Can failure be a reward?
The first time I attempted Sulphur Mountain, I fell blissfully short as I abandoned my climb a quarter of the way in.
It wasn’t that the grade was too difficult.
With a level of rudimentary internet reconnaissance, anyone can determine that this 11 mile climb has an ample fire road width and averages 6% over the duration.
My issue on my initial attempt was that too much mud impeded my progress from rains two days earlier.
Still, I got enough of a sense from the gentle terrain and quick escape to solitude that I knew I had to be back sooner than later.
This time I came armed with some equally dirt crazed friends who were anxious for some new roads.
Quickly, there’s very little signs of life other than you.
The drive from the Valley took a little over an hour in weekday morning traffic and within minutes we were off to start our two part adventure.
Parking in front of the trailhead (don’t park in the Girl Scout lot. They lock the gates), we crossed through a bike friendly gate right onto dirt.
The climb is steady and shaded to start as you get an early view of the Los Padres Mountains to the north.
Looking towards the Pacific.
You may find a few hikers at the beginning, but you’re not likely to see anyone else after the first couple of miles unless they are on two wheels.
The oaks provided some haphazard shade, but the road winds a few times until you find yourself on the southern side of the hill.
Pockets of shade on the first third of the ride.
On one hand, you’re now exposed to the sun’s rays, but the landscape is grassier as you look towards the ocean.
Yes, there’s probably a bunch of oil derricks tucked into the hillsides there, but those thoughts don’t cross your mind at this point.
The road is in great shape all throughout…as long as there’s no rain.
There are a few spots where the road flattens out around some horseshoe curves, but the ride is fairly gentle to this point.
At the 4.5 mile mark, the ride takes a different tone as it shifts to shaded north side of the mountain.
It lasts longer.
Here you get a more expansive view of Ojai Valley and the Los Padres Mountains which definitely look far more substantial than the climb you’re on.
When the road switches back to the other side of the mountain, the oaks that were aiding your coolness disappears.
The road also pitches up a little more but even in my lowest gear, I was spinning more than grinding.
In the distance, the tower gives a beacon point where you’re headed.
The road doesn’t go up to the tower, but the peak of the climb sits right behind it.
Around this point, the 8.7 mile Strava segment ends even though there’s still more climbing ahead.
Final stretch of dirt.
Off to the side, there are a few homes off of the dirt road, but some of those were abandoned.
As you near the last couple of miles, the road temporarily is paved and gated to the south for about a half of a mile.
Last bit of climbiness.
When the dirt returns, you wonder where your destination is as it becomes more obvious you’re not headed to the tower, but then the road heads downhill and you soon find the path’s end passing your final gate.
As if the climb wasn’t fun enough, riding down Sulphur Mountain Road is a twisty, roller coaster ride, but don’t get too sucked in as you’ll find a few cars rounding corners.
Zooming down the end.
Sulphur Mountain is a great entry for those looking to transfer from road bike climbs to dirt ones.
Just make sure it has been dry for a few days….