Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rose Bowl to Mt Wilson Observatory

From the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to the Old Observatory on Mt Wilson
.... two tourist spots in one ride, who could resist ?
This is a long, but not steep climb. Averaging 5.2% 27km for 27km, with 1,500m of ascending.
The profile is like a bell ..... all up, then all down for the return.

The forecaster (Shawn) said it was to be a scorcher and my pre-ride enquiries at Helen's Cycles about the traffic on Angeles Crest Hwy (Highway!) and water stops (none ?), did not help ease my concerns.

I was apprehensive about this ride, to say the least. Mostly about the traffic. So I loaded my Garmin with the map I had plotted the night before, slapped on the sunscreen, thicker than usual, mounted an extra tail-light and even bolted on my super bright Exposure headlight, that I use in the dark on Kew Blvd.  I packed as many extra 500ml water bottles in my shoulder bag as would fit - FIVE ..... the report of water at the top was explained " but it could be "bad" .... "

Now, a word is needed here about riding with a Garmin 800.
It is not only about the map giving directions, profile and distance ..... no, it is also about parking.

Parking can be troublesome, to say the least, here in Southern California. You can't just park anywhere. You can get TOWED .... or clamped. On PCH I use car parking lots. My favourites even have restrooms. Planning strategic restrooms is important. Last thing you want to do is get caught peeing by the side of the road by the Highway Patrol ..... this is squeaky clean America, remember !

I also have a spot beside the road on PCH that has a couple of porta-loos nearby. I have used this spot for 3 or 4 rides and each time I have been asked by fellow parkers, where I was going, where I have been ..... I love a spot where the locals park. PERFECT.

For this climb I wanted to park right next to the Rose Bowl ..... just for the photo above. Kit and Remy and most of their local neibourhood mates, are NFL mad. During the pro season they record matches and watch for hours following their favourite teams. They even know the rules. So this photo is for bragging ......

Well, the night before I zoomed about on GoogleMaps for ages, finally selecting the Rose Bowl Lot 1, next to the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center. Guessing there would be restrooms somewhere handy there ..... and I was spot on. Shawn was happy about that after driving 1 1/2 hours to get there.

But there was also a big dog show in Lot 1. Dogs, owners, groomers and professional handlers everywhere. This was a big deal show. Shawn (the vet) confirmed that .... but luckily with our early start, due to the pending heat, we had no trouble and we found good spots with ease.

Caution - the 800 is fussy about making sure you start the ride at the right point. It is essential to make it as easy as possible to find the start of the ride. If you don't get it right, it keeps trying to take you back ... to the start. Which is the last thing you want if you are way out on the ride and you get lost, even just a bit, when you want to get re-assurance to go on.

This time I was spot on and my 800 quickly asked.
"You are near the start of the ride .... do you want to begin"

So off we went, with an extra 7 km to get to the start of the climb, we got to ride around the famous Rose Bowl, up close, then beside the swanky golf course next door. Then along some of the Pasadena bike lanes, with joggers and walkers out early to miss the heat.

Just as I thought, Pasadena is very road bike friendly. Soon enough, though, I was expecting to be riding single file, pushed to the gravel, avoiding cars.

So far so good .......

The Goal .... the two historically important observatories.
The 60" (on the left) was built in 1908 and the gleaming white 100" in 1917.

This ride has never featured on the ToC, to my knowledge. This ride is big.
There are no steep kickers for us today, but there are diversions bringing riders up from who knows where. Could there be really steep section along them .... ? The ToC loves roads that split the peloton. Not steady gradients like this one.

I suppose its  because Mt Baldy and Big Bear are so special and there are only 8 stages, spread out over the whole state of California.

By the way, my plan to ride Big Bear Lake was put down by everyone I asked.
I am attracted to the ridge road that goes up to the Lake. It's called "Rim of the World Hwy". I mean really, wouldn't you love a ride along a road called that? But the locals say it has no shoulder, it is way too busy .... a death trap!
Hmm .... guess I will have to come back and do the organised Century ride called "Ride around Big Bear" if I want to do another ToC stage.

Back in Nov 2011 I had a chance to ride Gibraltar Rd while doing the Santa Barbara Century. That's another ToC stage climb. 

Anyway I was unnecessarily worried about this Mt Wilson Ride. The road was great. It had a shoulder, not really a bike lane, but the road was wide enough for comfortable riding and besides, there was not too much traffic.

