From June 7 to June 9, 2013, twenty San Diego Descenders took part in “Monster Climbs VII” – a three day road riding test that will surely will go down forever in annals of history. Ok, so maybe not THE Annals of ALL History, but since it’s now on the internet, it will surely be preserved in some form of electronic history for future generations to disapprovingly shake their heads at the collective lapse of judgment of our Club members to participate in what can now be known only as Monster Climbs “Vee-I-I”.
VII of course in ancient roman numerology stands for seven, as in: it was the seventh time Descenders talked to their families and entered a plea of highly contagious and temporary insanity for permission to take a weekend in June to indulge their deeply hidden sadomasochistic desires to cyclo-climbing some of the highest, steepest and most challenging roads available to cyclists, which just happen to be located in our beloved Sierra’s of Central California.
Participants for VII consisted mostly middle-aged men (though we had the first ever woman joining us this year – yay, Eileen!) whom should know better, or at least should have learned from their previous Monster Climb escapades. Clearly gluttons for punishment, it seems Descenders never learn. In fact the Monster Climb group has grown bigger, with 20 riders participating this year, the highest ever.
The 2013 climbing route was organized by David “The Man with the Plan” Voris, with the help from David “Financials and Logistics” Guidotti serving as the trip treasurer and coordinator. Also present were Rick “Ni-i-ice!” Bienias, David “Travelling Ninja” Sheehan-san, Rob “CrashTest” Verfurth, Mike “A Private Dancer” Hodges (see this previous year’s Monster Climb YouTube video), Dave “Need for Speed” Ernst, Oleg “Gigapixel” Shpyrko, Geoff “Microbrewer” Barall, Len “The Elder” Nathe, Eric “The Ironman” Rehberg, Matt “Fast and Furious” Babb, Claus “Der Panzerwagen” Schulze, Jim “The Youngster” Wingert, Bill “Crikey, Mate!” Wood, Bob “The Running Man” Proulx, Jeff “The Gentle Giant” Southerton, Eileen “Queen of the Mountain” Blasi, Jeff “Your Derailleur is misaligned” Cresap, and Mike “Strava Sucks” Farkas.
At the start we got a surprise gift – Rick distributed Descenders Hats to all VII participants (a new gear item currently available for purchase from the team store, contact Rick for details). We packed our bikes and gear into five cars, had some delicious coffee and pastries courtesy of Voris household, posed for the group photo (below) and drove off towards Bishop.
We stopped for brunch at Adelanto. It was not even 11AM but it was already very hot. At least 90’s hot. Next stop was the bottom of Onion Valley just outside Lone Pine. There was some road construction but we managed to find a nice shaded trailer parking area. The heat was relentless it was 1:30pm and 104°F. We took some group photos (Len, Sheehan and Bill are not in any of them as they took off before the photos) and all head off for Onion Valley.
Onion Valley is a 12.5 mile climb at 7.8% average grade (peaking at 12% grade, climbing 5,169 ft to 9200 ft) and is ranked #1 toughest climb in California, 5th in the United States (2nd in Continental US), just ahead of Horseshoe Meadows and White Mountain.
Oleg: “I ran to the car to put my camera back and by the time I got on the road everyone was gone! I was the last man on the road. Three years ago we all rode through alluvial fan as a large group, but this time we split into small groups 1-3 large almost from the start, as everyone was eager to get going due to the heat. I rode with Ernst and Claus for a while and then got to chase riders ahead. It ended up great as I took photos of everyone climbing on Day 1 except Rick and James who were obviously way too fast for me – those two were waiting as I got to the top, barely broke the sweat.”
Rob: “It was HOT going up Onion Valley. Bob P smoked himself going up the alluvial fan and needed to stop under the shade of a tree. Mike Hodges rode well to catch me and then I pushed hard to break him. He fell off on the final mile up Onion Valley but rode much stronger each of the next two days.”
It was brutally hot in the valley but got cooler as we climbed. By the time we reached the top it was nice breezy 70°F. Eileen showed her strength and managed to record a top x Strava posting for the full Onion Valley segment. Way to go Eileen!
