Tag Archives: mtb

Climbing, climbing, and more climbing

Alpine glow Georgia style.

A photo posted by Brian Toone (@kartoone76) on

It has been a busy week of riding and racing with the Cheaha Climbing camp on Thursday, the Southern Cross race on Saturday morning, and then following that up in the afternoon with a “5 Gap” ride up to the highest point in Georgia – Brasstown Bald. The sunset pic is from the top of the Brasstown Bald lookout tower at the turnaround point of my ride.

One of my favorite views in Alabama - the skyway epic ridge line heading out towards Adams Gap and Horn Mountain viewed from the Cheaha descent.One of my favorite views in Alabama – the skyway epic ridge line heading out towards Adams Gap and Horn Mountain viewed from the Cheaha descent.

Cheaha Climbing Camp
This year marked the inaugural Cheaha Climbing Camp – a new camp helping cyclists improve their climbing and prepare for the upcoming Cheaha Challenge and Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo Ultra. I was invited to come ride with the group on Thursday, and we had quite the adventure with sleet at the beginning, thunder towards the end, and lots of cold, cold, cold, cold, rain in between. I had ridden over from Birmingham in beautiful cold weather in the upper 20s, but I could see the clouds rolling in behind me and by the time we left from the Bald Rock Lodge, the valleys were covered in clouds and sleet and rain. We persevered, though, and were able to warm up by the fireplace and share stories about racing and riding. I spoke about the challenges of Race Across America and shared some of the experiences and things I learned from the race.

Southern Cross Race
Fast forward to Saturday, and I headed over to Dahlonega, Georgia for Southern Cross. The cold rain and sleet that we got on Thursday in Alabama was a few inches of snow up in the higher elevations of Northern Georgia. Friday and Friday night were dry and windy so that the course was mostly dry. Only at the highest elevations of the course was there still some snow in the shade and a few muddy spots from melted snow but that just made the course even more beautiful. I started out at the front with the leaders, but struggled with the pace on the Winding Stair climb. My quads were really sore and hurt too much to try to keep up that pace, so I involuntarily backed off the pace (I wanted to go harder, but my legs said no) and watched everyone ride away as I continued to get passed by people on the climb. By the top of the climb, I had started to recover and catch people. This gave me extra motivation to push it hard. So I did – from there to the end – even getting a KOM on one of the later short climbs. I moved all the way back up to 9th place overall. Not the result I was hoping for, but it was still a lot of fun.

Finished! 6th male expert, 9th overall because the top 3 were all Masters 40+.

A photo posted by Brian Toone (@kartoone76) on

Brasstown Bald
Most years I have raced Southern Cross, I have brought my road bike to get in a good ride in the mountains on Sunday. This year I needed/wanted to get back to Birmingham sooner so I decided to do my normal Sunday ride on Saturday after the race. The weather had warmed up a bit, and it was a beautiful day climbing in the mountains. I wanted to climb all the way to the Fire Tower on top of Woody’s Gap from Dahlonega, but the last 300 feet or so were covered in snow and mud. After Woody’s, I climbed the backside of Wolfpen Gap and made my way over to Jack’s Gap and Brasstown Bald. Everything was deserted, and I ended up hitting the top right at sunset — which meant I rode the reverse route back to Dahlonega in the dark. That would have been fine, except I ran out of water and everything was closed. I climbed back up and over Wolfpen from the long side and fortunately made it to the gas station in Suches while the owners were still inside and they let me in to buy a couple drinks. I did the short reverse climb up Woody’s and then enjoyed the super long descent all the way back down to the Dahlonega reservoir.

Climbing
I tallied up the climbing between the ride out to Cheaha on Thursday and the two rides in Dahlonega in Saturday and came up with some cool data. Check it out and pics from the rides below!

