Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Ever since my Seattle Times story of a month ago when I featured five killer climbs of Washington State, I've been itching to head down Ellensburg way to try out something called Lion Rock, also referred to as Table Mountain. A couple readers (Justin Yeager and Christopher Fast) had alerted me to it. Well, my itch has been scratched as yesterday I climbed the beastie. It's an amazing climb, the toughest section: a 6-mile stretch that climbs 2,600 feet. Closest thing I've ridden is McNeil Canyon near Chelan, which climbs 2,200 feet in 5 miles.
Several things make this a unique and worthwhile climb. First, it's in the middle of nowhere, about 12 miles north of Ellensburg in Wenatchee National Forest and though it's a mostly paved road (more on that in a sec), it doesn't really lead anywhere so during my ride, I came across one bicyclist, two motorcycles and two cars. Interestingly, though paved, it's only one lane. So you feel like you're riding some of those crazy skinny mountain roads featured in the Giro. And given the forested mountain setting, it has somewhat of a mountain biking feel to it too.

Second, the wind. Not sure if I was riding on a particularly breezy day--the dozens of wind farm turbine towers on the exposed hills and fields all around Ellensburg would suggest it's typical (none of which, by the way, were turning)--but I was treated to a constant 20- to 30-mile-per-hour northwest wind. Once I started climbing up the mountain and was somewhat protected by the folds of the forested hillside, it wasn't so bad. In fact, on some of the short little east-west switchbacks, I definitely felt the wind was aiding me when it was at my back. Heading west, I was in my tiniest 34-27; head east, I could shift down one, two, sometimes even three gears.
Third, the views are truly amazing. You don't top out at a viewpoint per se, but the views back south toward Kittitas Valley are pretty breathtaking.

After the aforementioned 6-mile stretch--it's just under a 9-mile climb altogether--the road sort of flattens out for about 1.5 miles before becoming a gravel road, as depicted in the two photos just above. (Really it doesn't flatten out, but the 2- and 3-percent grade feels flat by that point.) I wasn't going to chance the sleek, elegant Tarmac Pro on that surface especially since there seemed to be a chance of some rain coming in.  
View back down toward Kittitas Valley from the road to Lion Rock.
So, a shout-out of thanks to Justin and Christopher for turning me on to this killer climb.   

And, speaking of Seattle Times' stories, here's one I have in today's paper on the really cool hike to the Old Monte Cristo Townsite. Please enjoy!

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