Welcome to the cutting-edge of uphill cycling
and world's most famous ascents of each of the continents
|Southamerica:||Chivay-Arequipa / Peru||4,910m||Uturuncu / Bolivia||5,768m|
|Asia:||Taglang La / India||5,358m||Marsimik La / India||5,680m|
|Africa:||Dodola-Dinsho / Ethiopia||3,610m||Tulluu Dimtuu / Ethiopia||4,377m|
|Northamerica:||Mount Evans / USA||4,307m||White Mountain Peak / USA||4,344m|
|Oceania:||Mauna Loa / Hawaii (USA)||3,397m||Mauna Kea / Hawaii (USA)||4,200m|
|Europe:||Pico del Veleta / Spain||3,394m||Mulhacen / Spain||3,482m|
|France:||Cime de la Bonette||2,802m||Col du Jandri||3,150m|
|Austria:||Ötztal Glacier Road||2,822m||Gaislachkogel||3,040m|
|Europe||Pico del Veleta||3,394m|
|France||Col du Jandri||3,150m|
Any search for world’s highest bikeable roads is currently subject to disruptive changes due to increasing use of electric mountain bikes. Additionally, the search is mainly characterized by indefinable actual
altitudes of respective roads. Relevant literature, maps and information on the internet
provide many thousands of (often questionable and conflicting) results. In particular in the Himalayas, in the Andes and in Africa new roads are constantly under construction and actual trafficability of such roads
is subject to changes of political and climate conditions in these areas. And some of existing high altitude runways deteriorate more and more. In addition, regular introduction of new light carbon materials, lower standard gears both at mountain bikes and road bikes and the use of electric bikes give the opportunity to climb higher altitudes than in the past.
Besides the Himalayas the Bolivian Altiplano and the Chilean Atacama desert are respective areas with highest roads in the world. In the past such roads were built to reach sulphur mines in an elevation of more than 5,000 meters. In recent times new astronomical observatories have been established in the Atacama Desert including runways leading to the facilities in respective altitudes.
In terms of accurate altitude measurement it should be considered that both GPS and barometric altimeters have their respective weaknessess. GPS provides incorrect results if in dead spots less than four satellites are available for measurement. In this case only global position can be determined exactly but you can not rely on the reported elevation. Thus most popular GPS-devices do actually not determine actual elevation by GPS but by an integrated barometric altimeter. And barometric devices only provide reliable results if they have previously been calibrated and if weather conditions stay unchanged. In particular, the correct calibration can become quite difficult in remote areas of the Andes or the Himalayas. Anyhow, interaction of GPS and barometric altitude data in numerous travel reports, the contour lines in Google Maps and the elevation data in Google Earth provide a reasonably reliable picture of the actual situation.
In any case the fundamental question is whether a route is uphill passable on a bicycle, at all. Of course, you can partly ride, push and carry your bike cross country and thus reach any mountain peak. This may even lead in some cases to reported heights of more than 6,000 meters in Bolivia, Ladakh/India or in particular at Ojos del Salado/Chile. However, present search for the highest roads follows the simple idea that a road is continuously uphill bikeable if also a motorized two-lane vehicle finds its way on a route designated for that purpose - but actually even these runways are not always cyclable.
If you want to climb great heights in Europe by bike, you should not only look at the Alps, but also and especially at the Spanish Sierra Nevada in Andalusia. The road paths to Pico del Veleta (3,394m) and Mulhacen (3,482m) are accessible by road bike and mountain bike, respectively, and represent the highest and longest climbs in Europe. However, Mulhacen is closed to mountain bikers.
