The climb up the col Arête d’Ouragan starts near the ocean in the fishing and shipping center of le Port des Anges, and provides a mountaintop finish near the ski area at 1598 meters, with an elevation gain of 1555 meters. In terms of raw elevation climbed, it exceeds many famous climbs in the French Alps – Col du Tourmalet (1404 meters), Col du Galibier (1245 meters), and Col du Madeleine (1520 meters) are a few examples – and is shorter only than giants such as Ventoux (1622 meters). At an average gradient of only 5.2% and a maximum gradient of only 10%, it does not compare in difficulty with the tougher climbs; perhaps a climb such as Col d’Aubisque (harder yet shorter in elevation) is a reasonable comparison.
I rode up it as part of the “Ride the Hurricane” event put on by the city of Port Angeles. It’s the biggest climb in Washington (5155’), and probably the hardest one. It doesn’t get as much attention as the climbs on Rainier or Baker because of its location on the Olympic Peninsula and the time it takes to get there.
We drove over through Tacoma on Saturday morning, stopping for lunch in Gig Harbor, and then took a drive up to the top of Hurricane Ridge so that I could get an idea of what I was in for. It’s a long, twisty drive, and it reminded me most of the climb up to Sunrise.
On Sunday, I got up at 5:30, got dressed, grabbed a slice of toast at the hotel breakfast, and got in the car so my wife could drive me to the start of the ride at Peninsula College. Check-in was pretty slow (pro tip to the organizers – have a separate line to fill out waivers so that those of us who have already done it don’t have to wait for the rest of the people). At registration, we got a green identity band and a commemorative vest.
Back at the car, I pulled out my bike and started getting ready. It was a bit of a poser to figuring out what to take; while it’s a serious climb, I expect to be done in less than 4 hours, and that isn’t going to take that much food and drink mix to get my by. I settle for a bottle of Nuun, and bottle of Skratch Labs Raspberry (plus two refills), and a sandwich ziploc with Cheez-its. The temp was in the high 50s and promised to get a fair bit hotter and I will be climbing, so I add my new Sun Sleeves and stuff a vest in my pocket in case I want it for the descent. Then I’m off.
The college is a bit up the hill from the highway, so my first move is to ride back down to US 101 and start the climb from there. Doing this adds 170’, and without it the whole climb doesn’t exceed 5000’. I hit the bottom, reset my GPS, and start climbing.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I’m going to ride the climb. Big climbs require a measured approach, since there is little time to discover, but one should also honor to the climb – a solid HC in this case – and climb with as much panache as one is capable of. I don’t have to worry about holding something back for later climbs, so I can afford to ride it pretty hard. Based on my power data for the year and my climb rate on Mount Diablo last year, I look at the strava page for the climb and estimate that if I can hold that ascent rate, it will take me 2:20 to do the climb. I’m going to target around 200 watts for my power level, and – if I have anything left in the last 500 feet – upping my power to finish.
“How I feel” may be problematic. I haven’t done a lot of long rides this year, and a week or so ago, I did some really hard efforts up hills and overstressed my back muscles, and they’ve been complaining on anything above 6% or so.
The climb is broken into two sections; the climb up to the entrance gate of the park, and then the climb from there to the top. The first section is a bit of a pain; there are extended sections at 8% or so, and some sections at 10% or so. In this section I climb 1762’ over about 6 miles. I’m riding at just over 200 watts and my heart rate is right about 150 (my max is 164 these days), and I’m feeling pretty good. I get passed by 3 or 4 people, and pass a bunch.
One of the neat things about this ride is its accessibility. A ride like RAMROD not only has a lot of hard climbing but it’s very long, so that to do it you need to be able to do the climbs fast enough to be able to finish the whole ride in a reasonable amount of time. You need to be a fairly serious cyclist to do it. This ride is short enough that even if you are a very slow climber, you can make it to the top. And, you can skip the whole bottom third of the climb and start at the entrance to the park instead if you’d prefer.
The first third tops out at the entrance to the park, and I ride through the station at a fast clip. I’m feeling quite good. After a misleading flattish section of 1-2%, the climb stabilizes at 5-6%, which is where it will remain for the rest of the ride. At this point it gets a little boring; I climb, then I climb some more, and then, to try something different, I do some climbing. I do have a rough schedule; every 10 minutes or so I stand for a minute to change positions and rest my back muscles, every 15 minutes or so I have a drink, and every 30 minutes I eat a handful of cheez-its. My legs are feeling okay, but my back is marginal. I near the second rest stop and pass it by, riding through three short tunnels. This really is a long climb. Somewhere along the way, I hear a “Hi Eric”, and find a rider who has been on one of my rides. He’s climbing at about 30% faster than me, so after a short talk he quickly disappears into the distance. I don’t have a lot of breath to talk, so this is for the best. Eventually, I round a corner and hear the third stop (lots of cowbells and cheering). I to refill a bottle with Skratch, take a quick nature break, and to get a brownie.
