CiclaValley Struggles Up Mount Wilson Toll Road

Fresh off my previous wonderful rendezvous on dirt, CiclaValley decided to press his luck further along more fire roads.

This time, I headed to the heart of the San Gabriel Mountains to climb the old Mount Wilson Toll Road.

Just like my ride the week before, I was returning to a spot I ran years ago, but forgot many of the finer details.


The Start at Eaton Canyon looks tame enough.

I remembered a few spots being sandy and really steep, but I processed those hazards through the lens of rugged trail running shoes, not 35mm tires.

The climb covers 8.5 miles at an average of 10.8% for a total of 4,426 feet of elevation gain. Seeing how I was easily able to handle grades of 15% – 18% on my current set up, I figured Wilson not to be too much of a problem.


The start of the climb is “easy” when put into perspective with the rest of the ride.

Plus, Neil Shirley covered this climb in a little over an hour, so maybe it would take me an extra twenty minutes at most. How tough could it be?

(I apologize for the photos in advance. I forgot the battery in my regular camera, before losing it all together..)

I came out of the Robin Leach approved section of Altadena to start my climb at the base of Eaton Canyon.

This was an ideally groomed section of fire road that kept a steady hurt on for 2.3 miles as I headed towards Hendinger Flats.

While I felt fine, thoughts were going through my head that if the difficulty ratcheted up a couple of notches, I could be in trouble.


Hendinger Flats: The last bastion of stable riding hopes..

As things flattened out at Hendinger Flats(hey, it’s appropriately named!), I said goodbye to the last casual hikers and mountain bikers I would see along the way.

Things started to get a little sandy as I progressed, but I filed this into my “it can’t get any worse than this” cabinet. So wrong…


Don’t let the friendly trees fool you…

It was like someone was playing a cruel trick on me. The dirt would get slightly looser, I’d have to walk my bike until there looked to be a hard spot to climb back on, then I’d have my hope shattered seconds later.

To make matters worse, the slower I went, the more plentysome and tasty the gnats around my face became.


Slowly making progress..

The pain didn’t stop there. After a couple of miles, the loose dirt slowly made way to loose rocks. I really got to the point that I wanted to turn around, but rolling down this compromised surface did not seem like fun.

Plus, I still held onto hope that things would get better, so onward!



Okay. I had to lift my bike over a few boulders. I’m already walking so no big deal.

If there was any gift, the last mile had a pretty competent surface and averaged under 10%, but riding that whole way with that gearing made me feel like toast.


Another cruel joke…

I made it, but I felt defeated. It now felt like I lost all my dirt superpowers.

A couple days later, I was in Golden Saddle Cyclery and ran into Mr. Radavist himself. I told them of my failed journey and the consensus was that I made things a lot harder for myself with a bike that was semi-equipped for the task.


Looks so close, but still a mile to go….

I was still in shock, so it was hard to accept any prudent information coming at me. This past weekend, I went dirt riding with a friend sporting his new Santa Cruz Stigmata and there was a definite difference when it came to climbing as he shifted into his 32 chain ring. Bottom line, don’t be as naive as me.

If you’re looking at climbing or descending Mount Wilson Toll Road, you better come prepared.