Summay from Mitch Reid, Reno, Nevada, USA.
Starting this January, I have been studying abroad in Cuenca, Ecuador with 24 other classmates from my university. For some reason, we ended up having Thursday and Friday off from schoolwork one weekend, so we as a group rented a bus and driver to drive us almost 8 hours North of Cuenca to the town of Baños, Ecuador, which is known as the “Entrance to the Amazon”. After making sure that there was room in the bus we hired, I got the all clear to bring my bike.
Baños is the most touristy town in Ecuador, and it is well known for offering tons of exciting activities to do, and because it is Ecuador, the cost to do these activities is pretty cheap. Also, it is located right next to an awesome volcano called Tungurahua that looks like it belongs in the time of the dinosaurs with Pterodactyls soaring around its peak. My classmates spent the week leading up to the trip planning all sorts of fun stuff including white-water rafting, ziplining, canyoning and more. I on the other hand, spent the time searching Strava trying to figure out how the riding would be around Baños and trying to find some awesome climbs to occupy my time because I was planning on riding my bike as much as was possible during the long weekend.
We got to our Hostel in Baños really late Wednesday night. We stayed at “Hostal Tunguarahua”, which as its name implies, offers a great view of the Volcano (when it isn’t obscured by clouds). It was a nice enough place, and offered free breakfast in the morning, which was a single scrambled egg and as many croissants and rolls as you could stomach.
Tunguarahua from my window in the hostel
I woke up early Thursday morning, ate my egg and about 10 croissants, and headed out on my bike while my classmates went rafting. I had an interval session I was supposed to hit that day, so after cruising in to the center of town to see what it was like I rode around until I found a good hill to repeat for my workout. The roads around Baños, and most of Ecuador I had seen so far were pristine, with great asphalt and usually a wide shoulder or specific bike lane.
I finished my intervals (which were brutal) and headed back in to the center of Baños to find a café to grab a bite to eat and some coffee. After fueling up (coffee in South America rules!) I got back on thee bike and rode to a bridge that I thought looked interesting. I crossed the bridge and saw one of the craziest roads I had ever laid my eyes on. It was cobblestone, and looked like it went straight up- so steep! I started riding up the road to check it out and was immediately blown away by two things: 1st, how beautiful the view was, and 2nd how brutally steep the road was. I had a 34t chainring on the front and a 34t cog in the back, and even in my 34x34, my cadence was around 50 rpm. I continued my grind up the road, stopping every couple of minutes to give my blasted legs a rest and to take some pictures. I had not found this climb on Strava so I had no idea how long it was, but I ended up turning around after grinding my way up the road for about 20 minutes - my legs were too tired from my intervals to deal with a road like this.
When I got back to the hostel, I immediately looked for the climb on Strava. I found the segment which was called “Baños Norte”, and it looked absolutely nuts (turned out that when I had turned around because I was too tired to continue, I wasn’t even 1/8th of the way up). The full climb was only 5mi long, but with 3,200’ of elevation gain, and when looking at some of the segment analysis, I saw that there were consistent gradients over 15-20% (Strava said the average was 11%, but there are some downhill sections in there that bring the average down)! I quickly got obsessed with the idea of taking the KOM (the current fastest time was 1:5:20, and I felt that I could beat that), but I had agreed to take my friend’s spot on a canyoning trip the next morning, so I would have to wait until Saturday to give it a shot. No matter, I could take Friday off to recover up so I had the legs to go for the KOM on Saturday.
Canyoning was a blast, but I went to bed Friday night super excited to get out on the bike and try my hand at some super steep, cobbled hairpins! I grabbed some breakfast and coffee at a café in town, and crossed the bridge to the start of the climb.
There’s not much that I can really say about the full climb, other than that it was brutally hard, but incredibly serene. The road is super quiet with cars, and I didn’t get passed in either direction on my way up. The weather was great, and only started to get a bit chilly and foggy at the top of the road (above 9000ft).
What a view from the top of the climb
I ended up doing 250 Watts for 1hr and 1 min to set the new KOM on the climb, but my average cadence for the entire effort was 50rpm, including my pedaling over 100 rpm on the downhill sections. Talk about a slog. There is no way I could have done this climb without a 34t biggest gear on my cassette. The top of the climb was beautiful, but my favorite view of the day came just about 5 minutes back down the mountain, where there was a beautiful view overlooking the town of Baños with the volcano Tunguarahua looming massive in the background.
The view from the lookout
The descent down the road was pretty intense, and between the super steep grades, the hairpin switchbacks, and the cobblestones I had to stop 4 or 5 times on the way down to let my brakes cool off. Disc brakes would definitely be a good idea for this climb.
Overall, Baños Norte was probably one of my favorite climbs I have ever done in my life. There was something so surreal about being completely alone on the side of a beautiful green mountain overlooking Baños, going as hard as I could on the brutally steep roads, all while a volcano straight out of the Jurassic period watched over my every move
Watching the clouds roll in from the lookout