Mt Lemmon - Climb to the Summit

By Contributor

Chris is an entrepreneur and the co-founder of Staying Native.  He enjoys riding his bike (pedal kind) and relishes opportunities to share cycling adventures with friends.  On top of that, Chris is generally up for any adventure that provides him with stories to share.  He looks forward to sharing some of those adventures with his sons as they get a little older.

Monday, Jul 22, 2013

Riding in Arizona is great but it’s even better when you get to enjoy it with one of your best friends. This winter, my buddy Derek MacNeil  (the guy responsible for introducing me to road riding) came to Arizona to ride with me.  He was committed to riding every day of his visit, even though my schedule didn't permit me to join him. On his return from driving up Hwy 17 to ride from Cottonwood to Jerome, he said 'As my friend, never let me get in a car and drive for over an hour just to ride up a mountain again!'.   So, what did we do?  The very next morning we left at 6am to drive 2 hours to ride Mt. Lemmon in Tucson.  I didn’t even try to stop him.  Perhaps I'm a bad friend, but it isn't every day that you get the opportunity to ride one of the tallest and most popular peaks in Arizona.

Mounting your Assault on the 9000+ ft summit


Beginning of the Ascent of Mt Lemmon with Roadside CacTi

Stay Hydrated

Arizona is hot and dry, and this climb will take you more than 2 hours.  Make sure you have enough water, and a plan to replenish along the way.  The last 5km are the steepest, so you don't want to bonk and not make the summit.  There are no towns along the 50km climb so getting water is not easy, as I found out.  We planned to stop at the Palisade Visitor Center about 30km into the ride, but when we arrived there was a sign on the door indicating they were gone for lunch!  So we went up to the top with only two water bottles!  The next place to get water is in Summerhaven, the only disadvantage is that you descend into town after which you must climb out to continue on to the summit. An extra and unnecessary ascent, especially the way I was feeling.

Enjoy the Ascent


Stunning Views during the ascent of Mt LemmonThe climb itself is a lot of fun.  The gradient is reasonable all the way to Summerhaven.  The last 10km of the climb is where it gets steeper.  I noticed that after I passed the 7000ft mark, the thin air began to affect my cycling ability.

What I enjoyed most is the changing ecosystems as you ascend.  You begin in the desert, hot and dry, with cacti everywhere.  During the climb, the temperature starts to drop and the vegetation begins to change.  Before you know it, you are amongst pine trees and campsites reminiscent of Oregon, not Arizona!  Finally, as you reach the top (depending on time of year) you hit the snow.  I have to say that it’s an odd feeling to be riding in shorts and a jersey surrounded by snow banks! 

Only for the Diehards – The Real Top of Mt. Lemmon


Pine trees and SnowBanks - The top of Mt Lemmon in AprilMany cyclists conclude their Mt. Lemmon experience in Summerhaven.  However, the diehards won’t be satisfied until they reach the top found on by following Summit Rd.  To get there, turn onto E Ski Run Rd just before reaching Summerhaven.  You will find the road is more narrow but there isn't much traffic.  Sadly, it’s also steeper than most of the climb.  After about 5km riding through the snow, past the ski resort, there is a gate, past which the road kicks up sharply- this is Summit Road.  Follow this road to the end to reach the summit, which according to my Strava results was 9036 ft. 

Done (a.k.a. The Descent)

Needless to say, I was done.  More than 2 bottles of water are required for this climb.  On the way back down we stopped at the ski resort restaurant and grabbed a Coke.  The caffeine and sugar were a life saver.  The descent is a lot of fun.  Fast, but not too fast, owing to the reasonable gradient most of the way.  The road is wide and in good condition, so riders of all skills should enjoy this one.  One caution is that the descent is long, so fatigue is a factor.  Also, because this is a popular cycling route most cars are familiar with the idea of cyclists being on the road.

After Effects of Dehydration (or Post Ride Drinking)

More skilled than me at descending, Derek sped way ahead.  With his extra time at the bottom, he got some refreshments for our drive back which included - don't laugh - two 1L bottles of water,  two large chocolate milks and two bottles of Coke. On top of all that, I got an orange juice at the fast food drive through.  Was it dehydration, the greasy food or maybe the orange juice that put me over the top? Whatever it was, I came close to throwing up in the unbearably hot car. Even with all the drinks we consumed on our drive back to Phoenix, there was no need to stop for the restroom.  I know this might be too much information, but the lack of pitstops was a good indication of our degree of dehydration.  

An Epic Climb


Mt Lemmon - An Epic ClimbGiven the opportunity, Mt. Lemmon is a climb that every cyclist should try.  I have however learned my lesson.  Not only will I not allow Derek to get in car and drive over an hour just to ride a mountain, but I encourage everyone I know to stop me from doing the same!  Unless of course the ride is really epic and I've never done it before… or I've got nothing better to do.

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