At Springmeadow. Everyone got a hat.
A few hours later, we are at the bottom of Onion Valley. It’s 100 degrees.
We hung out at the top as riders came in one after another. As the sun was setting, we headed back down. The descent was fast, as should be expected, considering the composition of riders. Oleg was solo-ing off the front, chased by Ernst and Matt, followed and soon joined by Sheehan. As a result, Descenders had the top 7 spots in the Strava Onion Valley Descent segment – which included Sheehan, Matt, Ernst and Oleg from 2013, as well as Arlyn, Mike McGowan and Rob’s times from 2010.
Some of us (notably Hodges, who was screaming loudly) took a quick swim in the cold brook running through the valley before driving to Bishop, to stay at the same hotel where we stayed in 2010. The hotel manager, himself an avid cyclist, had prepared signs “parking reserved for San Diego Descenders” and was waiting for us in the parking lot room keys at the ready – nice touch!
Dinner involved huge amounts of pizza, salads, etc from Bishop pizza house and homebrew provided by Geoff. The hotel manager had arranged tables by the brook, and Guido even went an extra mile and made special edition “Descenders” Logo plastic cups. Great attention to detail!
We hung out till it got dark, just talking, drinking more beer and viewing some cycling videos.
Day 2: If the first day is considered the “appetizer”, our second day is clearly the main dish – with this year’s fare being a carbon copy of the second day of 2010 edition of Monster Climbs. We aimed to ride close to 100 miles and climb over 10,000ft, riding up Pine Creek (a Cat 1 climb, ranked 49th in California), followed by Rock Creek (an HC climb ranked #10 in California, #20 in the US). We left the hotel early in an attempt to get ahead of the expected heat and were soon spinning easy towards the support car (driven by Rob, Bill and Sheehan), which had been parked about 10 miles ahead at a strategic spot that could be accessed multiple times given the out-and-back legs of the route. The peaks of the mountains were covered in snow back in 2010 but not this year. We refilled the bottles and started up Pine Creek. Jim scored a KOM on “Pine Creek to the mine” segment, and Descenders now own the top 5 spots of this segment on Strava, including 17 out of top 20. On the 8-mile descent many of us averaged 38-39 mph.
Back at the car, we were already suffering from the heat. Many riders filled socks with ice placed behind the neck, underneath their jerseys, to keep themselves cool.
We took it relatively easy on the ride towards Sherwin Grade leading to “Tom’s Place”. We had some snacks and refilled our bottles and headed off for the Rock Creek Climb. Finishing at around 10,220 ft, Rock Creek is the highest paved climb in California (of course nothing compared to Colorado’s 14,000 footers). Many of us were already affected by high altitude, suffering from combination of heat in the lower valleys, and altitude as we climbed higher.
Oleg: “Matt, James and I climbed Rock Creek together. And by together I mean James was pacing us while Matt and I struggled to keep up. In 2010 there was still plenty of snow at the summit, so much in fact, that we had to walk our bikes through some sections of the road. This time was much warmer. Dipping our legs in cold water of the stream while eating snacks and recovering from the climb was fantastic! The descent was fun as well, Matt, Voris and I really mixed it up – I ended up averaging 41mph over the final 7 miles. On the way back Jim and I had some fun on the fast Sherwin Grade descent, chased by Matt and Ernst. “
Following the short climb and sweeping descent of Sherwin Grade we slowly pedaled back to the car and then to the hotel. The “Sweeper Team” was Rob, Guido, Jim, Voris and Oleg.
The day continued with beer drinking by the pool and finished with a fantastic dinner at Whiskey Creek. Thanks to Guido for organizing it down to all the little details.
The third and last day we added a new route to the Monster Climb repertoire. While Days 1 and 2 featured roads repeat MC Descenders had ridden before, Day 3 called for White Mountain, a new road to most of us. White Mountain, ranks #3 in California, just behind Onion Valley and Horseshoe Meadows, and climbs 6,200ft in 20 miles with a summit above 10,000ft at the Bristlecone Pine Forest.
