Cycling Waipoli Road - a US Top 10 and very steep climb.
Ride 12.7 miles gaining 5,504’ to elevation 6,382’ at 7.9% average grade.
Waipoli Road is one of hardest climbs in Hawaii and the U.S. This monster is on the U.S. Top 10 bike climbs list which includes Mauna Kea, Haleakala, Mauna Loa, and Kaloko Dr. It also makes the list of World Top 100 cycle climbs. Waipoli and Haleakala make up the two Top Ten U.S. climbs on Maui. Both are a must if you are cycling Hawaii! PJAMM climbed Waipoli May 13, 2018. Brad continued on past the finish of Waipoli up Skyline Trail to Haleakala Summit and recommends this challenging route - but on a gravel/adventure bike with large tires.
The first 6.5 miles of this climb are very shallow with 2.8% average grade, while miles 6.5 to 19.4 are an 8.5% average grade, and miles 13.7 to 18.4 are at 10.3% with 19 switchbacks (Strava segment).
First 11 miles are on Pulehu Road
On the surface, the climb to the summit of Waipoli Road seems like every other Hawaii climb. We start near sea level in windy, hot and humid conditions and work our way up to cooler temps. What makes this climb tougher than the statistics show is the exposure to the elements including wind and heat with no shade, and the steep rollers in the middle of the climb.
Right on Waipoli Road at mile 12.5
21 Switchbacks on Waipoli Road
Once we enter the final third of this brute, the grades are steeper and tougher than any other climb in Hawaii save for the 4.7 miles just after the Mauna Kea Visitor Center.
Last 5.2 miles = 2,900’ at 9.8%
Wiaopoli Air Force
Climb Summary by Ron Hawks:
The climb starts at Hansen and Pulehu road. The beginning section of the road is rough and the traffic is heavy even on a weekday mid-morning. The only shoulder on this route is the short section on Kula Hwy (37) before you get to Waipoli road. Enjoy the first 4 miles as the grade is shallow, but the heat and wind increase the difficulty rating along this stretch. At mile 7, we are faced with a fork in the road - stay right and continue on Pulehu Road. Do not go left on Omaopio Road. We now enter a neighborhood that provides a very brief respite from the elements and we soon begin our first real Waipoli test which involves riding over steep rollers approaching 15% , a la Mauna Loa Observatory Road. Be careful here and don't try to hammer these section - although they are short, there are several of them that will sap energy needed for the final ascent up Waipoli road.
Once we hit Kula Hwy (37) around mile 11, we have a two mile section with a nice mild 5-7% grade. Here, we catch our breath, flush out the lactic acid and brace for the beast waiting up the volcano. See elevation graph below - those purple to black sections at the end tell the horror story of Waipoli Rd! After passing Harold Rice Park on our left, we turn left onto Lower Kula road for a short ride to Waipoli Road on our right.
At first glance, the Waipoli entry looks quite steep, and it is! Although we’d love to reassure you that this is the worst of it, we can’t. Once over the initial wall that hits 18% (or we hit it?), we continue straight up (almost literally!) the road and are too quickly greeted with one of the toughest ½ mile stretches we have ever ridden! Along this portion we are confronted with broken pavement (not too tough to negotiate at 4 mph!) and painfully steep sections that approach if not exceed 20%. We traversed the road in search of adequate pavement, all the while trying to keep the front wheel on the ground - no small feat at this grade - all the while attempting to keep sufficient forward progress to remain upright.
Once through the initial killer-steep section we catch our breath for about a quarter mile before hitting another wall - we nicknamed this road “Wallipoli” for a reason! Blessedly, the final 4+ miles are over a peaceful single-lane road, although the grade continues to be wickedly steep. Well, hey, that’s how you get into the Top 10 Most Difficult Climbs in the U.S., I suppose. The steepest sections are at the switchbacks. If there were only one or two, okay, but 19? Are you kidding me?! We normally cut the inside of the switchbacks, but Waipoli is no normal climb - we suggest staying wide on these and bringing a compact chainring, a 32t cassette, and oxygen, and.... We saw 20% on the Garmin and felt 25% in the legs. There were a few brief moments when we were going downhill, well 5% rise felt down at that point, and these were inevitably followed by another “Wallapoli”.
