For reasons yet to be fully explained, we cyclists are drawn to the sky like moths to a flame. We seek out paths that take us heavenward, inviting the punishment that comes with such a journey. For roadies in the Upstate of South Carolina, there is perhaps no place more fitting for such a description as Skyuka.
Getting there is half the fun, of course. The prominence of the southeasternmost peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains makes these sentinels visible from much of the Upstate, as far as forty or more miles away. There are many approaches from which you may start your climb, the closest of which would be from Columbus, NC, near the base of the climb up Skyuka Mountain Road. Other potential starting locations in North Carolina would include Lynn or Tryon, where you also have the option of adding Hogback Mountain to your plate, should you desire a double helping of pain. I chose to start my trek this day in the familiar town of Landrum, SC, seeking out quiet roads from which I could prepare my legs for the sufferfest to come. This added an extra 1,000 feet of elevation to my ride, hardly noticeable in light of what was in store!
With grades approaching 20% at times on the switchbacks, there are almost no other places in the foothills where you can get as difficult an ascent, outside perhaps Howards Gap (which is shorter and has less overall elevation to cover). Personally, I think a pedestrian would have made faster progress on some parts than I was making on two wheels. I know I certainly made more use of my granny gear than I ever had before! At times, I wished I had two more gears below my 32T on this first attempt at tackling this beast.
The Skyuka Mountain Road side has many switchbacks with only the occasional view through the trees to remind me of why I was enduring this in the first place. I did happen upon a spring or other water source trickling down a rock shelf on my way up, providing a brief distraction from the effort. Notice the oblique angle formed by the white paint….
Now I just want to say that I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from making this climb, that is unless you want to try some insanity like going up on a single speed beach cruiser from Wal-Mart or such (now that I’ve said it, I’m sure someone will try it). If you do try such a feat and end up making it to the top, you will likely get killed when your brakes fail on the descent! ( I absolve myself of any responsibility if you choose to ignore this warning.)
Seriously though, this is not your beginner’s climb. Fit 160 lb. individuals would probably need to average 200W or more for the greater part of the climb, about 40 minutes at that output, just to keep a reasonable cadence. Any less, and you probably would end up falling on your posterior during the switchbacks as your speed drops to almost zero. If you do bust your behind, however, make sure you take a selfie so you can post it to your Strava feed, that way you at least can get some love back from your buddies for your troubles.
Thankfully, there is a reason why thousands of cyclists have attempted this climb, and it is likely for the breathtaking views of the Green River Game Lands to the Northwest at the pinnacle of the ascent. Upon reaching the end of the climb, one is presented (conveniently) with a perfect place to stop and chronicle the achievement, fully equipped with aesthetic rock outcropping and beautiful view.
The southeastern face of the mountain also commands some stunning views of the Piedmont of the Carolinas, although there is no designated place to stop on the side of the road to take in the view. This shot was taken from the shoulder just before I started back down. On a much clearer day, one could probably see 50 miles or more.
To be perfectly honest, after having descended the White Oak Mountain side, I probably would have preferred ascending via that route as it has more views and beautiful Shunkawauken Falls, which I passed by too fast to snap a picture. Either way, however, you will find this climb to be a memorable and challenging one!