If the first day was an appetizer, and the second day delivered us the main dish, this third day was supposed to be a dessert, albeit a very filling, heavy dessert worth of 10,000 calories! The kind that can also fill you with regret if you failed to save some room by partaking too much of the main meal. Sharing such a big dessert with friends can be fun, but here everyone was stuffing themselves with their own dessert.
We checked out of the hotel and drove to the Big Pine (interesting how nobody wanted to ride to the start on our third day!). An obligatory group photo and we were off – a few flat miles to warm up, but not much warm up was necessary as it was already hot.
Oleg: “The sun was beating on us and I felt the worst at the start and better as we kept climbing. Several riders: Hodges, Cresap, Farkas – took off as soon as we started climbing, while I rode with Rick, Voris and Matt. Good company. Jim also took off in pursuit of fast time. Eventually Rick, Matt and I caught and passed early escapees (except for Jim, of course, we didn’t see him till summit). It was very hot, when we passed Farkas, Matt decided to keep Mike company, so it was me and Rick from there on. Rick was kind enough to ride at reasonable pace, so I was able to keep up. At the support car (located half-way up the climb, courtesy of Bob Proulx) we refilled the bottles and Rick took off, but at ‘Rick’ superfast pace. Rick ended up getting a KOM from a pro Nate English on a White Mountain 10-mile climbing segment from 168 to the summit. QOM is held by US Champion Alison Tetrick, she beat me by almost 40 seconds, but in my defense, she probably wasn’t stopping to snap some photos.”
Bob: “I drove the truck with supplies up to the turn at White Mountain Road then descended 3 miles and u-turned to have a head start and play rabbit for the group. I was determined to see how long I could ride solo before being caught by the group. With about 1.5 – 2 miles to go Jim caught and breezed right past me holding a nice cadence looking very comfortable compared to the misery I was feeling. I managed to keep away from everyone else and was glad for the shade and rest at the top watching everyone roll in fatigued but smiling for their accomplishment.”
Summerson’s book describes the climb as 20 miles with 5.9% average gradient, peaking at 11%. While the description sounds challenging, it doesn’t do justice to the brutal reality when riding it. What the book fails to mention is that there are a lot of shorter sections at 15-18%. Or at least they felt like 15-18%, which is the only thing that really matters. Many Descenders opined that the #3 CA ranked White Mountain climb, especially the second half from the left turn to the summit, is actually more difficult than #1 ranked Onion Valley or #2 ranked Horseshoe Meadows.
Despite the suffering, we were rewarded with amazing vistas of mountain ridges, combined with crazy cloud formations (see photos below).
At the top we had a nice surprise – the park rangers, on request from Voris, had brought us several coolers with iced water. It was fantastic and much needed!
We sat around waiting as more riders were coming in. The bristlecone trees were quite something. Some of them were older than dirt, literally – 4,500 years old, and to recycle Voris’ joke (it’s a pretty good one), Descenders felt right at home.
The descent wasn’t scheduled till noon but many Descenders felt the heat and the long drive home calling and were compelled to leave early. At around 11:58 Sheehan arrived at the summit. He was pointing to his watch, as he made the time cut with a whole 2 minutes to spare! Nicely done.
The descent was fast. Matt, Ernst, Oleg and Sheehan set all sort of records, despite descending into a bit of a headwind. The final 9 or so miles of descent featured some dicey sections where the road felt a bit like rollercoaster – you are actually airborne a few times, often just before you need to make a turn. In the final few flat miles following the descent it felt like we are in an oven. 100°F at least in the desert. We changed out of our sweaty clothes, using local source of water at the campgrounds for a quick wash – the lady running the campground grumpily and rather rudely refused our offer to pay for our temporary and rather minimal use of campground facilities.
On the way back each car took its own course. A few stopped at the Lone Pine, “Mt. Whitney Restaurant” for lunch. We have been to this place in 2010 as well. The sign claims this is the “Best Burger in Town”. Considering the size of Lone Pine it’s not much of a statement, but considering how tired and hungry we were, the burgers tasted fantastic. Then again, any food would taste fantastic considering the ride we just did.