In addition to this very nice grade (are we sick, or what?), the scenery is gorgeous, when we are not doing a laser stare deep into the pavement and we are not surrounded by clouds - we look northwest to incredibly beautiful views of Maui along this climb. Pull over and soak in and photograph these views - or, at least that’s a great excuse for stopping (err . . . resting). Climbers note - stop on one of the few milder sections as it is very difficult to get going again on the normal grade we experience on this one.
Due to the rain/mist and cooler temperatures in this final section, the landscape is thick and lush with cooler temps - Hawaiian Tropic, for sure. Unlike many of the European switchback experiences, the 19 switchbacks we navigate are not viewable from above as the landscape is so dense. The only evidence of the roadway above as we ascended was the top of the occasional car we spied coming down along the roadway above.
After making it through the 19 switchbacks, we finish with a straight ½ mile stretch that ends at a small parking area where the pavement ends. This is a very tough climb with the final 5+ miles averaging over 11% with several pitches at or just above 20%. Be prepared before you go and use every shallow section to recover as the last section of this climb offers zero grade relief. As for the descent, it can be very cold so at least bring your jacket. When descending the steep sections of Waipoli road, be careful as there are a lot of blind turns and the thick landscape hides vehicles that we don’t see, until we are on top of them.
Have fun - it is a True Top 10 U.S./Top 100 World. Enjoy an incredible and unique and oft scenic climb in Hawaii - it WILL test you!
ALTERNATE ROUTE TO HALEAKALA SUMMIT - BY Ray Gurzynski
From the start of the Waipoli climb to Haleakala Summit is the #2 most difficult climb in the U.S. (33.8 miles / 10,021' / 5.9% average grade / Fiets 18.68; we did not rank it because it is impassable on a road bike). From Waipoli Road at about mile 13 to Haleakala Summit is roughly 18.2 miles / 7,185' / 8.9% / Fiets 17.12 - that alone would be #6 U.S. This is not manageable on a road bike, so we do not include it on our list, but at 18.68 Fiets it ranks #2 U.S. and #6 World - https://ridewithgps.com/routes/21799781
PJAMM Strava Buddy, Ray Gurzynski, writes of this spectacular adventure:
This route is similar to Mauna Kea in the sense that the hardest part is an unpaved upper section which finally blessedly reverts to pavement near the top. Also like Mauna Kea, the unpaved section varies from challenging to marginally ridable to it's walk-a-bike time.
I have not ridden MK but have been up there in a vehicle so I feel qualified to make this comparison.
One difference perhaps is that the MK section is periodically graded, which creates a substantial variable in the difficulty equation. While it would never be "easy", if a rider had the good fortune to ride MK right after a grading it might be slightly less terrible, that being as kind a description as I'd use for that beastly stretch!
The Skyline Ridge Trail on Haleakala is a typical doubletrack jeep/4x4/logging/fire road. (regional terminology varies but they're all about the same- I'm sure you get the idea.). The upper portion of the SRT was the worst. My impression was that it has been graded in the past, but not anytime recently. it was very chunky- thick lava landscape rocks from golf to baseball sized for the full width. This stuff was simply unrideable in a few places. In fact, it was difficult to walk in, let alone push my bike, and I was wearing nice wide soled Teva sandals. (sort of a trademark of mine- I like getting off my bike and walking like a human, rather than hobbling about like an injured bird.)
But I digress...
The MK unpaved section obviously is very heavily traveled, thus they have to keep it at least drivable. The SRT gets essentially no traffic save for hikers, some downhill mountain bikers, and very occasionally someone like me doing it uphill. There's a mere handful of us on Strava. And I suppose official personnel periodically check on it's condition, but seemingly very very infrequently. Then thankfully there is pavement again near the top, access roads to the observatory stuff and the connector road over to the main tourist summit building.
John, I of course do not know if anyone has brought this route to your attention before me, but I would be very curious to get your thoughts on it, and to see how it'd fare when entered into your magic climb rating algorithm.
Perhaps it deserves an asterisk, an honorable mention, or a subset letter postscript like the private property-crossing climb The Bear (6A).
Gravel section on the way up
Ray at the Summit!
 See Route to Haleakala Summit from Waipoli at bottom of Waipoli Climb Page.