When I was living in New York City, I heard rumors of a climb…a climb so awful that people flip off the back of their bikes if they’re not careful. A climb that makes pros cry like babies and walk their bikes up the hill.
After a little research, I found it: Platte Clove Road, just west of West Saugerties. The climb is so steep—averaging 12% for 2 miles with maximum extended grades exceeding 22%—that professionals riding in the Tour de Trump had to get off their bicycles and walk. I set this as my goal ride for 2012. But, being who I am, I set out to conquer Platte Clove only 2 weeks after moving up here.
I set out late on a Sunday morning, with the intent of riding the 65 miles and being home in time for an early dinner. The route starts with a nice, easy, rolling warm up on Krumville Road. “Down the Lane” road was closed, so I took a brief 2-mile detour to get back on track (instructions below), spinning past the Ashokan Reservoir and some lovely scenery.
I stopped at a gas station in Woodstock to top up my bottles and get a little food. Past this point, there are few opportunities to eat or refill your water bottles until Phoenicia, so be sure to do so now. Here, I had my only encounter this year with another road cyclist. Cyclists seem to be an exotic species out here in the Catskills. Alternatively, the relative scarcity of roadies in the area might be explained by the fact that we’re more spread out than people riding out of NYC—on any decent weekend, there’s a bicycle traffic jam on 9W north from the George Washington Bridge. Depending on where you live it can take an hour or more of misery to even get out of the city on a bicycle, and 9W is unpleasant at best, particularly north of Nyack. You would think that some of them might consider taking a train to ride somewhere decent. Maybe there’s safety in numbers?
I waved, he waved, and I continued north on West Saugerties Road to my date with destiny.
West Saugerties Road will lead to a T intersection. Take a left, and continue on West Saugerties Road, where you’ll have your first sighting of the challenge ahead.
You’ll see this sign, which marks the beginning of Platte Clove Road, one of the most difficult—if not the most difficult—climbs in the northeast. Over 1200 vertical feet in only 1.4 miles.
Platte Clove Road is officially closed and unmaintained from November to April, but I don’t think anyone is going to stop you from riding it even in the off season. Just use some common sense and don’t try to climb it in inclement weather. And don’t ride down Platte Clove Road. There’s no guardrail, and even though the southern edge of the road is nicely shaded with trees, it’s a long way down if you blow a turn.
I am proud to say that I did not walk at any point. I am less proud to admit that my achievement was primarily attributable to sensible gearing. Vanity gearing has its place on easy Bear Mountain runs from New York City, but out here it’s just not advisable, even if you are an exceptionally strong rider.
The climb is well worth it. The Clove is beautiful and has been the deserved subject of many paintings by Thomas Cole and other members of the Hudson River School. This view is arguably one of the most painted in the Hudson Valley.
Incidentally, you can also pick up Devil’s Path from Platte Clove Road. The aptly named Devil’s Path features 4 summits, little water, and is one of the toughest hikes in the Catskills. There’s a parking lot about halfway up the climb if you’re interested in hiking a section, just don’t bring children or pets, hikers are injured and some even die every year on Devil’s Path.
Platte Clove Road leads to one of the most inaccessible parts of the Catskills. At the top, you’ll find the Bruderhof (literally, “place of brothers”), a Christian community founded in 1920 by a Protestant theologian named Eberhard Arnold, his wife Emmy Arnold, and her sister Else von Hollander. Arnold was born in 1883, and at age 16 had an experience that he later described as God’s acceptance and forgiveness of his sins. He left the Protestant state church in 1908, and, as near as I can tell, joined the Hutterite branch of the Anabaptists. In 1920, he founded the Bruderhof in Germany, a Christian group that believes in living “in full community,” meaning that there is no private property. Seventeen years later, in 1937, the Nazi government ordered them to leave the country. They moved to England, but as German nationals during World War 2, they were offered the choice of internment or emigration. They chose to move to Paraguay, and finally–in 1954–to the United States.
The Platte Clove community, home to 250 people, was founded in 1990. It’s located on land formerly owned by the New York City Police department, which had built a resort hotel—informally known as “Police Camp” —complete with a movie theater, casino, bar, lounge, swimming pool, and ballroom. The Police Camp opened in 1921 and closed in 1983.
