If you are intimidated by hills when you bike, hike and run, it’s time to embrace the enemy Hills get a bum wrap.
When the going gets tough, we fight uphill battles. When we get old, we’re over the hill.
When hills inflict pain we give them names like Doomsday (the biggest hill in Spokane’s famous Bloomsday run) and Heartbreak (the dream-killing incline 20 miles into the Boston Marathon).
A challenging hill can scare a runner into walking, make a hiker change course and intimidate a cyclist into getting off his bike to push.
Talk to the rangers at Mount Rainier National Park and local cycling and running club leaders and they say their most frequent request is for a route that’s flat.
Flat might be easy. It might not make your heart pound or your legs scream, but flat is not where it’s at.
Ask the fittest people in the South Sound about hills and they’ll often repeat the same mantra: “Hills are your friend.”
“Hills make you mentally and physically stronger,” said Lesley Robert, director of the Capital City Marathon. “You’ll be in better shape if you train on hills, and it’s good for your confidence when you do well and improve.”
That’s one of the reasons Carla Gramlich of the Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club doesn’t avoid hills.
“It’s an accomplishment to get to the top of a big, intimidating hill,” Gramlich said. “Whether you are climbing fast or you just manage to keep your bike upright while going 5 mph, it’s a great feeling to get to the top of a big hill.”
Of course even those who’ve made friends with hills will tell you it’s a love-hate relationship.
“I’m not sure I enjoy hills,” said Josh Gaither, a former steeple chase runner at Western Washington who now runs marathons and works for South Sound Running. “They can hurt a lot, but they are necessary.
“But if you push yourself, your body gets used to it.”
And hills are good for more than just your fitness level.
A study conducted by Austria’s Academic Teaching Hospital in 2005 showed that going uphill cleared fats from the blood faster than exercise on flat terrain. It also showed that going downhill reduced blood sugar and going either up or down lowered bad cholesterol.
Then there are the views. They’re always better from above.
“That might be the best reason to hike uphill,” said Daniel Keebler, a ranger at Mount Rainier National Park. “You put in all that work, but you are rewarded for it.”
So, where do you start? At the bottom, of course.
With some input from local running, cycling and hiking experts, we’ve come up with good hills to take on whether you are getting started, training or looking for a supreme challenge.
1. YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD HILL: One of the perks of living in the Northwest is there is probably a hill in your neighborhood. Start getting familiar with it on your next walk, run or ride.
2. POINT DEFIANCE: On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Five Mile Drive is closed to motorized vehicles leaving a nice loop for walkers, bikers, runners and others to train. This will be more challenging for runners than cyclists, but throw in a couple more laps and the vertical starts to add up. Want to ramp it up? Take a side trip to Owen Beach.
1. 410 CORRIDOR: State Route 410 is packed with side trips that will test any cyclist’s legs. Climb up to Sunrise at Mount Rainier, ascend Crystal Mountain Boulevard, stay on the highway to Chinook Pass or do all three.
2. BONNEY LAKE HILL: The climb from Sumner Meadows Golf Links up Lake Tapps Parkway is a favorite training hill for cyclists. A paved trail along the road lets runners and walkers get in on the action.
3. CHAMBERS BAY: The multiuse trail at Chambers Bay Golf Course offers a challenging climb from the golf course to the clubhouse. Cyclists can easily tack on climbs up Chambers Creek Road and up Sixth Avenue from Titlow Beach.
4. LAKE CUSHMAN HIKES: Some of the steepest hikes on the Olympic Peninsula are located near Lake Cushman. Climb nearly 3,500 feet in three miles to the top of Mount Rose or 3,200 feet in less than three miles to Wagonwheel Lake.
5. MAILBOX PEAK: The most challenging hike in North Bend ascends 4,000 feet in just 2.9 miles. Students at the nearby Washington State Fire Training Academy work out on this steep trail.
6. OLYMPIA’S STREETS: Courthouse (up Lakeridge Drive from Capitol Lake) and Hospital (up Fourth or Fifth Avenues West) hills have long challenged local athletes. Tumwater Hill (go up Seventh Avenue) is also a good challenge.
7. POO POO POINT: Amy Mann of the Tacoma Mountaineers says this low-altitude hike in Issaquah is an ideal training route for hikers. When the weather is nice you’re likely to see paragliders taking off from the top of the 1,650-foot, 3.6-mile (each way) hike.
8. SHRINER PEAK: Mount Rainier is packed with uphill challenges, but the most challenging, Camp Muir aside, might be Shriner Peak on the park’s east side. The hike climbs 3,400 feet in about four miles and finishes with an in-your-face view of Mount Rainier.
9. SUN TOP: The 3,280-foot climb in less than 10 miles to Sun Top near the state Route 410 entrance to Mount Rainier National Park is one of the most challenging local rides for mountain bikers. The reward: Great views and a downhill descent to some epic single track.
10. OLD TOWN TRIO: Resist the temptation of the flat walk on the waterfront and take the North 29th, 30th and 31st street hills. The 29th Street hill is easiest and they get progressively more challenging. Sidewalks run along the streets, 30th gets the most traffic but the pavement on 29th and 31st is choppy.
1. THE HILL: Puyallup’s 72nd Street East hill is the toughest hill on the relatively flat 204-mile Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. However, with a flat section in the middle, it’s one of the easiest climbs out of the Puyallup Valley.
2. VASSAULT HILL: The one-mile uphill finish of the 12-kilometer Sound to Narrows is legendary, and the biggest reason the June race remains the ultimate measure of local runners.
3. MILE 22 HILL: Running up Eastside Street and 22nd Avenue might not be the toughest challenge in Olympia, but put it at the 22nd mile of the Capital City Marathon and it becomes a challenge runners won’t forget.
4. MOUNT SI: This four-mile, 3,000-vertical-foot hike in North Bend is one of the state’s most popular hikes, even though it’s not even the toughest hike in town. (See Mailbox Peak.)
5. MOUNT RAINIER: There is no more iconic uphill challenge on the West Coast than scaling this 14,411-foot mountain. Turning around at Camp Muir, about 10,000 feet, is arguably the state’s most challenging day hike.
7 UPHILL TIPS
1. Start slow. “It’s not a race,” said Mount Rainier National Park ranger Daniel Keebler. “If you give yourself enough time, you can hike almost any trail.”
2. Practice. “The more time you spend on the hills, the more comfortable you’ll be,” said Josh Gaither of South Sound Running.
3. Stay upright. “Don’t collapse forward like a lot of people do when they are starting,” Gaither said, “your lungs will have less room.”
4. Get a granny gear. Make sure your bike has cogs on the crank if you want to make hill climbing easier. “There are some hills I wouldn’t even consider without a triple,” said Carla Gramlich of the Tacoma Wheelmen Bicycle Club. “... You have a wide range of gears. You should get comfortable with them.”
5. Get in the zone. When you find your rhythm, you can climb all day. How do you get in that zone? See Tip 2. “Practice, practice, practice,” Gramlich said.
6. Drop weight. The lighter your load, the easier your ascent. Already have light gear? Dropping a few pounds from the midsection makes hills easier too.
7. Stay positive. “Where there is an uphill, a downhill is coming,” said Lesley Roberts, director of the Capital City Marathon.
Craig Hill, staff writer
As you might have guessed, Adventure writer Craig Hill loves hills. Visit The Adventure Guys blog to read about his favorite hills and to share your favorite places to go uphill.