The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center is a secret government installation less than 50 miles west of Washington, D.C. It's reportedly part of a plan that would relocate some of the nation's leaders in the event of a nuclear attack on American soil. It's also a great place for road cyclists to train. Virginia's Mount Weather — a Category 3 climb from the south and a Cat. 4 ascent from the north — is a popular spot for competitive road cyclists to push themselves and test their limits.
What Makes It Great
The best way to reach the base, at least from the south, is on Rt. 50 via Upperville. It's a busy road with a lot of cars, so stay in the shoulder and ride with a group, if possible.
The road actually starts to point uphill on Rt. 50, a little more than a mile before you turn right onto Blue Ridge Mountain Road. Once you make that right, the road kicks up to over a 10 percent gradient, with short ramps at 13 and 15 percent in the first tenth of a mile.
From there, pitches in the mid-teens will test your legs and keep you in the small chainring. The road briefly goes downhill about halfway up, 1.5 miles in, but just as quickly it shoots up to nearly an 18 percent grade.
The last mile mostly has gradients between 5 and 10 percent. The ascending stops before the Mount Weather Operations Center, which lies atop the mountain on a ridge. Climbing up Blue Mountain Road from the south measures 2.9 miles and averages 5 percent over 753 feet of elevation gain. Starting from the middle of Upperville on Rt. 50, however, makes it a Cat. 2 climb at 7.5 miles and 1,256 feet of gain.
Take Snickersville Turnpike through Bluemont on your way from the north. That road has a 1-mile climb that averages 5.8 percent and hovers between 7 and 12 percent in the last quarter mile.
From there, follow the road around a hairpin — where it flattens out — up to Rt. 7, a divided highway. Be careful as you cross the highway to get to the westbound side. Ride in the wide shoulder heading west for a half mile before crossing traffic again and taking a left up Blue Ridge Mountain Road. Then look up and see what you're in for because it's steep and straight.
The first half mile of this 1.2-mile climb is the hardest, with pitches over 10 percent. It becomes more gradual after that but it's still not easy. You may use all of your gears in this first section, but don't worry: it gets easier in the second half and you'll be able to upshift to put some more power into your pedal strokes.
As is the case with the southern ascent, the climbing stops before you reach the mountaintop facility. When you reach it, pose for a quick photo in front of the sign outside the gate.
Descending the mountain is another challenge. From the north heading to Rt. 50, the road features sweeping turns and a few sharp ones. Heading the other way, however, is roughly a mile straight down with Rt. 7 below. Sit up and feather your brakes to control your speed.
Who is Going to Love It
Road cyclists looking to test themselves on one of the most well-known climbs in the Washington, D.C. area. The climb, however, is not for inexperienced cyclists because of some steep pitches and fast descents on both sides of the mountain.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To reach the north end, get on Snickersville Turnpike and ride toward Bluemont, Va. a small town west of Leesburg. From there, hop on Rt. 7 and then turn left onto Blue Ridge Mountain Road. The southern end is located off Rt. 50 near Upperville, Va.