Cycling Hardknott Pass West
Ride 3.2 kilometers gaining 314 meters at 9.8% average grade.
Be sure to also visit our 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, Great Britain and Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs pages for more Great Britain cycling climbs.
This climb is in the Lake District and included annually in the Fred Whitton Saddle Back Challenge, one of the most popular sportives in the UK. PJAMM Fred Whitton Challenge Climb Page
This is a magnificent bucket list climb for all cyclists, not just British citizens. This is our favorite of Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. Hardknott Pass is a 10/10 in Simon Warren’s book and while that means it’s difficulty is 10 on a scale of 10, it could be a 10 for challenge and a 10 also for scenery. This ride is simply an amazing experience.
The Official 100 climb begins at the bridge over River Esk three kilometers from the pass. Starting at the bridge gives us a nearly flat (1.5%) 800 meter warm up until one of the greatest cycling challenges in the United Kingdom begins. The final 2.2 kilometers are at a very tough 14% average grade! There is a 300 meter segment near the pass that averages just over 21%.
Per the UK bike climbing treatise, Simon Warren’s book 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, you can ascend from both the east or west:
“The king of climbs and arguably the hardest road in the land, the legendary Hardknott Pass is an amazing sliver of tarmac. First built in 2nd century by the Romans, the pass is unbelievably tough from both directions. To climb from the east, begin at the warning sign at Jubilee Bridge. It's very steep into a small woodland, over a cattle grid and then you will see the enormity of your task. Enter the first of two sets of brutal switchbacks and wrench body and bike through the 25% corners. What follows is a brief levelling out but you can't put off what lies ahead for long. The second set of switchbacks are steeper still, and these now 30% slopes will have you straining every sinew as your front wheel desperately searches for a kinder gradient and weaves all over the road fighting to stay upright. If you can ride this, you can ride anything. Just keep going, then head down the terrifying descent” (The Guardian).
A nice Cycling Uphill article by Tejvan of April 24, 2014 notes:
“Haven’t ridden all the climbs in the UK, but it will be hard to beat Hardnott Pass for difficulty, drama and the beauty of the surroundings. I always think of Hardknott and Wrynose pass as the King and Queen hill climbs of England. In terms of overall length and height gain, it is not particularly spectacular. But, the great attraction (or should I say feature) of Hardknott is its unrelenting steepness. Sometimes 1/3 signs overrate the gradient of the actual climb. But, with Hardknott pass, the 1/3 is really merited. No matter which line you take, you can’t avoid considerable sections of 30%. This is really steep; it’s so steep you can have a strange feeling that you might fall over backwards when climbing. No matter how fit or not you are, getting up Hardknott pass gives a sense of achievement, which is hard to replicate on longer, but shallower climbs” (Read more).
One of the most popular climbs in the UK (27,829 Strava attempts as of October 6, 2018).
Wikipedia provides some history on the pass:
“A road over the pass was built by the Romans around AD 110 to link the coastal fort and baths at Ravenglass with their garrisons at Ambleside and Kendal. The Romans called this road the Tenth Highway. The road fell into disrepair after the Romans left Britain in the early 5th century, although it remained as an unpaved packhorse route thereafter. The road was originally used entirely for military traffic, but following the Romans' retreat from Britain was used to transport lead and agricultural goods. By the early Middle Ages, the road was known as the Waingate ("cart road") or Wainscarth ("cart pass"): there is an 1138 record of a party of monks traversing it in an oxcart. Hardknott pass and its surrounding area fell within the domain of the Lords of Millom, being situated between the headwaters of the Esk and Duddon. Grazing and hunting rights were given to the monks of Furness Abbey by the Lords of Millom in the 13th Century, which they held until the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-41)” (Hardknott Pass).
Roman fort plaque at km 1.7.
Grades: Hardknott Pass West
Steepest ½ kilometer begins at km 1.7 km (18.5%).
Grades: Hardknott Pass East
Steepest ½ kilometer begins at km .9 (16.5%)
These climbs are within Lake District National Park, 236,200 hectare (583,663 acres) established in 1951:
“The Lake District, also known as the Lakes or Lakeland, is a mountainous region in North West England. A popular holiday destination, it is famous for its lakes, forests and mountains (or fells) and its associations with the early 19th century writings of William Wordsworth and the other Lake Poets, Beatrix Potter, and John Ruskin. A National Park was established in 1951 and, following a minor extension in 2016, now covers an area of approximately 2,362 square kilometres. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.
It is located entirely within the county of Cumbria, and all the land in England higher than 3,000 feet (914 m) above sea level lies within the National Park, including Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. It also contains the deepest and longest bodies of water in England, respectively Wast Water and Windermere” (Lake District National Park).