I was then treated to a cold rain. The camera went in a zip lock, so I didn’t take a photo; the following image is from the Platte Clove Community website.
The Catskill Bruderhof and the new Police Recreation Center are open to the public every day. I’m not sure if they will feed you, but you may be able to refill your water bottles.
After Platte Clove Road, you’ll ride over some gently rolling terrain high in the mountains. A nice recovery from the climb, and some beautiful scenery to keep your mind off the pain.
From there you’ll take a left onto route 214…
…and after a few more miles of a gentle false flat you’ll hit a 16.5 mile descent past Notch Lake and Hunter Mountain. At mile 46 you’ll pass through Phoenicia, which—despite its population of 306—hosts a number of good restaurants. As usual, I skipped a formal meal in favor of some Power Bars and a Coke in the local gas station. On your way out of Phoenicia, you’ll briefly follow Esopus Creek, famed for its trout fishing.
From there, you’re home free!
I rode 75 miles—about 10 miles more than the planned route. Although it was a short ride by my standards, the steepness of the climbs make it as tough as any single day ride I’ve done before or since. This is what I’d call a destination ride—it’s worth the trip and even a stay in a hotel in Stone Ridge or Woodstock. Here’s the original route without detours:
The Garmin file for the route, starting from near my house, is here. If “Down the Lane” Road between miles 5 and 6 is closed, simply take a left on 213, a right on 28A, and then a right on Beaverkill Road to rejoin the route. If you want to start in Stone Ridge, take this route to the start on Krumville Road. You could also start in New Paltz or Poughkeepsie (you will need to follow route 209 from Kerhonksen to Schoonmaker Lane, just before Stone Ridge, to pick up the route).
Enjoy, and let me know if you can make it up Platte Clove Road without a break! In a few weeks I’ll post my favorite 80- to 90-mile route out of Brewster, the last direct stop on Metro North. A summer classic, and perhaps one of the best rides ever. So good, in fact, that it is one of the few rides I repeat multiple times each summer.
Nice write up!
Regarding some of the lore around the “Devil’s Kitchen” climb: it was featured in the 1990 Tour de Trump, and many of the pros walked it. But it was on stage 12, after 1100 miles of racing, it was raining that day, and most of the walkers were sprinters who were well out of GC contention.
In 2011 and 2012 the climb featured in stage 2 of Tour of the Catskills. The climb came at the very end of a 65 mile / 4500 foot stage, and the temperature both years was over 90 degrees. Almost all of the P/1/2 field rode the climb both years, (Many riders in the other fields walked.)
No question, it is a positively brutal climb. It is steep and relentless, and every time you think it is over there’s another wall in front of you. You will see plenty of shattered souls there on the first Saturday of August. But it’s a bit of a rural legend that the climb makes the pros weep and crawl.
PS: it is a testament to the toughness of Platte Clove that after finishing it, you climbed Stony Clove and referred to it as “a few more miles of a gentle false flat.” 🙂
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John, I thoroughly enjoyed your write up about Platt Cove Road. I had the pleasure (sort of) of riding it in April several years ago. Yes, I did have to stop a couple of times but I have a medical condition that flares up from time to time that prevents me from becoming a strong climber; overeatus vulgarus and timium passagus rapidium. I also came down Platt Cove once, and will never do that again. At some point I had a rear flat but did not realize it because there was no weight on that wheel.
I look forward to reading more and attempting some of the other climbs and rides. I’ll be in Kaatsban in April so I’m looking for some cool places to ride.
Rich, Scotch Plains, NJ
It’s Memorial Day weekend, 2014, and I’m coming back from a 300-mile loop through the Catskills. I’m a touring cyclist, don’t have the engine and compensate with REALLY low gear: 20 teeth front to 34 rear… yes, and the bike is loaded. I managed the whole climb sitting down, although stopped once on a flattish section to take pictures. Several years back I did Glade Hill Rd on a loaded bike with 22/32 gearing, and distinctly remember the front wheel lifting up when I had to pull on the bars really hard… This time I strategically loaded more weight into the front panniers to keep the front wheel from lifting off the road. (I guess on a racing bike you not only stand up but move your weight forward, over the front wheel.) Anyway, it was fun.