The local riders love this ascent. They were out in force on this clear, sunny summer day. The higher we got, the more we saw. They were coming at Mt Wilson from all angles. The motorbikes were here too. Not as many as on Glendora Ridge, but constant. They are cyclist friendly, mostly, and are easy to chat with at the stops, about where they've been or going. Bet you can't do that in the French Alps.
Unless you speak French !

And as for the water .... there was heaps. Well, there was one faucet half way up Angeles Crest Hwy, and restrooms. Then at the Summit there was a faucet that was by no means "bad"

Five bottles at 500ml, that's 2.5kg I had been carrying. At the half way stop I used up two. That's only 1 kg, but the difference was noticeable. I figured this is a motivation tip for any cyclist who wants to lose weight. Pick the amount of weight you want to lose, fill up some water bottles to match and go do a few climbs. You'll soon get the idea that body weight matters when climbing !

At the Rose Bowl, with the 5 unnecessary bottles of water round my neck.

The Vet, raring to go ..... up.

The golf course on the left, next to the Rose Bowl, becomes a car park on big game days.

After 7 km we came to the start of the climb. Turns out this Shell service station is the local meeting point. Next time ....

As with many climbs here, the steepest bit is at the start. On this section my Garmin was reading up to 12%. But quickly it flattened out to 6%. The higher we went the more it eased up.
The ride profile was bell shaped. Nice.

The early part was thick with marine layer ? Described as "marine layer" however this was smog. But it did keep the temperature down for a while longer. It got warmer as we went, reaching 100ºF on the last part. Didn't notice it really ....

The smog was being left behind, the shoulder is ample, the road wide and the views getting big.

Pretty tricky with the camera I am getting, eh ? Can't even see my hand at all in this one.

Here are some of the Pasadena locals, on one of the few sections where the shoulder disappears.

At this road junction, half way up we found water, restrooms and more locals.

Shawn getting local knowledge.

This rider thought I too wanted local knowledge. But all I wanted was to photograph the restrooms .....

That's 1,200 metres where the pines start to grow. Fires have been through here too.

Here are the pines. Notice the change in road surface. Here we turned off Angeles Crest, onto Mt Wilson Red Box Rd. Only 6 miles further to go.

This is the Mt Lowe Rd that comes up a different way. It is closed due to a huge rock fall that took out a section. Now the walkers and mountain bikers have it to themselves.
I think mountain bikers far outnumber road cyclists.
They dodge trees, rocks and the risk of running off the trails .... we dodge cars. Take your pick.

Two mountain bikers getting ready to roll. Safety in numbers applies here too. Apparently quite a few get "lost" every year ......
No mobile phone coverage up here.

Yes ... the views are getting even bigger.

The Vet decides he needs to take a picture. I thought he was going to include me in the view, but no .... I think he was actually just taking a break.

I got him to take this one. Mt Wilson,  just before the picturesque observatory area.
Apparently Mt Wilson towers over Pasadena. Just around the bend are huge radio dishes.

Here we are at the observatory area. Faucet to the left and Cosmic Cafe to the right. I would love to have tried the cafe ..... especially with a name like that. Wonder how it compares to The Rocks cafe ?

History ..... all I want today is a photo opportunity.

Cute, eh ? The original, smaller 60" telescope.

Like we found out ... BUGS ! March flies, actually. Not too big, but plenty of bite. Mt Wilson is famous for 'em. These girls are protecting their faces, but these mongrels get ya everywhere. I suggested they sit in the sun, where they are not so bad. But it was 100ºF
Like I have found out, the higher you go, the hotter it gets. Further away from the coast and the "marine layer" is the reason. Today in LA it was a mild 75ºF max.

Here's the reference for next time I visit ...

The Sugar Pines here are stunning. Their stately demeanour adds extra charm to the walking trails around the observatory area.
Time to go down. The 6 miles back back down to Angeles Crest Hwy needed brakes. In winter they use sand on the snow. Then it was all down without the brakes. The bends were easily taken, even down low on the drops at up to 60kph. Mostly we sat in the middle of the lane, occasionally having to let a car or bike through.
Getting close to Pasadena we were startled by what I first thought was a truck horn. But no, it was a highway patrol motor bike cop giving us a siren blast to move over !
We were not breaking any road law. That would have made my day. Getting a ticket for speeding would have made a great souvenir of ou ride up Mt Wilson.


  1. Another amazing ride for you but me, I would have gone to the dog show !

  2. GaryMac - the Indophile buddyJune 6, 2012 at 9:13 PM

    Woohoo... Barry goes a ridin'. Go Bazza!