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

2010 Tour of California Stage 6 Recon


On today’s ride I previewed a portion of the Tour of California Stage 6. I began my ride from Encanto Park in Duarte.  The TOC will start in Palmdale but I didn’t want to drive all the way out there 😉  So my ride started in Duarte which is 617 feet above sea level.  I then climbed Hwy 39 to Hwy 2, Angeles Crest Hwy.  I then continued on Hwy 2 up to Dawson Saddle 7901 Elevation.   From Dawson Saddle I descended towards Wrightwood.  Along the way I climbed up to Blue Ridge at 7381 Elevation.  I rode through Wrightwood and descended until I made the junction with Hwy 138.  From there it was basically 20 mile climb back to Dawson Saddle. From Dawson Saddle it is essentially a 35 mile downhill back to Encanto Park in Duarte.

From Training Peaks the entire activity with Elevation, Power, Cadence, and Heart Rate

Lap times

You’ll note the third lap says “3000 to water stream” which stands for from the 3,000 feet elevation sign until the water stream.   So let’s talk about nutrition and planning your fluid stops.  The key thing you need to know about this ride is that services are VERY LIMITED.  Once you leave Encanto Park in Duarte there aren’t any stores until you get to Wrightwood (about 50 miles and 8,400 feet of climbing away).  However, about an hour into the ride or 14 miles you reach a gate.  From this point forward the road is closed to vehicular traffic except work vehicles and I guess there are a few residents that have access.

Gate closure about 14 miles into the ride from here ride at your own risk there are no services, rarely do you see another car or another cyclist for the next 21 miles and 6,000 feet of gain until Dawson Saddle at 7901 Elevation

I’m not a big fan of camelback hydration systems so I generally won’t use them.  On today’s ride I took an extra bottle for a total of three.  The weather was fairly cool considering I began my ride at 11am.  Later in the year I like to start this ride at first light.  It can be really hot at the lower elevations in the summer months.

At about 4,000 elevation there is a stream coming through the wall.  I drank one bottle from the start in Duarte to the water stream and refilled ONE bottle.  In hindsight, I probably should have taken in more calories by drinking two bottles and then refilling two bottles at the water stream.  I left the water stream with three bottles that lasted me until AFTER I had climbed back up from Hwy 138 ( approx 3:47, 6870 feet of climbing, 42.69 miles and 1925 kjs).

Once again the weather was cool but on a hot day you would have to probably take another bottle — total of four OR take a hydration system.  Just a personal note– I don’t like to stop at stores when doing epic rides like this.  The last water stop was a visitor center with clean restrooms.

In case I’ve thoroughly confused you here are my stops:

1.  Water stream about 20 miles into the ride and 4,000 feet of gain (ONE bottle refill)

2.  Vistor Center outskirts of Wrightwood 3:47, 6870 feet and 42.69 miles later (THREE bottle refill)

My nutrition consisted of Infinit Nutrition powder mix and a few bars for chewing sake.

No other stops for fluids or food.

The turnout across from the water stream.

The water stream-- icy cold water even in the summer months.

The climb from Duarte to the water stream

data for the climb from Duarte to the water stream

Duarte to Dawson Saddle

The climb from Duarte to Dawson Saddle is almost 8,000 feet of vertical gain in one straight shot.  There are a few rollers here and there but essentially you climb for 35 miles and gain 7700 feet.

Living at sea level doesn’t stop me from getting my climb on!  You have to love California.  I drive 40 minutes from my home and I can climb all the way to 7900 feet from 600 feet.

On my return from Wrightwood I climbed up to Blue Ridge at 7381 Elevation for the second time.  Only this time it was late in the afternoon and the typical weather pattern for mountain regions made itself known.  There were storm clouds and I knew I needed to get off the mountain as soon as possible.  I was fortunate not to get rained on.  However, once the clouds covered the sun the temps dropped quickly above 7,000 feet.  I knew of course that once I got to Dawson Saddle at 7901 Elevation it was “all downhill from there” and the weather would get warmer as I dropped in elevation.

Probably hard to read but this is Blue Ridge at 7381 Elevation.

My Last Hard Training Ride…


^^^ Graph of ride. Notice the first climb 35 miles with some rollers.

^^^ Dawson Saddle Summit at 7901 feet of elevation

^^^ How convenient that Motor Tabs tablets fits into my Speefil hydration system.

^^^ Another summit along the way. It is great to have the opportunity to climb from Sea Level to 7000 feet and eventually almost 8,000 feet!

well before Furnace Creek 508 that is.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank a few sponsors that keep me rolling. I fueled with Sportquest CarboPro and Motortabs. I rode a Speedfil and a hydration pack from Nathan Sports.

I did a 107 mile training ride in the San Gabriel Mountains. I left Encanto Park (below 1000 feet) in Duarte and rode up Hwy 39 to the Angeles Crest Hwy junction and then continued East another 5.3 miles to Dawson Saddle elevation 7901 feet. It was a 35 mile climb with over 7,000 feet of gain.

I then headed West on the AC Hwy and got water from Newcombs Ranch. I climbed back to Dawson Saddle a second time via Cloudburst Summit at 7018 elevation.

It was a great day of climbing with VERY little traffic. Mostly because the lion’s share of the climbing is done on closed roads. It was a solo ride. I only saw one cyclist all day near Cloudburst Summit. He was coming East up the AC Hwy.

This was a tough ride but since it was cooler at elevation I felt good most of the day. I dreaded the descent into the blast furnace.

Sure it was a 107 miles with 12,300 but 11,700 feet came within the first 72 miles all of it on a Cervelo P3 which people say “you can’t climb on a tri-bike”.  I say they just need to practice and use proper technique.  I usually do the first 200 miles of the Furnace Creek 508 on a Cervelo P3 and that has 12,000 feet of climbing.

The main drawback I saw with doing this ride on a TT bike was that on the descent there are a few sketchy sections where the road is in varied states of disrepair.  The section from 5,000 feet, up and past the Ghost town of Crystal Lake, to connection of Angeles Crest Hwy has lots of rocks and potholes.  The climbing up to 5,000 feet was fairly clear.  The climbing on Angeles Crest Hwy was fairly clear as well.  You need lots of flat repair options because the roads are closed to vehicles and there is no cell service.

SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG AND STAY UP TO DATE!!