Rising up out of the sparkling waters of Lake Washington just east of Mercer Island, a long ridge climbs up defiantly towards the heavens, proclaiming to all:
I am here
I am steep
And climb it we shall, starting at the western end, Somerset, which will finish at just under 800’ of altitude.
Approach these climbs with grit, with caution, and with low gearing. There is pain here.
I’ve included my steepness color coding here so that you can make a guess what the gradients are. It’s mostly accurate, though it may over or under-estimate the gradients at times.
Easy ways up
This is a short list. There are no easy ways up Somerset. You can ride alongside of Somerset along the north side on 36th or Newport, and that’s relatively easy.
Other ways up
I didn’t come up with any great groupings for the climbs, so we’ll just work our way around the map.
If you are starting in Factoria, SE 38th (A) is a nice way to warm up and understand what you are getting yourself into; it peaks at around 15% as you wind behind some buildings. If you turn right at the end and climb up SE 36th a bit, right on 136th, and work your way around, you can hook up with the next climb.
If somebody tells you they’re going to climb Somerset, they likely mean Somerset Blvd (B). Rising 450’ in less than a mile, this climb starts out hard, with pitches from 8-12%, and then throws in a nice 15%+ pitch near the top. Fun. The route I show is the most common one, and it will drop you to the east at the top of 148th/Highland drive. If you descend down to Highland drive, you can easily head north or south. If you want a bit more climbing all the way to the top, turn right on 139th just as it flattens out and then left on SE 47th. If you take this route, you can descend to the south through Forest Ridge School, though you may have to get off your bike to bypass a gate at the exit. To further descend south, I recommend north on Somerset Place SE, and then south again on Somerset Drive. This will dump you on Forest Drive; you can turn right and head down a steep (20%) hill that runs into Coal Creek Parkway, or head east for some more climbs.
You can also climb Somerset from the west, using route (C). This is a rolling route; short steep sections followed by flatter sections, a transfer section in the middle, then a final push to the top. BEWARE the three climbs along the route; they all peak at above 15% and the third one is pretty close to 20%. You can bail out south after the first or third ones if you want, or you can continue the full route to the summit.
Which brings us to Highland drive (D). If you did Somerset Blvd and have descended down to Forest drive, you can take Highland Drive up to get back to the north side of the hill. This climb has 3 main pitches, with short sections to catch your breath between them. This is also a nice descent if you’ve climbed up from the North; just beware the hard stop at the end of the last pitch.
If you are heading East on Forest Drive, why not take a quick trip up 149th Ave SE (E)? It unfortunately doesn’t connect through anywhere, so you have to ride it as an up and down.
Rotating around to the North side, we encounter 164th (F). While not an easy climb, this is the easiest way to get up to the top of Lakemont Blvd, so that you can experience the wonderous descent. But, that is a bit east for this edition, so I’ll talk about that when we get to the cougar mountain climbs.
And finally, we get to what is probably my favorite climb in Somerset, climb G, SE 34th (Vasa Park) to Hilltop / Summit (there is some contention about the name of the development). This is really a combination of three different climbs; the first one starts very near to Lake Sammamish and climbs up SE 34th, which has a nicely painful section at the top. If you want to avoid the traffic in this section, turn off on one of the two climbs to the right, but be prepared for gradients in the high teens. At the top of the first section of the climb, you go under I-90, work your way through a shopping center parking lot, and climb up to Newport Way. This is a pretty easy section where you can catch your breath and prepare. Then, you hit the hard part of the climb; a somewhat relentless 7-12% gradient that will take you to a nice park. You will turn left, climb, turn left, climb some more, go through a fire gate (get off your bike to do it), and then climb some more into the Horizon View development, right at the top of the hill. You have climbed 1130’ from the starting point at Vasa Park, and you should take the time to stop and enjoy the views; you can see Downtown Bellevue, Downtown Seattle (including the Space Needle), and Lake Sammamish. Descend down to the south, but be very careful with your speed as there’s a hard stop at the bottom.
Since I first wrote this, I went and climbed the reverse route, named “Summit” because that’s the name at the entrance to the development. At only 328’, it’s not that long of a climb, but Yowsa, it’s a steep one. 13% to start, back to 8%, up to 15%, back to 8%, and up to 17% before it flattens out. If you come up this way, keep going at the top, turn right, left onto the fire lane, and that puts you back on the front side. This descent is long, fast, and has a steep part with a stop sign at the end.
If you like the idea of climb G but don’t want to do the bottom part, you can lop off about 400’ of the climb by starting at (H).
Finally, we finish up at (J), 148th St., and in an extraordinary non-coincidence, the easiest way up the hill. Not easy, but easiest. Most of it’s in the 5-6-7% range, with a nice hard 12-13% section right in the middle. Has good bike lanes from Newport on up.