Tim Johnson has become the first cyclist to climb Mount Washington, the tallest peak in Northeast US, during the winter. On February 2, the Redbull sponsored rider climbed the 4,685 feet to the summit on a fat bike in temperatures as low as -28 Celsius with gusting winds.
Mount Washington Auto Road is one of the most notorious ascents in US bike racing, used annually for the Mount Washington Bicycle Hill Climb in New Hampshire since 1973, and as an auto race course since 1904.
The climb is 12.2 kilometres and its infamously brutal slopes average a 12 per cent grade, with a maximum of 22 per cent. Tom Danielson holds the record for the mid-August event with a time of 49:24 set in 2002. Other former winners include Tyler Hamilton and Phil Gaimon.
Johnson is also a two-time winner in 2000 and 2001, when his fastest time was 53:31. With special permission from Mount Washington officials to ride up Auto Road this winter on a fat bike, Johnson completed the 4,685 feet of climbing in 1:45:48 in wind speeds reaching 49 mph.
“I feel like I was fighting being too hot in the beginning because the first pitch out of the parking lot is one of the steepest pitches of the entire climb. You go from standing still to immediately realizing that this is one of the hardest climbs in North America,” Johnson said in a report on the Red Bull website.
“By the time I got up to the Hair Pin turn (6.5 miles, 5,700 feet), it was really windy, I had no traction and it was really tough to find anyway to keep moving forward. I couldn’t even stay upright.”
Mount Washington is famous for its dangerous winter conditions and at one time held the highest recorded wind speed on land of 231 mph. Winds weren’t gusting that fast during Johnson’s climb but a Mount Washington employee warned him of winds reaching 55 mph.
“One of the older, more-established Mount Washington site employees actually said to me, 'I just want you to know that we require our snowmobiles to have carbide spikes — on the tracks and even skis — because when the wind is more than 55 mph, it can push lighter vehicles right off the road.' And then he paused and said, 'But, I understand you’re kind of a bad ass mountain biker, so it shouldn’t be a problem for you.' That made me think: Oh, s#it, really — that can happen?"
It was an emotional accomplishment for Johnson, who acknowledged his relationship with his late father before attempting the climb up Mount Washington, in the Red Bull-published video interview.
“It’s a chance for me to go to a place that I really, really love, and over the years of racing convinced myself that it was what I was made to do. I spent a lot of my childhood in New Hampshire, and my dad lived up here. He died in March 2008, so kind of midway through my career. The thing that we always had together was; he would always ask me how my races went, or how they were.
“He brought me to every Mount Washington Hill Climb that I did. I never really got to share the times in the racing, but we always talked about the racing, and Mount Washington is, I dunno, just another reason, another chance. There are only so many chances you get to do something for someone else – that makes it work it.”