You say “I am less proud to admit that my achievement was primarily attributable to sensible gearing.” I wonder what you call sensible? I did it this weekend (along with Mead Mountain) using a 34×28 and I had to zigzag on both of them.
34 x 28 too. And yes, there was some zigging and zagging going on!
I really appreciate your insights and candor. Your writing gave me good guide posts to get there and to get what I expected—and more. I hereby declare you a real beast! Just this morning, I took your inspiration, started from Woodstock, down to Saugerties and up Platte Clove. I used a 39 front, 24 rear combination (fun detail: my Campy would not shift into the 26 today of all days!). For background, I have a little bit of experience climbing on my bike: the Sierra Nevada of CA, the CO Rockies, the Adirondacks including White Face Memorial Highway, Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, a week riding Giro d’Italia Dolomite climbs–even foolishly rode Bald Mountain in GA with a backpack full of wine and cheese,
And? Platte Cove was the hardest climb I have ever ridden hands-down. I had never “paperboyed” a climb before. And while I did not have to stop up Platte Cove, this was the first climb that ever made me THROW-UP at the top. I also had never before felt true fear on a descent—but this one scared the “holy shit” (out-loud) of me more than once. Of course, I blew a tire at the bottom as promised.
Full props to you for this climb and more!!!! You and this road are both beasts!
Yes, but I now ride up Platte Clove with 1:1 gearing, so it’s not quite at your level of accomplishment!
Thanks for the compliment but my 8 am OJ did not give me such a sweet taste of victory at 11 o’clock 🙂
Thanks for the write-up on Platte Clove. I live in Virginia now but I grew up there. I lived off Manorville Rd and frequently rode my motorcycle (Yamaha DT250) up and down THE ROAD. The part you missed is riding through Tannersville and down the other side through Palenville (a much better road).
Your blog helped inspire me to give this a try the other day. And I made it! Full account here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fiveanddiamond/22097287972 Thank You, Lisa
Platte Clove was used both years of the Tour de Trump, with the first being 1989. Stage 1 ran from Albany to New Paltz, and it was during that stage that pro riders walked, probably because compared to the Alps they weren’t expecting such a difficult climb. Team Panasonic (IIRC) waited for support cars and changed to wheels with lower gearing.
After catching the race somewhere further north, along route 32 I was a bit too late getting there, so settled for watching the peloton fly by a few miles after the climb in ’89. Luckily I was able to follow that up by catching them about 200 yards before the top of Mountain Rest Road, which was the final significant climb before the finish in New Paltz. My first spot, along route 32 was just before a feed station, and I came home with about a half dozen official water bottles that were tossed by the riders.
For the race in ’90 a friend and I planned a bit better. I drove up in his truck fairly early, parked at the top and walked down to watch at the steepest section. My friend, who had become much better than me, rode up from Kingston, climbing with a 42/28 (maybe 30?). As he slowly ground his way up from the hairpin I heard somebody nearby say something along the lines of “Man, that guy’s not using a granny gear”. A while later the lead racers arrived. My collection of pictures include a few of Alcala, and one of Bobrick bringing up the rear with the broom wagon just behind him.
We headed up to the truck and hustled north a bit, and my friend rode a bit more of the race route, until he was chased off when the course marshal caught up to him. Shortly before that he came through Cairo, getting a lot of cheering from people who thought he was the first racer arriving.
I only rode up the clove a few times, on a ca. ’81 Miyata touring bike. Pretty sure the crankset was 52/42/34, and a 30 or 32T large cog on the rear. I rode back down the first time I climbed it. It wasn’t a one-time thing because it scared me or I was worried about going off the road. It’s because it was so bumpy that I was on the brakes the entire time and still found it unpleasant at perhaps 15mph. It’s a great, though very challenging climb, but the sensible thing is to either follow it up with more climbing in Stony Clove or Deep Notch, or enjoy a fast and smooth descent through Kaaterskill Clove.
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hi all…just did Platte cove today (10/16 ) for the 22nd time this year since covid 19 …..and I’m shooting 30 before the snow falls..it actually gets easier each time but it always hurts…I live about 45 minutes away so I can get up there a lot