(Pro tip – If you see something you like at a food stop but don’t want to eat it right now, wrap it in a napkin and put it in your pocket. Later stops probably don’t have the same thing).
Even though I only stopped for about 5 minutes, heading out is painful because it’s right back to a hard effort, and my legs ache. I’ve been climbing at 150 BPM or so for the whole ride, and my max heart rate is only 164 or so. I’m moderating my effort based on how my head feels; if I’m at just over 200 watts, I can feel my heartbeat lightly throbbing in my head, while if it gets up to 220 watts, it morphs into a thoroughly unpleasant bass track. Or, I can use heart rate the same way; 150 is fine, 154 is too much.
I climb some more, and, just after I pass a group of 3, the last water stop appears. I’m pretty hot, so I stop, dump the remainder of my nuun, and refill my second bottle with water, which I dump on my arm coolers, back, and chest. This helps a bit but we’re above 4000’ now, which means I have just enough brain power to spare to figure out – using the 2.5% per 1000 feet rule - that there’s only about 90% of the oxygen there would be at sea level. Re-catching the group of three takes a long time. I decide to push the pace a bit, and this turns out to be a bad idea; I throttle back to about 180 watts, which is tolerable, barely. I’m still passing people, but there’s not much talking as everybody just wants it to end. 4200’ and 4300’ pass. I marvel that about 1/4 of the people that I pass are wearing their free vests, which seems incredibly hot; I’m putting out 200 watts into moving me forward, but since the human body is about 25% efficient, that means that I’m generating 600 watts of waste heat.
At about 4500’, I can see the last turn that will take us onto the south side with a view of the mountains. I faintly hear drumming, which, as I near the top, resolves itself into a 5-person drumming group under an easy-up on the side of the road. I thank them for the help.
Then finally, I turn the corner to the west, and hit the Hurricane Ridge visitor center parking lot, which is mercifully flat. I ride over to the visitor center, get off my bike, and look at the elapsed time. 2:20, which is exactly what I estimated.
I park the bike and head into the visitor center for some water and a cookie. I take a couple of pictures, rest a couple more minutes, and get ready to head down. I’m a little chilled because of all of the water I poured on myself, and I think about putting on my vest, but it’s fairly warm by now so I decide to go without.
The descent is glorious; the 6% grade gives me a terminal velocity of about 32 MPH, which is a nice safe velocity. I dry off in about 5 seconds. There are some turns that require a bit of braking, but not a lot. I spin my legs for most of the way down to keep them warm and keep the speed constant. Looking down, I notice that for some stupid reason, I paused my GPS so the first 10 miles or so of the descent isn’t recorded. Somewhere in this section, I get passed by one guy who is seriously aero and a lot faster than me, and one guy that’s just a little faster.
Eventually we see a “speed limit reduced” sign, which means we’re back at the campground. Given that I’ve been riding in the low 30s, this descent down has taken over 20 minutes. Over 20 minutes of a beautiful and fast trip down a road with very good pavement. This is payback for the suffering on the way up.
I catch up with the guy that is a bit faster as we actually have to climb a bit here, and we both complain about having to climb this hill. I have more in my legs than he does, so I kick a bit to keep my speed up, and we trade places on the remainder of the descent; he pulls ahead when it’s steep, and I pull ahead when it’s flat.
We hit the stop sign near the bottom, and turn off and ride slowly back to the starting point. It’s not quite 10 AM; in just over 3 hours, I climbed 5100’ and descended back down, including breaks. The lunch won’t be ready until 11 am, so I text my wife, she shows up with the car and her bike (she was riding on the waterfront), and we head to the hotel to shower, and then the ferry to get back to Seattle.
Here’s the Strava data for my climb (I chopped off the descent because of the rider error at the top).
Distance: 18.7 miles
Time: 2:20:02 moving (2:25:35 total)
Elevation Gain: 5162’
Average Power: 204 watts
Average Heart Rate: 149 BPM
Speed: 7.7 MPH
kJ (calories): 1696
This makes me happy; I was about to hold my desired power level and target heart rate for pretty much the entire climb, though I did fade a bit at the top.
I’m browsing the Strava leaderboard. I’m 170 out of 238 people on the climb, but as I scan down I see the names of two guys that I ride with that normally climb much faster than me. Hello Francis and Ken…
Overall, it was a great ride. A great route, a huge climb, no cars, and then a wonderful descent. All before 10AM.
Oh, and one final note…
I realized that Hurricane Ridge is misnamed. Hurricanes are an Atlantic ocean phenomena, and due to the proximity to the Pacific Ocean, it should instead be known as “Typhoon Ridge”.