Camp 9 is the proper balance of a ride and one you shouldn’t have an extended absence from.
For CiclaValley, the last time I’ve ridden up there was late 2016 which was a lot longer than I had imagined.
I’ve recently come to discover that biking in areas where there’s been recent fire activity wreaks havoc on my sinuses.
When my friends decided to make a Saturday ride out of it, staying away was too much to pass up.
For those not on the know, Camp 9 is the firefighter / helicopter base that is a five mile climb off the turnoff from Little Tujunga at Bear Divide.
The beauty is that it’s accessible from both the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys although there’s quite a bit more climbing out of the 818.
We started out from the ranger station which had just enough spots for our whole crew.
The early flats feel fast.
While you have a good view of the mountains to start, you begin with a relatively flat start through some homes on ranches that you can get by mostly in your big ring.
As a cyclist, there isn’t much vehicular traffic on this road and most of the activity is from people heading to the gun club near the start.
Even then, Little Tujunga is so quiet, that you have fair enough warning when someone is coming up on you.
Though our springs are more like summers, it was heartful not just to see green drape the landscape, but also the return of some post-fire vegetation.
Our group rode together until we hit the first big climb underneath the Wildlife Waystation.
The grade hovers around a constant 7%, but the consistency of grade is countered by all the twist and turns opening up new views.
The final “first” push.
You’ll find the occasional car parked alongside with the driver taking in the view, but the silence of vacancy overpowers the senses here.
The last mile and a half of the first climb has an open view to the peak making it a longer experience than it feels because of the scale.
Reaching the top, you have hints ahead of where you’re headed as the road disappears as it winds into the next valley.
First climb…no sweat.
The decent can be technical in places, especially the final right turn as the road flattens out.
It’s hard to imagine how the peloton from the Tour of California rolled through here a couple of years ago at full speed without a crash.
When I was here last, the area was more ravaged by mudslides as a result of the fires.
While some of the landscape has recovered, there are still remnants of burned out homes far from being in repair.
The second climb starts with a momentum buster.
The climb to Bear Divide is shorter than the last, but a bit steeper.
I lost all of my momentum from a pinch flat just as I was trying to gain speed at the start of the pitch.
This bus seems lost…
Reaching the peak at Bear Divide, passers through will continue on into Santa Clarita, but heading towards Camp 9 is another five mile climb to the top.
The road up is in shoddier condition, but not too much that it’s a hindrance for road bikes.
Below on your right, the fire station obliterated by the Sand Fire sits below while some of the surroundings fared better.
The start of the climb off of Bear Divide still harbors wounds from the fires.
After getting a look into the Santa Clarita Valley, the road bends southward as it circles the mountain up to Camp 9.
The landscape becomes more barren at this point and there’s a lot of sky occupying your view.
Once you get into the groove, you get another view of the valley you just climbed albeit a bit more hazy looking back into the sun.
As Kagel Mountain moves to your left, the Valley spreads out quickly as you feel like you’re hand gliding since you’re seemingly on top of everything.
Camp 9 isn’t present to you until you’re close by, but you’ll see a tower at the halfway point which is about a third of a mile until the end.
The road continues to loop up the hill until you see the northern rim of the Valley close things out.
Looking back at the climb with Little T in the background.
You can forget at this point that your ride has been likely uninterrupted by any other vehicles and even then, they are probably serving Camp 9 anyways.
For the last mile you get a little bit of a reprieve as the road flattens out and you get to shift into your big ring for a change.
The final push.
Camp 9 also reveals itself on your left as it’s clouded by a cluster of pine trees that are mainly absent on the ride.
The road pitches up again which feels good if you’re in sprint mode, but soon you’ll enter the heart of the complex.
Upon arriving, you’re bound to see some of the firefighters roaming the campus, but cyclists must be common enough that we don’t feel like we’re out of place.
We happened to roll up on a game of stickball where the rules weren’t completely apparent and a wad of masking tape served as a ball.
While the dynamics weren’t clear, the amount of camaraderie and fun they were having was evident, almost similar to the fun we had playing sports as kids.
The game ended abruptly when a batter hit the ball into the nearby helicopter sign.
High fives were exchanged and within a short transition time they were all back at work.
I hear Magnum is going to blow us all away.
This left most of the platform to us as we rolled around and snapped a few glamour shots as we took in the view.
You can get caught hanging around here, but seeing the hard work put in by the firefighters is a bit of a motivation to get going.
After getting a quick refill from the pressurized water fountain (regulars know what I mean), it was time to say goodbye until another adventure.
Camp 9 is a welcome reprieve that’s geared towards cyclists and we’re fortunate to have it this close.