Climb Length Vdiff/Gain Avg (Max %) Peak Elevation
Thursday, Cheaha Climbing Camp
Cheaha from below Camp Mac 12.9 mi 1735’/2365′ 2.6% (16.8% ibike max) 2407′
Cheaha from Cheaha Lake 3.3 mi 1175’/1175′ 6.8% (11.7% ibike max) 2407′
Saturday, Southern Cross Race
Winding Stair (Climb #1) 11.2 mi 2001’/2812′ 4.7% (15% over 0.1km) 3394′
Cooper’s Gap (Climb #2) 9.9 mi 1345’/1829′ 3.5% (14% over 0.1km) 3299′
Saturday, Brasstown Bald 5 Gap
Woody’s Gap Fire Tower 13.2 mi 2324’/2709′ 3.4% (27.9% ibike max) 3540′
Wolfpen Gap Reverse 1.9 mi 559’/559′ 5.6% (13.5% ibike max) 3341′
Jack’s Gap / Brasstown Lookout Tower 10.2 mi 2764’/3063′ 5.4% (23.4% ibike max) 4784′
Wolfpen Gap 5.9 mi 1372’/1385′ 4.6% (13.5% ibike max) 3341′
Woody’s Gap Reverse 1.9 mi 388’/388′ 4.2% (8.2% ibike max) 3139′
Totals: 2 state high points 70.4 mi 13663’/16285′

The table above shows the stats for the major climbs I did on Thursday at Cheaha and Saturday at Southern Cross and up Brasstown Bald. I had a grand total of 339.8 miles over the three days (Thursday, Friday, Saturday) with 131.5 miles on Thursday, 76.4 miles on Friday, and 131.9 miles on Saturday with a total of 38,203 feet of climbing. No wonder my legs were sore!!!

Annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge).Annotated heartrate plot (click to enlarge).

Annotated heartrate summary.

10mileHCbrasstownbaldgradients

10 mile HC climb up Brasstown Bald – annotated – click to enlarge.

Shelby County mountains

The ridges get larger and higher the farther east you go in Alabama — ultimately reaching 2407′ on top of Mount Cheaha, the highest point in Alabama. This elevation trend is true locally in Birmingham as the ridges stack on top of each other getting larger the farther east you go until you hit the Coosa River valley. The highest point in Shelby County is Signal Mountain (1566′). Nearby mountains in the 1500′ range are Sand Mountain (1540′) and Double Oak Mountain, which just barely hits 1500′ at one tiny spot on the mountain. Normally, the 1500′ contour line doesn’t show up on a map with the Google Terrain view contour settings of 40′, but if you change the settings to 100′, then it shows all the 100′ intervals including 1500′. That is how I discovered the spot on Double Oak at 1500′. I noticed on a map I created that there was one tiny 1500′ contour circle on the mountain.

Beside these three mountains, everything else drops down quite a bit with the exception of Oak Mountain, which rises back up to nearly 1300′ at Shackleford Peak on the White Trail. These trails are off-limits to bikes, so I had to hike-a-bike the red/white connector and the white trail all the way to where it connects with the new Thunder trail. This hike is strenuous without having to lug a 25 pound bike up the mountain, too so I was pretty tired by the time I made it to the new Thunder enduro trail. I noticed that this had a drop well over 700′ (if you also include the lightning trail, or take the camp road back down to the main park road). I originally had planned to turn around at the bottom and ride back up it since there was absolutely nobody in the park on a Tuesday in the middle of the day with severe weather rapidly moving into the area. But I was too tired and sore from crashing earlier in the ride that I decided to take the main park road out the back of the park to get back home.

Still, it ended up being a 70 mile adventure with 9500′ of climbing. By the end of the ride, I was feeling a bit more comfortable on the bike so hopefully I’ll be ready for the Southern Cross race this weekend in Dahlonega! I’ve included an annotated topocreator map of all the peaks in the area below as well as a gallery of pics from the ride. Click on any of the pictures to open a gallery with captions.

Annotated high points with 2015 satellite data. Click to enlarge and see detail. Click the text link below for a version that is twice as detailed 27MB.Annotated high points with 2015 satellite data. Click to enlarge and see detail. Click the text link below for a version that is twice as detailed 27MB.

Ultra hi-res version of the map above (27MB)