Distance: c. 35 miles, two out-and-backs
Elevation gain: c. 4800 ft
These two climbs and several other good rides in Siskiyou County are mapped at www.CycleSiskiyou.com.
This is the prime 35 miles of the Shasta Summit Century. It consists of two excellent out-and-back climbs through typical NorCal landscapes, and nothing else. The two roads are quite different. The first is a mild ascent and descent through a rocky, open canyon along a tumbling stream. The second is tougher climbing and faster descending through (mostly) a wall of greenery on both sides. I prefer the scenery on the first climb and the descent on the second. Both climbs are mellow pitches, with only one two-mile stretch that flirts with 8%. Neither climb is actually on Mt. Shasta, by the way—”Mt. Shasta” in our title refers to the town the climbs start from, not the mountain, which is on the other side of town. There is a road that goes partway up the mountain, but it’s deadly boring riding.
(To see an interactive version of the map/elevation profile, click on the ride name, upper left, wait for the new map to load, then click on the “full screen” icon, upper right.)
Begin at the intersection of W. A. Barr Road and Castle Lake Scenic Drive. Ride up W. A. Barr Road as long as you wish to (hence the vagueness in the distance and elevation gain figures above—I just picked a random spot along the road when I mapped). Around 14 miles in, you get to a summit and an intersection at the Gumboot Trailhead (there’s a large sign. Gumboot Lake, no relation, is actually briefly visible off to your L as you near the summit).
You can actually keep riding past the summit (see Adding Miles), but Barr is best in its first half, which is all paralleling a charming, tumbling, rocky stream (in fact, the headwaters of the Sacramento River) at a consistently mellow pitch. When it leaves the stream, it gets a bit steeper (though never steep), a bit narrower, a bit straighter, a bit rougher, and a bit less interesting. As long as you’re riding in the creek canyon, the terrain is creek boulders on one side and rock cuts on the other, very pretty in its way. Since Barr gets less appealing as it goes up, you can turn around as soon as you sense the magic is gone and enjoy the fine descent back to the car.
Back at the car, ride up Castle Lake Scenic Drive until the roads ends at Castle Lake (7 miles one way). The first 2 miles are work—a steady 8%, the hardest work you’ll do on the route—and the scenery is just green walls on either side. After that, the pitch mellows considerably, and towards the end you get open vistas with nice views of Mt. Shasta to the east.
Castle Lake is a lovely little natural lake with a campground and picnic tables by the water, a perfect place for dallying and cooling your toes, but no services besides an outhouse (no water). When your inner peace is topped up, turn around and enjoy the descent, even better than Barr, back to your car. It’s very fast—you can top 40 mph in places.
Of course you could do this as a part of the organized century, and that way you’d get fed. But two bad things would happen: 1) you’d have to ride up the Mt. Shasta road (officially the Everitt Memorial Highway), a 13-mile, essentially straight climb of unvarying pitch and bland scenery that’s laborious and boring. Then on the descent you just sit on the bike at 40 mph and read a book. Some people love that sort of thing. I don’t. 2) The descents of Barr and Castle Rds. would be thronged with cyclists riding up, chatting and weaving all over the road, and your descending line and your peace of mind would be constantly interfered with. It’s worse than car traffic. At least cars usually stay on their side of the road.
Shortening the route: Obviously, just do one climb—do you prefer rocky creek canyon or mountain vistas and a lake?
Adding miles: There’s a lot of good riding around this ride. The part of the Sierra Summit Century route we haven’t discussed, which runs on back roads north through the valley they share with Highway 5, is perfectly pleasant mountain valley rollers past meadows, lakes, and farms, with frequent grand views of Mt. Shasta. There are several alternate routes, but a good one is, begin at the intersection of N. Old Stage Road and Hatchery Road; ride north on Old Stage until it ends (it does some turning and jogging); go R under Hwy 5 and take the immediate R onto Edgewood (the large road sign reads “Edgewood” and points L—go R anyway); when Edgewood ends, go L onto N. Weed (don’t go under Hwy 5) and follow N. Weed through the town of Weed and out the other side, going under Hwy 5, and take the immediate R onto College; when College deadends at N. Old Stage Road, go L on Old Stage and return to your car (about 30 miles).
If you keep riding south on Old Stage Rd, then go L on Mott, and straight onto Dunsmuir Ave., you can ride all the way to Dunsmuir, the next town to the south, which would give you about 50 miles of mellow mountain valley rollers. Past Dunsmuir the route gets difficult to follow and generally unrewarding.
There’s also a climb at the northern end of the valley loop, up Stewart Springs Rd., on what’s known as the Mt. Shasta Century Super-Century route, for those who want 10 more miles of challenging climbing. The road has a nice profile, nice scenery, and new pavement, but unfortunately the pavement is a moderately rough chisel.
The climb up W. A. Barr Road is part of a 50-mile loop ridden by the Castle Crags Century. At the Gumboot intersection, stay on Barr (the obvious main road) as it turns L (south), crosses the obvious summit, and begins to descend. It will go up and down along the sidehill, with fine vistas along the way, until it deadends into Ramshorn Rd. (totally unmarked). Go L on Ramshorn (going R turns to dirt instantly) and do a steep, rough descent to Castle Crags State Park and the intersection with Hwy 5 (by which time the road has changed its name to Castle Creek Rd.); then work your way back to Mt. Shasta via frontage roads. This last leg is continuously confusing and poorly signed, so carry a thoroughly detailed route sheet with you. It’s not a loop I recommend—the big descent is so rough you suffer it rather than ride it, and the leg from Castle Crags to home is grindingly, lengthily uphill. You can find details of the route on the Castle Crags Century website or on www.CycleSiskiyou.com. Bring your legs—I recorded 55 miles and 6700 ft of vert on the loop.
Afterthoughts: From your parking spot, there is water a short ride down Barr in the other direction. At the corner of W. A. Barr and Siskiyou Lake Blvd, you will see tennis courts, and there are water fountains along the fence perimeter.