FIETS – What’s FIETS?


As I sit here daydreaming of an epic climbing weekend, yes epic, an overused word but more on that later, I just can’t contain myself.  I am counting down the days until I am free to fly in nature’s most amazing playground – the mountains.  Is it only Wednesday?  I check the calendar again and yes it is only Wednesday darn!  Where am I going and why am I as excited as when I watch brown Santa pull up at my door?  I’m headed to the Eastern Sierra Mountains of California!

I’m sure you thought I must be headed off to Europe.  Or possibly you thought I must be headed to Colorado.  No, I’m driving, yes driving, a few short hours, depending on traffic ugh traffic, a mere 274 miles to Lone Pine, CA for some of the best climbing in California. I will take it one step further and state unequivocally, some of the best climbing in the United States.  The Eastern Sierras have some of the hardest climbs in the country in a  small and concentrated area.   Taking on one of these legendary climbs is a great acheivement but having them so conveniently close to each other enables you to tackle a second and possibly, if you are as nutty as I am, you might take on a third massive climb.

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We all value things differently.  Our value systems allow us to rank and prioritize things that are important to us.  What I value in a climb is how much I will be challenged by it and how great my sense of accomplishment will be when I summit.  For some it may be the scenery and surroundings.  I understand that as well.  However, for me the scenery comes second to the suffering while I’m climbing.  Once I summit well then it is ALL about the view!

Now I’m not completely delusional sure I would like to take off to Europe and climb the mountains that have been made famous by the mano a mano battles of my cycling heroes during the Grand Tours.  But when time and finances are an issue you can find the most amazing climbing adventures right here in Southern California.  No flying, no customs, no worrying about how to get your bike to Europe and back from Europe in one piece and let’s not forget the 9 hour jet lag issues and so on …

Who’s the GOAT?

Do you often find yourself debating with your friends “What are some of the hardest climbs you have done?” This is akin to the other never-ending circular debate “Who is the G.O.A.T?  Who is the greatest of all time?” insert sport here _________ And like the GOAT argument I wish to arm you with the facts and stats that we as climbers use to back up our argument.  Once you understand them you can use them the next time you fall into the “what is the hardest climb?” trap.  I have had this debate for years.  So I wish to introduce you to FIETS.  What is it?  Let’s find out together.  Oh and you can thank me later for the tables and graphs.

What is FIETS?

FIETS is a formula for ranking climbs.

The Fiets Index (developed by the Dutch cycling magazine Fiets).

The actual formula is: [H^2/D*10] + (T-1000:1000; but only if greater than 0)

  • H = ending elevation minus starting elevation in meters.
  • D = total distance traveled in meters.
  • T = Height in meters.

Note: Only add T-1000 if that number is greater than zero.

Let me simplify things for you … the higher the FIETS, the harder the climb, and the higher it will rank on a list.  If you want a little more explanation of the formula then think of these three things —  how much will you climb, in how much distance and what is its height.

The good people over at PJAMM Cycling have taken the time to construct and maintain an excellent interactive website with climbs from the US and all over the world.  It is a valuable resource if you love climb, love numbers and data like I do.  I have thoroughly enjoyed pouring over the lists which may be sorted in multiple ways.  One such sorting is listing the climbs in the US by the highest FIETS which as you may recall means the toughest.  I wish to provide for you a few observations.   Please bare with me as some may be plain as day but I hope to bring even the novice climber up to speed along with the elite climber.

Hawaii tops the list with the first and second hardest climbs in the US –  Mauna Kea and Haleakala, respectively.  Mauna Kea has a FEITS of 28.9 and it also has the unique distinction of being the hardest climb in the world.  The stats are mind boggling – 42.6 miles long, gaining 13,778 feet, with an average grade of 6.1%  Haleakala is no slouch either but its FIETS at 18.2 is nearly half that of Mauna Kea!  It’s numbers are: 35.6 miles long, gains 10,059 feet, at an average of 5.3% .  As any experienced climber knows the average grade just means that most of the climb is more than the average grade stated.