In the Alps, the El Dorado for high-altitude riders lies on the Breithorn massif in the border region between Switzerland and Italy. Within a radius of around 20 km, extremely challenging mountain bike climbs lead to the Theodulpass (3,332m), the Hohtälli (3,286m), the Hohsaas (3,142m), the Rothorn (3,103m) and the Gornergrat (3,089m). The even more adventurous riders can climb their fat bikes on glaciated Breithorn plateau up to the Gobba di Rollin (3,899m). However, Swiss piste police may stop you and impose a fine of 200 Swiss Francs. The 3,000m limit can also be exceeded by mountain bike on the French trails to Col du Jandri (3,150m) and Mont Chaberton (3,131m). In South Tyrol, unpaved ways lead to the Madritschjoch (3,123m) and the Ortlerhaus (3,025m). And in the Ötztal Alps gravel paths lead to the Gaislachkogel (3,040m) and Wurmkogel (3,023m) at corresponding heights. All the 3,000m peaks mentioned above provide for unavoidable pushing passages for hobby cyclists (without motor support). The easiest 3.000m climb in the Alps is Italian Colle Sommeiller (3,009m) - if it actually reaches 3.000m at all.
For racing cyclists the highest climbs in the Alps lead to the Ötztal Glacier (2,822m), the Cime de la Bonette (2,802m) and the Col de l'Iseran (2,770m). The magical 2,500m limit can be challenged in the Alps on about ten asphalted ramps (depending on how you count them) .
At Chilean volcano Ojos del Salado the Refugio Tejos (5,820m) can be accessed through a dirt track runway using a motorized 4x4 car. This route even proceeds to a maximum elevation of some 5,900 meters. Beyond this point several elevation world records have been set by all-terrain vehicles or by using using fat-tyred mountain bikes. However, the runway up to Refugio Tejos is said to be very rocky and sandy and provides an average gradient of 15% on its last kilometers. Thus this way is actually deemed not rideable with an ordinary bike.
Current world's highest cyclable road is located in the southwest of Bolivia and leads up to the mountain saddle of double-peaked volcano Uturuncu with its peak elevation of 5,768 meters. Until the 1990s there was a sulphur mine at the volcano which could be accessed by using this mine road. Nowadays the runway is only maintained by few local tourist guides. Thus this way is currently not blocked by landslides (as indicated in several trip reports) but motorable up to the mountain saddle (November 2013). After a reasonable time of acclimatisation this climb is actually cyclable.
Besides Uturuncu the current situation at Chilean/Bolivian volcano Acotango is interesting. Due to sulphur mining activities on top of this mountain the old Bolivian mine road has been renewed in recent years and work at this road is still in progress. Independent sources report the actual end of this road at a GPS measured elevation of some 5,700m. Road conditions are said to be more trafficable than at Uturuncu.
At Chilean volcano Aucanquilcha there was in the past a sulphur mine at an altitude of even above 6,000 meters and a dead-end road was leading up there. However, as the mine is no longer in operation the road currently deteriorates and is thus reported to be partly blocked and no longer trafficable above 5,500 meters. At close-by active volcano Ollague there is still some sulphur mining both on Bolivian and Chilean side of the mountain. On both sides unpaved roads lead up to the respective mines at an elevation of 5,500m. The same height can be accessed on a gravel way at volcan Tacora in the border area of Chile and Peru. All these mentioned roads can be identified on satellite images and Google Maps/Earth confirm respective altitudes.
Another rideable runway is the unpaved dead-end road in La Paz/Bolivia up to the former ski area Chacaltaya (5,200 meters / 17,061 ft). And some 250 kilometers northwest of La Paz the world's highest town is situated in Peru: La Rinconada (5,100 meters / 16,733 ft) can be accessed through a dirt track road. In addition there are several other nameless passroads in Peru's provinces of Arequipa and Apurimac said to exceed 5,000 meters at their peaks.
