The sport of cycling is renowned for nurturing a rare breed, many of whom derive pleasure from pain. Some call them masochistic, some call them insane, some call them crazy, while some just sit back and admire their passion and commitment. We are talking about the riders who actively seek out the most gruelling climbs imaginable. In the immortal words of Daft Punk; They live to be “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”
There is a somewhat sadistic beauty to be found in the solitude and suffering of riding uphill. From the hustle and bustle of India to the sands of Hawaii, the following five climbs present a rider with challenges capable of testing the most indefatigable of souls.
1. Le Mauna Kea, Hawaii
A million year old, dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii, Mauna Kea stands at 4,205m, or 13,796 ft, above sea level, with its peak registering as the highest point in the U.S.
According to Hawaiian folklore, Mauna Kea, which means “white mountain”, is a reference to its snow-capped peak. Centuries ago, due to its mythological majesty, a law was passed allowing only elder tribal chiefs access to its pinnacle. Kea possesses a high altitude, dry environment, and invariable airflow, all of which make it an unforgettably challenging cycle. With its last eruption occurring about 4,000 years ago, Kea will, apparently, erupt again someday.
Interestingly enough, Mauna Loa, a neighbouring, rather angelic looking volcano, is very much active and last erupted in 1984.
2. Khardung Pass: India
Between altitude sickness and army truck drivers, India’s Khardung Pass is not for the faint hearted.
Situated 40 km by road from Leh, the final 15 km of this journey is nothing but loose rock and dirt. With hired vehicles, heavy trucks, motorcycles, narrow one-lane sections, washouts and landslides all posing very real threats, Khardung Pass is one hell of an obstacle course. Are you game enough to ride this über test of character? Although the gradient of 5% is pretty steady, the road is not asphalted. Furthermore, due to the proximity of the Pakistani border, vehicles of every description and frequently whizz by.
3. Great Dunn Fell: England
At a height of almost 2,800 feet, Great Dun Fell is the second-highest hill in England’s Pennines. Geographically, it lies two miles southalong the watershed from Cross Fell, its loftier neighbour. Starting in Appleby, the historic market town, the route takes a rider through the picturesque Eden Valley and on past the Lake District, all before arriving at the foot of the final 8 kilometre ascent. Known affectionately as the UK’s answer to Mont Ventoux, the average gradient of 8% will test your grit and determination, not to mention
your stamina. When you reach the summit at 844m, take a minute to observe and appreciate the wonderful view. You earned it, my friend.
4. The Col de la Madeleine: France
First tackled back in 1969, The Col de la Madeleine is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious climbs in Tour de France history. Connecting the Maurienne and the Tarentaise valleys in the French Alps, this climb presents a rider with the most spectacular of
scenery. At just over 28 kilometres, the northern ascent is longer, however, with an 8% gradient, the southern approach is steeper.
As one of the toughest climbs in the Alps, The Col de la Madeleine can be ridden as part of a route which includes other renowned climbs, like the Col Croix de Fer, Col du Glandon and La Toussuire. Complete all these accents and you have earned serious bragging rights.
5. Passo di Mortirolo: Italy
Although three possible routes up the Passo di Mortirolo exist, Big Daddy, aka Mazzo di Valtellina, is the only one you should be considering if you wish to test every fibre of willpower. With an average gradient of 11% that peaks at 18%, this arduous and
adventurous climb is steeped in history. Back in 1994’s Giro d’Italia, the first rider over the summit was a 24-year-old enigmatic man by the name of Marco Pantani, and that famous day is marked with a moving memorial of il Pirata on the 11.4km ascent.
There you have it, my friends, safe cycling.