Now that we have dispensed with the huge volcano climbs of Hawaii let’s move back to the mainland.  I created a small table below to illustrate, again in numbers, my mind works best this way, where the rest of the hard climbs are in this great country of ours.  Excuse my rudimentary spreadsheet skills please.

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It becomes glaringly obvious to anyone, even at glance, that California ranks consistently with the highest number of hard climbs in each breakdown of 20 climbs for the top 100 climbs.  It also doesn’t take a math whiz to see in the final tally that 46 climbs out of 100 climbs or 46% of the nation’s hardest climbs are located right here in California.

Another observation, which was rather illuminating to me, was that Colorado ranked much lower than I expected. Aside from their two world famous, 14’ers Mt Evans and Pikes Peak in the top 20, they don’t have another strong showing until climbs 61-80 with five in that category.  Mt Evans and Pikes Peak are still on my wish list.  I tackled a 14’er here in California White Mountain Peak which shows up on the top 20 list as #9 but only up to 10,114 elevation.  You can continue on White Mountain when the paved road runs to dirt up to the summit at 14,252.  Not recommended on a Cyclo Cross bike only a crazy person would do that – who me?  Yeah me it was very challenging to say the least! Take a hard tail MTB instead.

Yes yes but Colorado has the altitude.  Fair point.  However, I submit to you that not everyone is effected by altitude.  I have ridden above 10,000 feet in race conditions and I felt the usual effects of reduced power but not the most common complaint of not being able to breathe under effort.  So not everyone will feel the effects of altitude but everyone will feel the effects of the length of a climb and the steep gradients, those are very tangible.  Length and steep gradients is what California offers in abundance.

White Mountain Peak

Even more surprising to me was how well Utah ranked with a total of 11 climbs and a good showing in each bucket of 20 climbs.  It seems like you can get plenty of good climbing there as well.

Below are screenshots from the PJAMM website.   It can’t be overstated how much work they have put into their website.

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Then I got to thinking wow that is a lot of climbs in California and some of these names sounded familiar.  So how many of the California climbs have I done? This part of my research was much more fun.  It turns out that:

Top 20 

I have done eight out of eight of the hardest climbs in California!

Top 40 

I have completed nine of the 11 climbs – not bad.  The two I haven’t done I just haven’t heard of them.  I need to locate, close with and destroy the enemy … oh wait that is the former Marine coming out.  What I mean is I need to find out where they are and get them done.

Top 60

I have completed nine of the 11 hardest – One of which I may never do. Hwy 330 is just too narrow and too dangerous and the other I just put on my hit list. There I go again –  I mean checklist.

Top 80

I have completed three out of eight climbs.  Interesting to see a few on there that I didn’t know existed or that ranked in the top 80 so I can knock them off fairly easily but I need to travel to them.

Top 100

I have completed seven of the eight.  Same story there is a climb on the list I haven’t heard of before this exercise.

I haven’t made my plan yet for this weekend’s rides but know that they will be epic.  Oh yeah I was going to talk more about the overuse of the word.  I will just give you my 2 cents on the subject.  Far too many use the word too loosely. The short of it is — to me EPIC is something that either weather, mechanicals, terrain, duration or a combination of these four attributes but limited to them, cause you to experience great elation, despair, sense of accomplishment, suffering, soul searching, or a combination of these attributes but not limited to them, and you complete the event, race or training session and you say “one and DONE! there is no way I’m doing that again”.  But alas, the entry window opens up for next year and you sign up again.  For the long of it I will have to publish a post about epic adventures to give you some sense of what I consider to be EPIC.  Your experience may vary.

Is it still Wednesday?  yes urg!

Mt Whitney Super Century– SPOT Link


 

 

Tomorrow I will be riding the Mt Whitney Super Century.  Here is the SPOT Transmitter link if you care to follow on the SPOT page.