Further high spots can be found on the plateau of Chilean Atacama desert, driest desert in the world. Due to the climate conditions in that stone desert several astronomical observatories have been erected there in the past. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) site with its several astronomical facilities is located there. On Cerro Chajnantor at an elevation of 5,612 meters / 18,412 ft several universities currently construct the Cornell Caltech Atacama Telescope (CCAT). Satellite images and photographs on the CCAT-website clearly show a trafficable runway up to the facility. However, whole area is non-public and access is ALMA-controlled. On enquiry CCAT and ALMA representatives unfortunately refuse any access to Cerro Chajnantor and a fence actually blocks the road. Nearby at Cerro Sairecabur a mobile Receiver Lab Telescope can be found at an altitude of 5,525 meters / 18,127 ft. This observatory and the respective road up there can also be clearly identified on satellite images. Pictures on scientific websites providing information on that observatory show 4x4 cars next to the facility and the satellite images even show that the road continues up to an elevation of more than 5,600 meters.
Highest paved road in South America (likewise in the world) is supposed to be Ticlio-Pass/Abra Anticona (4,818 meters / 15,808 ft) east of Lima in Peru. But asphalted Paso de Jama connecting Argentina with San Pedro de Atacama in Chile has its Chilean peak at an elevation of 4,831 meters / 15,846 ft. However, there seems to be an even higher cleanly asphalted route in Peru: The road from Chivay to Arequipa has its peak apparently at 4,910 meters / 16,110 ft. Photos on the internet show the nameless pass summit with a stone sign indicating this altitude and Google Earth/Maps confirm an elevation of some 4,860 meters – higher than Ticlio-Pass and Paso de Jama!
Current situation in the Himalayas is quite ambiguous and unclear as many information on the internet can hardly be verified and relied on. One of the most interesting news is the said refurbishment of a pass road in Indian Ladakh up to Umling La (5,786m). This road is identifiable on satellite images and is deemed to be currently renewed. Some sources even label largely unknown Tibetan Lajiong La (5,821m) as trafficable (also identifiable on satellite images). Other unpaved mountain roads lead up to Kiu La (5,711m) and at Indian/Tibetan border to Mana La = Dungri La (>5,600m). At Siachen Glacier satellite images show a road from the Chinese side up to Karakoram Pass (mostly reported with 5,575 meters). And at Ladakh Marsimik La a gravel runway winds up to 5,680 meters. However, most named dirt tracks are situated in miltary strategic areas in the border region of India, Pakistan, China and/or Tibet. Access to these areas is often strictly restricted and you can not obtain reliable information about the trafficabilty and road conditions of the passes. Finally, it is hardly possible to determine the current highest cyclable road in the Himalayas. Given facts argue at the moment for Marsimik La being the highest actually accessible pass road for cyclists. Anyhow, the rapidly changing conditions at Umling La may require a new assessment of the current situation. Currently, Umling La is still said to be prohibited to tourist cyclists.
The title “Highest motorable road in the world” is still wrongfully being claimed by the Khardung La (5,602 meters / 18,380 ft) in Ladakh/Indian Himalayas. This information can be found on site and is repeated countless times in several travelogues. However, the reported elevation of 5,602 meters is obviously wrong. Actual altitude of that pass likely seems to be only some 5,360 meters. Latter specification can be found in an increasing number of recent trip reports and is consistent with the Google Maps/Earth altitude indication.
Other cyclable high altitude dirt road passes are Tibetan Semo La (5,565 meters / 18,259 ft) and Suge La (mostly indicated with 5,430 meters / 17,816 ft). Additionally, the classic mountain bike route from Tibetan Lhasa to Nepalese Kathmandu traverses on its 1,000 kilometers distance several passes with more than 5,000 meters of altitude. However, on Tibetan side this way currently turns into a road for heavy load traffic and becomes partly asphalted. Tibetan Gyatso La = Lhakpa La (5,220m / 17,127ft) is one of these cyclable high altitude passes. An even higher roadpass is Ladakh main road from Manali to Leh up to Taglang La (5,358m / 17,580ft). This road has recently become paved on its entire way and is now said the highest asphalted pass in the Himalayas (and likely in the world). In addition, the road to Tibetan Everest Base Camp (5,150m) has also been asphalted recently and its climb is offered by Chinese road cycling tour operators.
