South Shades Crest climbs



Overview map showing the entire Shades Mountain ridge line highlighted in red (click to zoom in)

Complete Shades Mountain topography annotated (click for super-hi res 12MB version)

Shades Mountain is one of my favorite mountains in Birmingham. After climbing 10,000 ft on Red Mountain yesterday (Tuesday), I didn’t want Shades Mountain to feel left out so today (Wednesday), I climbed 10,000 ft mostly on the southern portion of Shades Mountain out towards Bluff Ridge. I live at the bottom of Shades Mountain and commute over it every day to work (during the school year). The topography of the mountain is really intriguing. The part of it closest to where I live is a double-ridge mountain thanks to a creek that cuts down through the middle of Vestavia Hills and on over into Bluff Park. Plus it runs for about 60 miles starting a few miles south of Tannehill and running northeast to Springville where it ends in an interesting series of ridges (lots of them). All along the 60 mile length of the mountain, there are probably several hundred ways to climb the mountain.

Today, I headed to the southern portion of the mountain and did some climbing and photographing of the steep neighborhood access roads. The ridgeline is very narrow at its southern end dropping off steeply on either side with South Shades Crest road running along the top. Within the past 10 years, a number of neighborhoods have been built in the valleys on either side of the ridge. These neighborhoods all have steep access roads coming off the ridge down into the neighborhood. Plus, South Shades Crest road itself eventually turns into Bluff Ridge Rd and dives off the mountain towards Bessemer crossing two smaller ridges. If you turn around at the bottom and go back up to the main ridge, you traverse what is called the “Triple Climb”. At the top you can make a quick right left to hit Co Rd 1 which is a nice 50+mph descent … turn around at the bottom and you have a short steep 10% cat 4 climb back up the ridge.

Still tired from yesterday’s ride on Red Mountain, I had decided to go easy on all the climbs and get pictures of everything … but later in the ride I started feeling better so I decided to try and set a KOM back-to-back double (KOM on one side of the mountain, turn around and KOM coming back up the other side). I couldn’t quite do it, but I did hit a new power record on the Triple Climb (see screenshot below).

New power record – 336 watts for 13’10”

Here are the climbs annotated with Garmin Screenshot and photo for each climb (except for Triple climb which doesn’t have a photo) –

60 miles of riding on Shades Mountain – this screen capture was taken just after descending back down from Bluff Park on the same route that I had taken on the way out. Here is an annotated view from on top of Bluff Park looking along the south shades mountain ridge line (annotated with thin red line) … The climbs described below all come off of this ridge line on either side.
Note – this Garmin screenshot doesn’t have anything to do with the photo. The screenshot was taken out near the horizon behind and slightly left of Ross Bridge 73 degF in January – are you kidding me??? This is supposed to be our coldest month of the year! This photo is a view of the Ross Bridge golf resort from Bluff Park … Ross Bridge is interesting topographically as it sits atop its own “mountain” – look for the yellow raised area below Shades Mountain on the topo map.
Silver Lakes climb (18% max gradient near the top). Silver Lakes climb in the distance up to South Shades Crest
No screenshot for this climb! But I think it maxed out at about 17%. This is by far the fastest descent though, because the average gradient is 13.4% for 3/10ths of a mile with a good run-out although you definitely have to trust your tires as you lean into the sweeper at the bottom at max speed (53.3mph yesterday). It is not off-chamber, which helps. Long Leaf Lake descent/climb
Sterling Lakes climb – only 15% max, but it hits this at several spots and averages 11.5% for the 1/2 mile long climb. Annotated view of the mountains southeast of south shades crest – this is the view from near the top of the Sterling Lakes climb
Timberlake climb – this is the craziest (but not fastest) descent with an offchamber sweeping turn at the high speed spot. Timberlake climb – photo taken at the off chamber high speed spot towards the bottom
Bluff Ridge 2nd climb (i.e., the middle climb of the “Triple Climb”) – this max gradient is at the bottom. No photo here – I was trying to set the KOM
Shelby Co Rd 1 climb – steepest part is near the middle. Shelby Co Rd 1 descent towards the top, the steep part is also slightly curvy beyond the ford explorer in this pic and just to the left of the trees … max speed 51.0 mph yesterday – but this was into a headwind you can usually hit 53 on this descent.
Co Rd 52 (Morgan Rd) climb … this road is really busy – not a recommended climb … max gradient maybe 50m after passing by Co Rd 93. Co Rd 52 (Morgan Rd) climb back up to South Shades Crest

Ross bridge parkway
One more pic from the day – power line trails next to Ross Bridge parkway – I used to go mountain biking on these trails with friends while I was in high school. Fun times!


2 responses to “South Shades Crest climbs”

  1. John Karrasch Avatar

    I’ve seen those powerlines…how far do you think you can ride on them?

    1. kartoone Avatar

      Here’s hi-res aerial photo of the trail … … It’s 2.5 miles from the bridge on ross bridge pkwy up to the railroad crossing on shannon road, but judging from the satellite it looks like there are a couple of places to ford the river (little shades creek) and add in several more miles.

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