Thank you Brad Horton for the use of the SPOT Transmitter.

http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=0Po3rlAvZRhphLYqLgPtFWXFqBnoazRkk

 

Newport Beach to Dawson Saddle 270 km (168 miles) 11,300 feet of gain


I wish to nominate Dawson Saddle for another of California’s Toughest Climbs  additional links here and here .  Dawson Saddle is 32 miles and gains 7,500 feet.  But there’s more difficulty to this climb than just the mileage and the gain.  If you plan on tackling the climb to Dawson Saddle please follow these tips to ensure safe travels:

1.  If you want a short warm-up and then begin climbing straightaway you should start at Encanto Park approximately 660 feet above sea level

2.  In the summer months, I would start the climb with a minimum of three bottles.  I have done it with five bottles.  Never a bad thing to have “too much fluids/nutrition”

3.  In the summer months, expect temperatures over 90 degrees F at the lower elevations

4.  Bring at least five hours of nutrition Minimum three-hour climb, Recovery at the summit and then nutrition for the long descent. The descent is not a high-speed descent because of the road conditions which you should note on your climb.  There are sections were you can open it up as well, so to speak.

5.  There isn’t anywhere to get fluids once you begin the climb

6.  There is a stream coming through the rocks at about 4,000 feet elevation – drink at your own risk!

7.  In May and June you should plan to reach the summit and begin your descent before 3 pm – temperatures drop very quickly as the sun sets  The “sun sets” sooner because you are surrounded by higher mountain peaks in the area and you lose the Sun’s heat earlier

8.  Bring a vest and arm/knee warmers and light full-fingered gloves as a minimum.  I HIGHLY recommend wool! Standard issue of clothing if you wish to a summit bagger!

9. Unless you are a strong climber bring at least a 27 tooth cassette (11-27 or 11-28) or a compact crankset 50/34.  I have done this climb with a 53/39 and 11-23 cassette but I wouldn’t recommend that for everyone.

10. Bring a buddy this is a remote climb, with closed roads to vehicular traffic, cell coverage is spotty to non-existent.  I would go on the assumption that there’s isn’t cell coverage.    Wildlife can and should be expected such as bears, deer and squirrels.  Yes squirrels, they are dangerous because they are unpredictable and cross your path then double back across your path again – a recipe for disaster.

11.  Bring plenty of flat repair- even though the road has been cleaned significantly over the years I have been doing this climb the roads are not maintained, frost heaves, potholes, plenty of loose rock, and falling rock are strewn along the highway.  I bring tire boots but a spare tire is not a bad idea.

12.  Be prepared to ride at least five hours without seeing another cyclist and once you pass the gated areas you won’t see any cars.

13.  Descend with caution- it could be hours or even days before someone finds you!

14.  File a flight plan- Tell a loved one or a friend where you are going and when you are expected back.  I have always called/texted my loved one with three simple words “on the mountain” and then “off the mountain”

15.  Lastly enjoy the views they are spectacular!

Training Peaks screenshot of Dawson Saddle Climb Normalized Power 201 or 3 w/kg for 3 hours

Grade analysis of Dawson Saddle from the Public Restroom at mile 35.25 on the San Gabriel River Trail

Felony – my 2011 Felt F1 with Shimano Di2

George “Red-Eyed Vireo” Vargas summits Dawson Saddle on his 2011 Felt F1 with Di2- 32 mile 7,500 feet of gain climb

My ride yesterday was from Newport Beach to Dawson Saddle 168 miles with 11,000 + feet of climbing. I left Newport Beach close to 1pm.  My plan was to do some night riding at the tail-end of my ride.  I was stocked with 10 hours of nutrition.  I ran out of fuel 9 hours into the ride.  It took me almost 11 hours to get home.  I bonked badly.  I rode 126 miles the day before and because of  it I was much hungrier on this ride.  My route was North on Pacific Coast Hwy (PCH)  to Seal Beach and then the San Gabriel River Trail (SGRT) to Hwy 39 to Angeles Crest Hwy 2 to Dawson Saddle summit 7901 elevation.  It’s important to mention that the  Dawson Saddle summit is 84 miles into my ride.  This climb is hard enough from Encanto Park where you get a couple miles of warm-up and just go.  Now imagine starting this climb with 50 miles on your legs.  Or how about this after summiting realizing you are still 84 miles from home.

