Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mt Mitchell Assault

A short ride today, enabling a chance to get a post up at the local Ingles grocery store. We have no Internet access at our cabin outside Brevard, NC. Won't make that mistake again. The Starbucks Cafe in the store has WiFi.

We've had three perfect riding days so far. Yesterday's 6-gap ride in Georgia was not without issues though. Have to share that story another time. Sunday we hit Mt Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi. Brett and I climbed Mitchell a couple years ago. This would be Dave's first.

We parked near Marion, a low point along the loop I had planned. It was more than a vertical mile net gain to the summit. In 2009, it rained, forcing Brett and I to take an all-paved route to the top. Today I had a special treat in mind. We'd take Curtiss Creek Rd up to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), parkway to summit road, then BRP back down past Curtiss Creek to Rt 80. Curtiss Creek Rd is a one-lane gravel road, gaining nearly 3000ft to the BRP. There was 8mi of 8%, with 3mi of 11% embedded in the middle. Only Dave had a triple crank.

Starting off on US-70, Brett and Dave were killing it, at least from my perspective. I immediately recognized I was in trouble. I had climbed 50% more than either of them did over the last two days. Brett did nothing on Friday, and Dave's ride was cut short with at least 5000ft of climbing to go on Saturday. I let them go knock each other out.

We had checked out the gravel with the car before committing to the route. It was nicely packed at the bottom. Riding however, it didn't take long before I realized this was going to be a very, long climb. The steep parts were wicked loose. I had biggish gears for 12% grade in loose gravel, trashed legs, and it was impossible to stand and pedal. My Garmin showed long sections of 12-14% grade, momentarily breaking 18% a few times. The gravel was of the sharp, crushed granite kind. I thought surely of the three of us, at least one would surely flat.

One of many switchbacks on Curtiss Creek Rd.

It wasn't too warm out, but it was hazy and much more humid than the prior two days. I was soaking wet upon reaching the BRP where Brett and Dave waited. For the last hour, there were zero cars, and the only thing I heard was my heavy breathing and stones ricocheting off trees after being pinched by my tires.  3000ft down, another 3000ft of climbing before reaching the summit. I asked everybody to inspect their tires for cuts. You don't want to have a blowout later while leaning at 45 degrees around a curve at 40mph.  We were all good, or so we thought.

About 15 minutes later, Dave's rear tire pretty much exploded. He had a sidewall cut and the latex tube burst through it. Dave was now two-for-two on wheel and tire mishaps during a ride. No problem through. A dollar bill (to boot the cut) and a new tube later, we were rolling again. We were extra paranoid now and double checked our tires. This blow-out could have been disasterous if it happened on the descent.

At least Dave picked a pretty place to flat.

My holding back earlier in the ride paid off. On the four mile summit road, Brett imploded. I got a second wind and held a solid tempo pace to the top. The temp at the summit was in the 50's. A cloud deck was building and sinking. We didn't want to stick around too long. Many cyclist were on Mt Mitchell today. Some were practicing for the Assault on Mt Mitchell time century ride.

The summit road from Mt Mitchell summit.

Coming back down Mt Mitchell is one of the finest descents anywhere. First you plummet 1600ft or so on the summit road. Then another 2000ft on the BRP. After a 500ft climb, the bombing resumes on the BRP to Rt 80. Rt 80 is an insane switchback fest. Brett led. For once, I was actually was a little scared descending behind Brett. He's usually super cautious.

The summit getting socked in just after we left.

All good things come to an end. Soon we were back to US-70.  We finished with 58.3mi, 3.8hrs and 7080ft on the Garmin. That makes over 22,000ft of climbing for me in three days, some of it at pretty high intensity. Needless to say, I'm pretty cooked. Brett is saying easy endurance pace for Monday. I'll believe it when I experience it. Those slow twitch guys have an uncanny way of recovering from big volume. Monday will likely be a BRP loop or an out-and-back to BRP high point at 6100ft starting from Brevard. Hoping the weather holds for a couple more days.


Brent said...

just for the heck of it, I threw Curtis Creek into it is:

Hill Junkie said...

Interesting. Topo showed 11% for three miles over steepest part of climb. On closer inspection, there are some "noisy" downhill blips in there, which falsely drives up the average gradient. Neither Topo nor Brentacol can capture the short instantaneous gradients. The steepest parts, >12% grade, were also the loosest. I nearly put a foot down a few times. Curtis Creek was easily harder than doing two consecutive Jefferson Notch climbs by Mt Washington.

Brent said...

try this one out. There are some features I really need to add, but I can pretty easily adjust the length of each segment, it just gets pretty cramped on longer hills. Ideally, I'd like to have a . Unfortunately, when I tried to do 40 meters, because of there wasn't enough room in the one of the first segments and it accidentally filled the whole picture with the yellow color. So this is at a minimum of a length of 75 meters:

What would be really awesome would be to be able to select a section of the climb and then generate a small, fine map of just that section. Of course, I can do it manually by drawing a new map on ridewithgps and then importing it as a new hill (I've done that a few times with things like the last 1.5 miles of Lincoln, or the Ski Run Road at Mount Lemmon.)

Cary said...

Curtis Creek Rd was a blast when I rode it on a mountain bike! Can't imagine it'd feel good in a 39x23 on 23mm tires though...

Matthew said...

I just came across your blog while researching Clingman's Dome. I started cycling a few years ago and hit the summit of Clingman's for the first time a few weeks ago. The posts on your trip to NC from 2009 got me thinking about the "mythical" Mt. Mitchell in comparison to the Dome. Here are some interesting measurements.

Clingman's is the 3rd highest peak east of the Mississippi. Mount Mitchell is the highest. However, although both mountains have a lookout platform at the top, Clingman's Dome's is much higher. Here are the measurements.

Mt. Mitchell - Summit 6,684 ft. + Tower 12 ft. = 6,696 ft.
Clingman's Dome - Summit 6,643 ft. + Tower 54 ft. = 6,697 ft.

Mitchell may have the higher summit, but you hit the highest rideable point east of the Mississippi a few days early.

Keep up the great work.

Hill Junkie said...

Matthew - Interesting. Never thought of that. Technically speaking, the observation platforms should be out of the picture for both mountains, as bikes aren't allowed on them or even the paved paths to them. This cuts a huge chunk of vertical out of Clingman's. The days we rode both climbs in '09 were pretty dreary though, and nobody was around, so they were fair game (we rode to the highest rideable points). When we rode Mitchell again this spring, it was crowded, so we walked our bikes up the path to the observation deck.

My local Mt Washington (el. 6288ft) requires about a 30ft rock scramble to reach the highest point. Many do this with their bikes just to have their picture taken by the 6288ft sign.

Matthew said...

Agreed on all of your points. I just thought it would be interesting to share when I did the math (which assumes all 4 measurements are 100% accurate).

Anyway, if you ever do Clingman's again, the forestry employees are only there from 11-3 every day. At other times you should be able to climb to the tower without any problems. Just be courteous to the walkers.

Keep climbing.