Imagine a bike ride that covers 18 kilometres of spectacular scenery just outside Ashcroft on a late June day, followed by a great barbecue and a chance to get together with friends. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?
That depends on your definition of “idyllic”. The Ashcroft Hell Climb, now in its seventh year and taking place on June 24, earned its name for a reason. The “bike ride” starts on the east side of the CP main line at the AES Electric building in Ashcroft, with participants racing to be the first to the brake check on Highway 97C. Over the course of that 18 kilometres, the elevation increases by 1,000 metres, taxing riders to the limit.
Asked to rate the ride on a scale of one to 10—with one being easy and 10 being, well, hellish—organizer Wayne Little doesn’t hesitate before saying “It’s a 10 out of 10. It’s as hard as it gets. The fastest anyone has ever done it is 46 minutes. Most people take an hour, an hour and 10. Some people take two hours.”
Little says that the race—now one of the most popular in B.C.—started when Neil Winslow suggested organizing a ride “just to the top of the hill, to the brake check. We had 20 or 30 people, all local, and it was a hit.”
Little turned the ride into a race, which changed the dynamics. “Some people still ride it, and some want to race. You get three completely different types of people [taking part].
“Some people want to win the race, to get their gas money back. There are some people who just want to ride. And then you get people who do the ride so they can take part in the barbecue afterward. They want to see their buddies and just hang out, talk about the race.”
About 40 people take part in each year’s Hell Climb. “I thought at one time that it might be better to have more, but 40 is a good number to manage.” He adds that there are usually about 10 locals taking part. “We don’t get so many locals now. The ride always seems to conflict with something else in town.”
The race is one-way only, with the riders able to either ride back at their leisure from the brake check or else get a lift back down in a vehicle. “You have to be a climber, not a sprinter or time trialler,” explains Little. “The climbers are really skinny, and have no extra fat to carry up the hills. They can get really cold coming back down on their bikes.”
The bikes are not the kind you can pick up at Walmart. “They’re very expensive bikes.” That said, Little notes that one year a rider took part on a single-speed bike. “He only had one gear.”
Supporters cheer on the riders from anywhere along the route that they can pull off and park, leapfrogging the riders along the way and bringing gear and Gatorade to the brake check. Little has taken part in the past, but is usually too involved in organizing the barbecue to ride. “I hope to take part this year, though. It’s the only way I’ll get a better time.”
He adds that the Ashcroft Hell Climb is not a qualifying race for any other races. “There are no qualifying rights; only bragging rights.”
The cost to enter the Hell Climb—which includes the barbecue—is $25. Anyone interested can email Little at email@example.com. This year’s ride starts at 10 a.m. at AES Electric on Sunday, June 24, and anyone who wants to come out and cheer on the riders is welcome to do so.