his ride is especially difficult SOLO and unsupported.  You must carry enough fluids and nutrition from the start to a public restroom at mile 35.25 on the SGRT – about 50 miles for me.  Then refuel and have enough fuel/fluids for the next 35 miles of climbing – at least 3 hours of climbing.  You should have enough nutrition and fluids to have something at the summit and for your descent.  The descent takes a little longer than normal because the road conditions are not ideal in certain areas.  Basically you need enough of  whatever you fancy for 70 miles with 3+ hours of hard climbing in a remote closed road section.  Then once you refuel at the public restroom you need enough fluids/fuel to get you 35 miles back to PCH and then home if you don’t want to stop again.  Can you say Epic Adventure?!?!?!

Thank you for reading my blog.  Please provide me with feedback as to whether you find this post useful before or after doing your climb.  Please pass this blog on to your climbing friends.

Here are a few other posts I have made on climbing Dawson Saddle

September 29, 2008

May 14, 2010

May 27, 201

Onion Valley Personal Record (PR)


ONION VALLEY COMPARED TO MT VENTOUX, FRANCE

TRAINING GOAL– Monthly fitness test on Onion Valley Rd (tempo/threshold)

BIKE SETUP – 53/39 Dura-Ace 7900 Wireless SRM Crankset and 11-28 Cassette.

On 9/17 I climbed Onion Valley Rd to a Personal Record (PR) of 1 hour 44 minutes.  It’s a 13 mile climb that gains over 5,000 feet in one solid shot.  There are no flat spots or dips in this climb which makes this an extremely hard climb. Take for example Mount Palomar — after climbing a 5 miles you get a 3/4 mile flat section before beginning the final 6.7 miles at 7% to the summit.  Or Mosquito Flat where you have a .9 mile dip 8 miles into the climb and a couple sections of fairly gently grades.  Or Ancient Bristlecone/White Mountain were about 8 miles into the climb you have a 1 mile flat section before continuing on White Mountain Road to the 10,000 foot summit.

On 9/16 I climbed Mosquito Flat to a Personal Record of 2 hours 27 minutes.  I was going good but I knew I had at least one more climb to do.  I also climbed Pine Creek a 7.5 mile climb that was steeper than I remembered it.  It’s important to mention what I did on 9/16 because I was surprised how well my legs recovered overnight.  I felt really good on Onion Valley.  How good?– I kept easing the pace because I thought I would blow up.   I eventually fatigued but even looking at my Training Peaks chart you can see the Power curve (Yellow Line) is pretty consistent.  I am happy with the consistency and I don’t think I have more than another 5 minutes to cut off this climb — this season.  I would need to train a lot more drop some weight and try again next year.

Notice sustained sections above 9% and no dips

Notice the Red section shows higher cadence for same or more power

George Vargas sets Personal Record on Onion Valley 1 hour 44 minutes.  Consistent improvements since June

MFRA from Training Peaks WKO 3.0

Training Peaks Graph for Onion Valley Rd PR

RED- Heart Rate

PURPLE- Temperature

GREEN- Cadence

YELLOW- Power

GREY- Torque

BLUE – Speed

ORANGE- Elevation

 

Data for Onion Valley Rd PR

Most Difficult Climbs in California:

1) Onion Valley —               DONE 6/10/10 !!

2) Horseshoe Meadows — DONE 6/10/10!!

3) White Mountain–          DONE as part of Everest Challenge Stage Race

4) Sherman Pass–             DONE 6/24/10!!

5) Whitney Portal —         DONE 6/10/10!!

