Assault on Mount Hamilton

(click on the pictures to get a larger photo)

Mount Hamilton stands 4212 feet tall and is apparently the highest point in the Bay Area. It is easily recognazable by the observatoty on top, which looks like a bright white spot (from the airplane it looks like two bright white spots, the other is the smaller observatory). On April 15th, 2000 four brave souls: James, Marcin, Kostadis and myself decided that we are going to bike up to the top of this local landmark. Why? Well, because it's there, I suppose.

The climb starts at the intersection of Alum Rock Avenue and Mount Hamilton road in San Jose, and ends 18 miles later at the top. Apparently, it is a Category 2 climb by the Tour de France standards, and would have been a 1, if not for the 2 downhills along the way. Actually, the downhills are annoying than helpful because they are too short to really rest, and you just have to gain the altitude back.

So, it all started early on Saturday morning, when I looked out the window and found out that the "partly cloudy" that the Weather Channel forcasted was more like "mostly cloudy, showers likely".

At 9 am James arrived on his bike and informed us that the weather was "damp". Marcin arrived a bit later and we decided that we are still going, rain or no. "It builds character," said James.

Honda Civic loaded with four bikes. People were giving me lots of room on the highway. James quote: "The good news is that the mountain looks a lot smaller today. The bad news is that this is because of the clouds on top". We could only see the first range, before the first descent, and the rest was covered up in clouds and fog. That would make interesting biking.

Unloading the bikes in San Jose. Kostadis looks happy while James ponders the situation. We parked along Alum Rock Avenue, about a mile from the turn onto Mount Hamilton road. The climb starts pretty much right away. We passed an older cyclist wearing a blue jacket, and then he passed us again as more serious climb started on Mount Hamilton Road. Kostadis couldn't let that happen, so he decided to chase him. We did not see him until Joe Grant park eight miles later. He was throughly humbled, having lost the cyclist.

In the meantime it started raining. Character-shmaracter. At least it was warm.

Marcin and James climbing. The views of the valley were cool, and then rain was letting up a bit. The grass is only green like this in early spring, so this was a good time to go.

We caught Kostadis and regrouped near Joe Grant park. Everyone pulled out their snacks and started replenishing lost calories.

Ten miles to go. Everyone looks cheery (cheesy?).

And now for more climbing. The hills look pretty though. This is the view towards Joe Grant park. Silicon Valley is just beyond the hills. The rain has stopped, but the sky still looked threatening.

Lupins along the road. It's amazing how many small details you notice when you are going at the turbo speed of 7mph.

Marcin climbing. Forgot to mention, it's his birthday today. A ... unique ... way to celebrate, wouldn't you say?

Another break and regroup. The mood is now more somber. Kostadis quote: "Oops, I think I just ran out of gas!" Kostadis was biking like the Energizer Bunny, until the last three miles where he started bonking. If only he had one more sandwich for breakfast!

The goal is in sight. Actually, it's about four miles away, but the observatory is so large that it looks close. The last four miles are also the steepest (or maybe it just seems that way). I don't have any pictures from the last part of the climb, I was too busy getting to the top.

Having arrived to the top James stunned the audience by pulling out juggling balls from his bike bag and proceeding to juggle. James quote: "You have to juggle at the top of the mountain."

Kostadis arriving at the top. He doesn't look happy.

Isn't that cute?

Marcin arriving at the top. He doesn't look happy either.

The weather had improved a bit and the summit was actually clear. The view of the Valley was great. You can see the road switchbacking on the left.

Success! Triumphant picture on the summit. From left to right:
Kostadis: "I think if I lean against someone I won't fall down."
Natasha: "Oh, I'm perfectly fine. This is a smile, not a pained expression."
James: "I'd like you to know that I disapprove of this."
Marcin: "The salt in my eyes is making me squint."

The ride back down was cold, fast, and a little sandy on the corners. Marcin and I had a pickup truck yield to us at some point, as we could take the corners a lot faster than it. With little effort we got all the way back to Joe Grant. The summit yet again looks far away.

That descent before Joe Grant has come back to haunt us. After the climb up and a long downhill, having to climb again is downright offensive. My legs were very confused as to what it was they were supposed to be doing.

Back at the car! We all survived, now let's go back up again! By the way, that same day there was some sort of double century going on up and down Mount Hamilton. On the way down we were continuously passed by people who were a lot fitter than us.


Last modified: Thu May 31 23:14:47 PST 2000