman. Fun roof on huge holds! (photo courtesy Tim S.)

Aftermath: Since Bill had flown down we couldn't call it a weekend with just a bike ride, so after we drove down from the top of Lemmon that night, we drove all the way back to Phoenix, spent the night there, and in the morning we drove up to Granite Mountain, outside of Prescott, where we climbed for the next two days before Bill flew back to Colorado on Monday morning. This may sound quick and easy, but it had me feeling like I might be getting too old fore this sorta sh*t. Still, what a great weekend!

Trad climber
Jul 16, 2008 - 10:28pm PT
thanks for sharing, and it was on topic, at the end!

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 16, 2008 - 10:28pm PT
Technically, not a real toll booth, just my slang for it. They do have a little deal where you can pull over and pay your $5/day or whatever so that you can park anywhere on Lemmon. If you never stop and never park, or you go to Summerhaven or your cabin on FS land, you don't have to pay the "toll".
Lynne Leichtfuss

Social climber
valley center, ca
Jul 16, 2008 - 10:38pm PT
Another nice Thread, good pics and information for the rest of us. Thanks for sharing the biking and climbing beta. Felt like I was with you all on the ride. Smiles, Lynne

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 16, 2008 - 11:38pm PT
Yeah, it's your standard USFS pay-to-play deal. I think the general gist of it is that if you're not going anywhere privately owned and you plan to pull over and park, you have to get a Mount Lemmon Pass. Or exercise your right to protest by not getting one.

Here's the general ride profile I did using GPS data:

rick d

tucson, az
Jul 17, 2008 - 12:42am PT
as for the Catalina "fee"

I get a park's pass for $80 each year which is accepted for most NF sites. To hell with giving the USFS any cash of their own to play with (real meaning = waste).

East of Seattle
Jul 17, 2008 - 12:49am PT
Great report! Nice looking ride.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jul 17, 2008 - 12:54am PT
it really socks those tired legs right between the eyes. according to my understanding of anatomy, that would really hurt...

great TR...

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 17, 2008 - 10:26am PT
Ed, Ed, Ed... :-)

Just to get back to climbing (or should we discuss weakening slings some more?), here's some shots of the climbing we did up at Granite Mountain the two days after the Lemmon bike ride. And it gives me a chance to post more pics of my favorite climbing spot.

This is Bill headed of where the route Slammer Jam (10a) splits left from The Classic (7).
This pitch is probably 5.8 or so.

The next pitch, a 5.9 fun crack that goes up this and then out left on a horizontal jam crack to the belay. Great exposure!

Bill lounging around at the belay below the last pitch of Slammer Jam.

Bill leading the last pitch. Bill got to lead a lot becuase I'd done the routes a number of times and this was only his second visit to GM (first in '92).

Bill on a route called Bleak Streak. It's only rated 5.8, but people have argued that it's more like hard 9 or 10a. They added a bolt atop the pillar that starts the route a few years back. It's probably a good idea, but I'm glad I did the route on a crappy micronut all runout to the first bolt 35 feet up before they put that in. If the bolt had been there, it wouldn't have been the same experience at all. Don't think it gets climbed much these days, but it's a great route.

Tim starting the second pith of Said and Done (9).
This is a really cool steep pumpy jam crack up a beautiful corner.

Bill launching up the third pitch of Reunion, maybe the best 10a pitch on the mountain.
A beautiful splitter finger crack up the Flying Buttress.

We finished up to the top that last day via the Beaver Cleaver (8), another pitch I've heard people say is sandbagged.
Here's Bill out in "don't fall" territory. What a gorgeous pitch!!
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Jul 17, 2008 - 10:45am PT
Great stuff, Greg. Multi sport daze!

Ok, what's a "Chiboni"?


-Brian in SLC

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 17, 2008 - 11:08am PT
Apparently, it's a sort of Russian bagpipe also called a Gudastviri. Not sure if that's where the name came from, just what a web search turned up.

The gudastviri is a droneless, double-chantered, horn-belled bagpipe played in Georgia. The term comes from the words guda (bag) and stviri (whistling). In some regions, the instrument is called the chiboni, stviri, or tulumi.

Maybe Steve Grossman could shed more light on the name if he sees this.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Jul 17, 2008 - 12:52pm PT
What the hell kind of Mt. Lemmon trip report is it without a stop at the PIE SHOP on the summit????

[Sigh. Rappel Rock. I, um, one time, up there, on this ledge, ahem....]

Jul 17, 2008 - 01:10pm PT
As a native Tucsonan climber and one time cyclist(I rode from Durango to Silverton) I can fully appreciate that ride! AND after living in Prescott for 10 years I have so much love and respect for The Mountain. I agree about Reunion- could do that one over and over. We would usually do the "hotline"- Nose-Saidndone-Reunion. Thanks a bunch for photos of two of my favorite places anywhere!

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 17, 2008 - 01:17pm PT
Thanks Jefe. I've done the "hotline" or "Grand Slam" combo a few times, but never have gotten on that first bit of the Nose. Have to take care of that this year. GM rulez! And it's open once again as of two days ago, but will be too hot to climb there for a bit.

Jul 17, 2008 - 01:26pm PT
Yeah, those who know, know. Actually the other bit of cycling I did was commuting around Prescott for years. Before all the regs in the NF around town I'd park my van out in Granite Basin and ride to work. Not a bad way to lure climbing partners either, when you live at the trail head! Thanks again.

Trad climber
Tucson, AZ
Jul 17, 2008 - 02:45pm PT
Awesome shots, Greg! I've been really getting into riding the Lemmon recently. Having only done the whole thing for the first time a month or so ago. Tho I've only ridden the section between ski valley parking and the top once. The road surface is awful. I split a tire on the way down. I don't think I need to ride that stretch ever agin.

Also, the summit crags are open for the season now. Had a blast on Rappel rock on 4th of July weekend.

When I climb it in the future, I'll be sure keep an eye out for Pete's cooties. Ew.


Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 17, 2008 - 04:21pm PT
Nice work Forest! It is a really nice ride and as always, the mountain is beautiful and a cool place to hang. We've been talking about a return engagement this year, but I've been having quite the time getting out on the bike so far this year, so not sure yet. I'll give you a heads up if it happens. Likely about the same time as last year...

Trad climber
Tucson, AZ
Jul 17, 2008 - 05:28pm PT
Sweet. you should definitely do that.

Also, to avoid needing two vehicles, you can just park at the top, ride, down (which is great fun so long as you're early enough to avoid down-bound traffic) and then head back up.

Social climber
wuz real!
Jul 17, 2008 - 05:36pm PT
You da monkey!

I've never done Slammer Jam, sigh...
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 19, 2008 - 01:03am PT
Primo Ganite Mountain shots Steel! Nothing but ultra classics. Makes me miss the place bad.
Slammer Jam would be at least a two sigh leftover Jay. Just your kind of wrestling match.
The challenging Chiboni on Rappel Rock was originally lead in blue Robbins boots and without the second bolt by Mike "not here, not now" McEwen for full original spice! Not much argument about another bolt going on that route.

Can't recall the source of the Chiboni name....
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