6) Mount Baldy–               DONE- too many times to mention

7) Shirley Meadows–        DONE 6/24/10!!

8) South Lake–                  DONE as part of Everest Challenge Stage Race

9) Mount Palomar–           DONE 6/06/10!!

10) Mosquito Flat–           DONE 09/02/10!!

Additionally, here is the list of the 10 toughest climbs in the US.

Below is a list of some of the top cycling climb bike rides that are listed in the bookBest Cycling Climbs In The US. The book lists the 100 toughest USA road bike climbs from 1 to 100.

  1. Mt Washington, NH
  2. Haleakala, HI
  3. Onion Valley, CA
  4. Horseshoe Meadows, CA
  5. Mt. Equinox, VT
  6. White MTN, CA
  7. Mt. Baldy, CA
  8. Mt Graham, AZ
  9. Mt. Lemmon, AZ
  10. Palomar Mountain, CA

Onion Valley Road is compared to Mt Ventoux, France

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And now for something silly– Ever since I purchased Felicia I have been outfitting her with all the latest and greatest gadgets.  But one thing I have left off of her on purpose.  On everyone of my race bikes I always have a Superman figurine on the seat stay cluster.  My reason for leaving the Superman off is I just didn’t feel like I was in good enough form to put Superman back there.  But after a successfull todays of training and two PR’s on two very tough climbs I think Felicia is finally ready to get her Superman.

Everest Challenge Recon- Continued


On Thursday 9/16 I climbed Mosquito Flat.  I had a better day than I did two weeks ago on 9/2.  Below you will see the graphs and data for both days.  The first set is from 9/2 and the next set from 9/16.

Most notable improvements were:

5 minutes reduction in time (2:32 to 2:27)

10 watt increase in Normalized Power (189 watts to 199 watts)

.2 increase in w/kg (2.7 to 2.9 w/kg)

9 bpm increase in intensity (163 bpm to 172 bpm)

4% increase in Intensity Factor (68% to 72%)

5 rpm increase in Average Cadence (68 rpm to 73 rpm)

.3 mph increase in Average Speed (9.0 mph to 9.3 mph)

Crank Torque was reduced by 3 lb-in (which is also reflected in higher average cadence)

23 miles in a loooong way to climb and be able to sustain high power output– at least for this mere mortal.  But I’m satisfied with the results and I feel my form continuing to build.  I’m still undecided whether I will be riding Everest Challenge.  In the days proceeding EC I will be at Interbike in Las Vegas and on my feet for many hours.  I won’t have the luxury of traditional rest, hydration and home cooked meals.  So we’ll see….

Thank you for reading my blog please pass it on to your friends.

Glacier Lodge Ancient Bristlecone/White Mountain – Everest Challenge Recon Day 2


Glacier Lodge double peak and Ancient Bristlecone White Mountain double peak

Terrain map with Bishop as a reference Glacier Lodge West of Hwy 395 and Ancient Bristlecone White Mountain East of Hwy 395

12,000 feet of climbing in 52 miles (last 22 are descending to the car)

GARMIN PLAYER CAN BE FOUND HERE

Glacier Lodge Climb

Glacier Lodge Climb with Torque

Refer to this previous post for grade analysis of Glacier Lodge and Ancient Bristlecone/White Mountain Climbs

Middle section of Glacier Lodge hard to tell but over 9% avg for at least 7 of the 10 miles

Three deer on the road and bush near summit of Glacier Lodge

Summit of Glacier Lodge Climb (paved road) about 8,000 feet

Glacier Lodge Summit 8,000 feet looking up at amazing  scenery

Yes it was hot out in Big Pine!

Ancient Bristlecone White Mountain Rd

Easy to miss the elevation signs on the Ancient Bristlecone climb

Easy to miss the 9,000 feet sign too!

view from the vista point before the summit

View from the summit of White Mountain Rd

View from the summit of White Mountain Rd above 10,000 feet elevation