Saturday, February 28, 2015

Day ride around Ojai

I wanted to get some climbing miles in my legs before the Stagecoach 400 next month. When Erin Carroll posted a longer day loop in the Ojai area (Erin's Ojai loop), that was a good reason to head out to Ventura county. The loop around Ojai goes into two mountain ranges, the smallish Sulphur Mountains to the south of the Ojai valley and the much bigger Topatopa mountains in the Los Padres National Forest to the north. Most is on dirt roads exposed to the sun (so not something to do in the summer, though perfect in February), but the final descent is largely single track. With Erin's routes, you never know how slow single track can be, so I brought lights to be on the safe side, but there weren't any unexpected challenges and I finished before it got dark. About 7 hours moving time, 2700 m (8800 feet or so) of climbing (according to a newer Garmin, which tend to exaggerate elevation changes).

It was rather chilly when I got to Sulphur Mountain road, although it was close to 9 am on a Saturday morning. I decided to drive up a little further to Ojai first and parked near a Starbucks to prepare with a very large coffee. I finally got moving around 9.30 and took the bike path south to Sulphur Mountain. Sulphur mountain road is a dirt road and I saw 3 other bikes and maybe a dozen hikers on it.
view towards the ocean and Ventura, with two islands sticking out ( I think they are Anacapa and Santa Cruz)

The hills were green and that made it so much more attractive than later in the year. I went up there once before, many years ago, and didn't like it then because on its own it isn't an interesting ride. Gentle climb, a bit over 2000 feet with a fairly steady 5-7 percent gradient.

Sulphur mountain climb

The descent back into the valley is paved and fast. There is a store at the  intersection of highway 150 and Sisar road. Kathy and I did a short night hike last year up Sisar, but that was all I've seen of it (so not much in the dark). The beginning is shady and the surface is a bit more broken up than a typical dirt road, but it becomes a wide dirt road before too long. Most hikers are around the first part and after about half an hour, I didn't see anybody all afternoon, despite it being a Saturday with very nice weather.

bottom of Sisar road

but most of the climb is more like this
 It is a long climb, about 3500 feet until the road goes around Big Chief Mountain at about 5000 feet (the top of that mountain is still a few hundred feet higher). Not particularly steep, mostly around 10% I would guess, but noticeably steeper than Sulphur Mountain. The climb is almost all fully exposed to the sun, it was hot even this time of year. At the top, there were a few snow patches on the north side in the shade, so the air temperature was still cool.

Lunch break at Big Chief mountain (2.30 by now)

That was largely it for the aerobic part of the day,  a bit meandering on the top of the ridge and then trending downhill.  I had all those mountains to myself. No other people in sight, no noise, no barking dogs, just open mountains. I stopped a few times just to enjoy that.
Taking Gridley trail down would avoid one more climb, but I continued and while the third real climb of the day to Nordhoff Peak is actually tiny (not even 1000 feet), it is the steepest and you feel it after the previous two long climbs. Shortly after Nordhoff Peak, there is a sharp 180 degree turn onto single track. I would have missed that without GPS.
Single track descent

Finally, near the bottom, the very end is some more technical single track that gets out on Highway 33. Very fun, but something to do in daylight as it has big rocks and drops. It was about getting close to 5 and there were a few hikers on that trail, first time I saw anybody else after the the bottom of Sisar. Then a quick road ride back to Ojai and I was back at the car before it got dark.

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