Each September cyclists from around the country test their endurance and climbing legs at Six Gap, a well known 100 mile century ride that starts and finishes in Dahlonega, north Georgia, and loops through the surrounding Appalachian Mountains. The Six Gaps, or mountains, make for a very challenging ride with over 10,000 feet of climbing.
Every year I organize a cycling camp in this area; one of my favorites for cycling with its quiet, scenic and challenging roads in the Appalachian Mountains. This area is also a favorite for hikers with the Appalachian Trail running along the summits of the Gaps.
During our camp this early June, it was only fitting therefore that we stayed at the Hiker Hostel, about 6 miles north of Dahlonega and a perfect launch pad to do some epic cycling.
As our group rolled out to conquer the Six Gaps we knew a hot day was ahead of us. This area had been experiencing a heat wave recently and temperatures were expected to soar to over 95 F (35 C) on the road.
As we descended towards Turners Corner, I savored the last bit of freshness in the morning air. At Turner’s Corner a left turn on road 129 would take us immediately on to the first Gap of the day, Neels Gap.
Neels Gap is the longest of the Six Gaps at over 7 miles (12 kms). The good quality road surface and steady grade of around 4% makes Neels quite manageable despite its length. Our group tackled the climb at a manageable pace, holding some strength back for later challenges.
A regroup at the summit to fill up on some cold water and then it was down the descent of Neels, a fun reward for climbing the mountain before Jacks Gap, our next challenge of the day.
The climb of Jacks Gap is 4 miles (6.5km) on a quiet country road with a rough road surface. The climb has some steep sections of between 7-10%. These steep sections are divided by short downhill sections, a welcome break from the challenging grade.
At the Summit of Jacks the road to Brasstown Bald forks to the left. Brasstown Bald mountain was made famous in the Tour of Georgia pro race as the climb that often decided the race overall. Brasstown is an incredibly steep climb with an average gradient of well over 12% and parts as steep as 22%! We would save this incredibly challenging mountain for another day.
The descent of Jacks is mostly straight before turning right on to Road 75 / 17 towards Unicoi Gap. This part of the ride is one of my favorite with mountain rivers and picturesque landscapes feeding the eyes.
Once we turned towards Unicoi Gap in the direction of the German village lookalike of Helen, the road became smoother again which also meant a road more traveled by cars. The climb of Unicoi Gap is one of the least challenging at an average gradient of just over 5% for 3.4 miles (5.4 km).
The descent down Unicoi is exhilarating with sweeping turns on a smooth road surface. The better descenders of our group would be dropping even the motor cycles down Unicoi.
Three Gaps down and still three to go. Next up was Hogpen Gap, which is by far the most challenging of the route. Once we turned off road 75 / 17 on to road 75, a few “rollers” would warm-up the legs after the descent, something of an “aperitif” before the “main meal” of Hogpen.
At the 45 mile mark a road sign for road 348 “scenic highway” meant we had arrived at the toughest Gap of the ride, Hogpen Gap. Hogpen is about 7 miles (11 km) with an average gradient of 6%, not a true indicator of the severity of the climb and due to a few downhill sections falsifying the average.
What makes Hogpen so tough is that it pitches up at a constant 9-12% gradient for a good 3 miles. Combined with 95F (35 C) on the road, it was survival of the fittest to get to the summit. Some of our group could not make it on this day; the heat combined with the steepness was just too much.
The descent of Hogpen is one of the scariest I have ever done where speeds of over 55 miles (88km) an hour are easily achieved.
Wolfpen Gap, the fifth Gap of the ride, is one of my favorite climbs with its many turns shaded by trees. The road surface being rough indicated that we were back on quiet, country roads.
Wolfpen is just over 3 miles (5kms). Some sections are quite steep at 7-10% but overall it is quite gradual with an average gradient of 3.5%. Wolfpen is the last real challenging climb of the Six Gap route. After a fun descent a few more “rollers’ would sting our tired legs on the road to Suches. Once we arrived in Suches, a left turn on to road 60 meant we were very close to the final Gap of the day, Woody’s Gap.
After all the tough climbing of the day, Woody’s Gap, by comparison, is a little bump in the road at less than 2 miles in length and at a gentle gradient. The descent off of Woody’s is another fun descent and offers stunning views of the Appalachian mountains. A huge pile of rocks at the bottom of Woody’s indicates the bottom of the descent. Legend has it that a Cherokee princess is buried under the “rock pile” and dropping a stone on her gravesite will bring good fortune.
From the Rock Pile, it was only one mile to our base camp at the Hiker Hostel. This challenging ride would take the majority of the group well over 6 hours to complete and included a total of over 9,300 feet of climbing. Epic!
To see the Garmin File, click here