We drove back to San Diego, reminiscing on the great weekend spent and already planning next year’s ride. Monster Climb 2014 – the Mountains are Calling. Again.
Mountains have been calling us… Non-stop… For about a year now.
Chasing the group through the Onion Valley. AFF. Alluvial “F’ing” Fan.
Ernst and Claus. Looking sharp, boys. I don’t think nordic/german heritage bodes well for 100F temperatures.
Mountains are getting close.
The Lone Rider ahead.
Panorama at early slopes of Onion Valley.
Jim, Farkas and Rick at the top of the Onion Valley.
Everyone made it to the top. Only Farkas and Bill Wood are missing from this photo.
Time to descend. Fast!
Back at the hotel. We are a beer-drinking club with a cycling problem.
Private Party. But we are all invited!
We needed a lot of pizza.
Table is set. Note Descenders Custom plastic cups.
Very early breakfast at the hotel.
Ready to roll from the hotel parking lot. Amazingly, we are leaving right on schedule!
We are biking over THERE!
Smiling. For now.
Strava featured prominently on our jerseys.
First climb: Pine Creek.
Top of Pine Creek. Voris and Ernst finishing – nice teamwork, guys!
Chilling at the top of Pine Creek.
Ernst at Pine Creek summit.
Voris and Rob: staring lovingly into each others eyes (Rob generously provided reflection of his shades while Voris re-applies sunscreen).
Oleg does his best Ernst imitation with Ernst’s beautiful Giant.
Staying cool and collected: Voris makes use of sock filled with ice behind his neck.
Transition towards Rock Creek.
Brief and rare descent
Guido at Tom’s Place.
Jim and Voris. Looking rather haggard.
Eric and Eileen.
And we are climbing again. Rock Creek – highest paved road in California, just above 10,000ft.
The creek cold water felt great!
Brrr…. That feels nice!
There’s about $100,000 worth of bikes right there
Returning back to the hotel
Dinner at the Whiskey Creek restaurant – the same place we had dinner at 3 years ago.
Sharing food, drinks and war stories.
Group photo before the start.
The first flat miles.
Everyone is still together. Not for long.
Amazing views as we climb
Relaxing at the top of White Mountain.
Top of Bristlecone.
Voris is happy to see iced water coolers left by kind park rangers.
Dave, Dave and Dave. Sheehan summits.
Sheehan made the cut with minutes to spare! It’s not even Noon! The brochure says we do not descend until noon.
Sheehan. The man. The legend. Sheehan completes yet another Monster Climbs trip – and today is his wedding anniversary.
Time to go downhil.
Just before the descent: Guido, Oleg, Voris, Sheehan and Matt. Ernst took the photo.
Guido and Hodges descending.
The downhill speed deamons – Ernst and Matt. Voris just behind.
It’s ALL downhill from here! (9 miles of it).
Sheehan and Oleg broke away in the end.
Comparisons between 2010 and 2013:
Before Onion Valley climb – in 2010 (left) and 2013 (right).
Rob seems to be even happier climbing the Onion Valley alluvial fan section in 2013 (left) compared to 2010 (right). Could be his new Cervelo.
Climbing through Alluvial F’ Fan in 2013 (left) and 2010 (right). Note the snow at the mountaintops in 2010 photo.
Onion Valley in 2010 (left) and 2013 (right). Or maybe the other way around, I can’t be sure.
Onion Valley Summit in 2013 (left) and 2010 (right). Much bigger group in 2013.
The road from Bishop to Pine Creek – in 2010 (right) we could see snow-cover mountaintops in June, while in 2013 (left) the snow is all but melted.
The cows and dogs cheer on Descenders as we pass towards Sherwin grade in 2010 (left) and 2013 (right).
Pine Creek Summit in 2010 (left) and 2013 (right).
Ernst looks much more tired at Tom’s place in 2010 (left) compared to 2013 (right), despite similarly hot temperatures and identical course.
Link to some Youtube Videos from Monster Climbs 2013: