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By: Zdenko Kahlina
My Thanksgiving weekend in the Halton Hills region
I’m thankful this last Thanksgiving weekend I spent in the area of Halton Hills, close to Campbellville, Ontario. My goal for Thanksgiving long weekend was far from anything ‘turkey related’. Instead, it was to meet my newborn grand-daughter Sophie and to ride the bike until my legs give-out, since winter doom was fast approaching. Plus, riding is the best way to check out October fall colors in the area!
But as I mentioned, the main purpose for this visit to Ontario was to meet my newborn grand-daughter Sophie for the first time. She looks wonderful, thank you very much! She was born on September 25th in ‘The Credit Valley’ Mississauga Hospital. It turned out I spent a lot of time with the baby and at the same time had a perfect fall biking weather to spend some time on my bike. As I always do when traveling I brought my road bike with me onboard WestJet flight from Edmonton. They charged me for the bike bag only $20 (one way). So, it was well worth bringing bike for the 10 days spent there.
As soon as I arrived, knowing that I am a cyclist, my friends and family started asking me about Rattlesnake climb. ‘Did you see it? Have you climbed it yet?’ No, I didn’t. As a matter of fact I never heard of it before, because I live in Alberta. But these questions were enough to trigger my curiosity. How does it look like? Where is it?
Well, it turned out it was very close to us, because we were staying at the house by Kelso Conservation area and Glen Eden ski area on Appleby Line road. So, when my hosts offered me to use their beautiful new Honda Pilot – SUV, I took the opportunity and drove the route to familiarize myself with the nearby roads and Rattlesnake climb itself. Two days later I managed to test out the hills at Rattlesnake point and Appleby Line road on my bike. Good news is that the roads in the whole area are in good condition. There are no construction areas nor gravel stretches, so you should have smooth rolling on these roads. If you haven’t heard of this classic bastion of Ontario bicycling masochism, beware, this ride can break even the most avid, strong and well-trained cyclist’s spirit and body. These are the roads and hills where the Ontario Provincial Road Cycling Championships were held few years ago.
Biking through Conservation area
I left the house on Applyby Line and went west on Limestone road, riding through picturesque forests and farms. With the stunning Niagara Escarpment as a backdrop I crossed Guelph Line road all the time riding through beautiful conservation area surrounding historic community of Campbellville. At times, I forgot I was pedaling a bicycle as I admired the scenery. I was completely consumed by Nature’s beauty.
As I turned south on Twiss road there was some loose gravel on one section of the road. This was definitely not cycling friendly section of the road. After several ups and downs on this hilly road I finally descended onto Derry Road. Here I took a left turn towards the city of Milton as I wanted to approach Rattlesnake climb from the south.
The Rattlesnake Point climb is rumored by some to be the steepest hill in Ontario. The main climb is less than kilometer long, averages 13% and includes a couple of switchbacks where the grade exceeds 22%.
Discovering Rattlesnake Point climb
When I made left turn onto Appleby Line north the climb starts immediately. I climbed Rattlesnake Point this morning for the first time in my life. It hurt. But pain is temporary. Cycling is most glorious when it’s painful—when sensations are at their most heightened. Being able to suffer the pain and overcome it offers a kind of physical success that many contemporary cyclists—in their white-collar lives and worlds—can rarely experience in other facets of everyday life. It’s a curious juxtaposition that my body does its hardest ‘work’ in the saddle rather than at the office. That I can feel my muscles and lungs during exertions on the bicycle is both painful and wonderful at the same time.
Rattlesnake Point tops out at 22%, but it’s not the steepness as much as it is the unrelenting grade, much sooner than you imagine. Approaching it from Derry Road, the road starts to climb—slightly at first, but already quite noticeably before you hit the trees. Too quickly, I found myself in the lowest gear, and worried that I still had a long way to go. I tried to control my breathing as best I could, but even that was soon ragged, and I hadn’t yet hit the second hairpin turn, after which another 200m would get me to the top.
At the first turn, I was already fully immersed in the climb and the pitch is fierce. 500m away, the Bell School Line offers an alternative ramp up to the same point. It’s milder, with two steps of roughly 100m each at 17%, but the break in the middle allows the rider to recover just slightly in order to assault the second ramp. Not so on Appleby Line, where the climb is fiercer and longer and unremitting.
The leafy green belies both the steepness and the length of the hurt required to get to this point. It almost looks serene. To compound the discomfort, the road was still a little wet from the early morning frost, so I had to be careful that my rear wheel doesn’t slip when standing and pushing on the pedals.
As if once was not enough I did this hill 2 times in about an hour, grinding up with my compact gearing 36/25 and it’s not that bad. I definitely hit my Max HR somewhere near the top though (around 165 BPM), but I am an old guy in the 60s. Anyways, I can’t seem to go up faster than 10 km/h on the steepest sections. This one hurts and I was just trying to make it up today without having a heart attack. Screw Strava! I didn’t care what my pace was at this point. I was so glad that I had changed the gearing before this trip, as I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t have made it without my Shimano compact chainset. With multiple switchbacks and a crazy gradient, this is an absolute leg-breaker!
Climb to Rattlesnake Point is under the belt!
The main objective of today’s ride was to take in this climb and continue on. I feel I passed the test. The rest of the Appleby road was not troubling today and I maintained a good pace on this section. And within a minute or so after getting to the top of Rattlesnake Point (and the briefest of stops to snap the picture above), my breathing and heart rate had recovered and I was back on pace for the rest of the ride.
At the top you can make left turn to the ‘Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area’ park, to enjoy breathtaking lookouts along the towering cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment, at this 264 hectare park established in 1961. The park is popular for walking, hiking, skiing, and rock climbing. It is known for its escarpment ridge trails and five spectacular lookout points. Rattlesnake Point has also three designated sites where experienced rock climbers can scale challenging cliffs under a canopy of rich woods. Hiking enthusiasts have 10 km of trails and can trek the Bruce Trail through the Nassagaweya Canyon through to Crawford Lake.
Back on the Appleby Line road, from the top there’s a flat stretch before the next steep downhill section back to Campbellville Road. You hit a double railway tracks at high speed on the way down and I almost felt like I might get airborne! I was going that fast. My hands were tired from squeezing the brakes! It’s also not uncommon to get stuck behind cars that are travelling slower than you on this descent.
In keeping with recent rides, I’ve been wanting to shoot for roughly 80 km on each ride; this one came in a bit short at 70 km but I enjoyed the ride down the Appleby Line north and then back up again along some interesting roads and up some fun climbs. At the end I rode towards Campbellville, before wheeling down the Canyon road back to my family. Pace, speed, and power were good, and sensation felt good. Mission accomplished!
Some consider this conservation area to be the heart of cycling in Southern Ontario. Some of the steepest climbs in Southern Ontario can be found in the Halton Hills. The north is bordered by Hwy. 7, the south follows the shores of Lake Ontario, the east follows Hwy. 6 and the west follows Hwy 10. I have chosen three locations as starting points. Hornby Park is the kick off area for the Halton Hills, Gellert Community Center is the starting location for routes in the Georgetown area and, as the name suggests, the Carlisle Community Center is the starting location for routes out of Carlisle. The routes in all three of these locations often criss cross each other and will sometimes use the same roads.
The escarpment in this area is steep enough for rock climbing so it is reasonable to expect climbing on steep gradients. There are enough routes here to satisfy everyone’s abilities. The roads tend towards the ‘tar and chip’ variety which is fine after a season of settling. Be cautious of cornering during the first season of resurfacing as there will be lots of loose gravel at the side of the road and on the corners.
One of my favorite rides during this short period I was visiting was along 15th Sideroad out of Georgetown. Here you will find steep, out of the saddle climbs, but fairly short. This road is very rural and has enough twist and turns to add some extra excitement. But this will a story for another blog…
And one more thing at the end: I will be back to ride these roads again!
Have a good and healthy season.
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