Africa's highest roads should be found either in Morocco, in the mountainous East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) or in the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa/Lesotho. As some of these areas are still not well developed but Third World countries it is hard to obtain reliable information about conditions and elevations of mountain roads there.
In Ethiopian Highlands there are several roads with their peaks at an elevation of more than 3,000 meters. Near Mount Buahit in the Semien Mountains you can even find an unpaved runway with its highest point above 4,000 meters. And in the southeast of Ethiopia an asphalted road leads to the Bale Mountain National Park. This road has its highest nameless spot at an altitude of 3,610m / 11,844ft between the villages of Dodola and Dinsho. However, the gravel road through Sanette Plateau in the Bale Mountains National Park is even higher: A dead-end side road leads to a telecommunication facility on the summit of Mount Tulluu Dimtuu (4,377m / 14,361ft), one of the tallest mountains of the country. This road is accessible by bicycle.
South African Drakensberg Mountains have their highest summits in embedded Lesotho. There you can find a paved road through the country with its peak at Tlaeeng Pass (3,251 meters / 10,666 ft). Pictures on the internet show this pass with an asphalted road and the respective altitude indication. Google Maps/Earth confirms this elevation. The way from South Africa to Lesotho leads via Sani Pass (2,873 meters / 9,426 ft) and Kotisephola Pass/Black Mountain Pass (3,240 meters / 10,630 ft) both obviously being only graveled runways.
At Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania professional tour operators guide mountain bikers to the summit (5,895m). However, generally the National Park is completely closed to cyclists. Thus, you can only ride on a paved road (with murderous motorized traffic) up to Marangu Gate at some 1,900 meters.
Northamerica's highest roads all exceeding an elevation of 4,300m and accessible by bicycle are mainly situated in the Rocky Mountains in the US State of Colorado. The roads up to the two adjacent peaks Mount Evans (4,307 meters / 14,131 ft) and Pikes Peak (4,301 meters / 14,112 ft) have always been competing for tourists and visitors. The road winding to Mount Evans has been continuously paved for a long time and is thus rideable on a road bike. And since 2013 cyclists are also permitted to climb all the asphalted way up to Pikes Peak summit. Highest gravel road is located in Californian White Mountains: White Mountain Peak (4,344m) can be accessed by mountain bike.
Provided Hawaii belongs geographically to Oceania the partly graveled road up to the observatory at Mauna Kea volcano (4,200 meters / 13,808 ft) should be the highest bikeable road on the continent. Face-to-face with Mauna Kea another volcano is located: Mauna Loa has an observatory at its northern side at an elevation of 3,397 meters / 11,169 ft. This facility is actually accessible on a narrow but asphalted runway leading through solidified lava up to the observatory. Otherwise the road up to the ski resort Charlotte Pass (1,840 meters / 6,037 ft) close to Mount Kosciuszko in Australia should be named the highest road of the continent rideable on a road bike. Whether there are even higher roads in New Zealand or in New Guinea is unknown, but unlikely anyhow.
Even Antarctica has an unpaved "road": The trafficable snow runway of South Pole Traverse winds 1,500 kilometers from McMurdo Harbour and the Ross Ice Shelf through the Transantarctic Mountains towards the South Pole. The Traverse is used by snow vehicles to provide Amundsen-Scott-Station at the South Pole (2,835m / 9,302ft) with necessary equipment. On a different route cyclists reached in January 2012 the South Pole for the first time on specifically manufactured bicycles with fat tires. The tour led through the Antarctic Plateau (average height 3,000 meters) and was accompanied by support cars and a television crew. However, the trip was partly realised on skis and with wind sails. And as lowest temperatures in the Antarctic summer decline to some minus 40 degrees Celsius riding on a bicycle may become a little uncomfortable in that region.