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Lately, I’ve been “enjoying” pretty much every weekend a 9km, 650m vertical ascent near my home on my touring bike (the average grade is about 7.5%). The grueling ride has turned out to be a lot of fun for me, in a strange way.

I wondered what I might aspire to. Thus my question: what are the steepest, highest, most miserable road ascents in the world? I.e., what might be a fun long-term goal to work towards?

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This questions reads more like a forum post, I am not sure it is appropriate for stackexchange. That said, I ride some gravel roads with 20-30% grade. I am sure there is worse out there. –  Rider_X Aug 26 '12 at 5:28
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I disagree wholeheartedly, @Rider_X. Questions like this should be absolutely welcomed at StackExchange. –  Stephen Touset Aug 26 '12 at 6:18
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@StephenTouset - Unless you can survey and compare every road in the world all answers will be subjective. Furthermore, we would really need the see distribution of all road grades and duration to really judge what are the hardest possible climbs in the world. –  Rider_X Aug 26 '12 at 18:44
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@Rider_X, this is a totally reasonable question. –  Angelo Aug 26 '12 at 20:15
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This question is fun, but is it really answerable? The answers are already starting to turn into an awkward list. –  amcnabb Aug 27 '12 at 4:19
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Road climbs are graded according to elevation change and overall length. The classifications start at "category 5" and go upto "category 1" and finally "Hors Category". Here's a list of "Hors" climbs from the Tour de France throughout its history. These are the hardest road climbs that are doable (at a non-embarrassing pace) by elite athletes.

Generally speaking, cat 5 and 4 climbs can be found in places with non-mountainous geography. Cat 2 through Hors climbs are hard to find in anyplace but very mountainous areas. If you do a cat 3 climb on a group ride-- it will be remembered and talked about. Going up a category usually means that both the grade and the distance is harder. I believe that hors category climbs are sometimes classified as such because of the conditions of the road (eg gravel/dirt is much harder at 15% than asphalt).

You can see informally categorized grades if you use the Strava app (it tells you the category of the climbs you did on recorded rides). If you're interested in challenging yourself this is an excellent way to measure and compare progress because top times are recorded for each categorized climb.

Here's an example of a ride with very heavy climbing yet "only" cat 3/4 hills, it was the Rapha 2011 Gentlemen's race (video). For non-elites, this would be a tremendous accomplishment.

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Montezoncolan on the Giro Italia is probably the toughest in a competition. Climbs 1200m in 10km, average about 12% and steep bits of 25%

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I've got two for you. And as you may glean from this post, i really enjoy a day long gruelling climb, cause there's always a summit (woooo hooooo!) and a long coast down the other side.

  1. San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas Mexico. It's about a 1 day ride up the new 4 lane highway with a large 2m shoulder. Coming down, you can take the old highway. It's beautiful and there were only about a dozen cars for the whole 3 hour descent. Lots o switchbacks, so 1/3 of the way down i stopped and adjusted my rear break to be constantly rubbing so i wouldn't get a hand cramp.

  2. Crowsnest Pass: The ride from Christina Lake British Columbia to Rossland via Highway 3 (Crow's Nest Pass) via the Paulson Bridge is a solid descent in the Kootenay mountains near the Rockies. Christina Lake is the warmest freshwater lake in bc and Rossland is a ski town.

These aren't the most grueling out there, but a solid 1km climb over a day for sure.

kesten

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Don't forget the climb on Highway 3 on the Hope to Princeton segment. That is 1500m over 50 km. On a fully loaded touring bike it kinda sucks. Then you can also drop off of Highway 3 not too far from Keremeos and ride up a dirt road to Apex Mountain (1500m over 20 km). Or you go ride up Mt. Baker for a similar profile. It is impossible to answer the question as there are too many options. –  Rider_X Aug 26 '12 at 19:04
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