I have quite enjoyed climbing in higher gears. It just takes me some patience, as my inclination is to pedal as fast as I can, which requires a low gear. If I can chill out a bit, I can push a higher gear at a lower cadence and get up the hill feeling a little better for it. On my last cycling trip I found that I often started out at the back of the pack on the first part of the hill, but passed them all eventually when they generally blew up from trying to sustain a higher cadence.
I'm certainly plenty slow going up a hill, but enjoying it more now that I've learned to use the higher gears. The other revelation was judicious use of standing. Generally I shift up 2-3 gears when I am feeling like a change, then stand for anywhere from 20-40 revolutions, then sit back down and drop down the 2 or 3 gears again. Gives my back a little rest, and in the higher gear I actually move a little faster while standing. Then I feel more lively when I am sitting again.
Charlie that's interesting. Most people would find that a lower gear (and faster cadence) is easier to maintain for a longer period of time, as the limiting factor is cardiovascular rather than muscular. Pushing a bigger gear takes more leg muscle, which is more likely to get fatigued.
Though, like you, I love standing when climbing hills. Especially when mountain biking, I'm rarely on the saddle, both because that makes technical stuff easier, and because that's how I'd prefer to get up and down hills.
Something a cycling coach pointed out to me many years back is that when standing (on a road bike), if you move your hips closer to the handlebars, it uses different muscles and allows you to relax some of the muscles you use while spinning.
Though I haven't ridden much lately (sadly), I tend to prefer pushing bigger gears until the pitch gets stupid steep. I find I get fatigued more quickly spinning than I do pushing a bigger gear at a lower cadence.
It was counter-intuitive for me, but it got explained to me by a guide on one of our bicycle trips who was a way better cyclist than I ever was. It definitely took some getting used to. I think the lower cadence is the key, and as long as I am at a lower cadence, I am pretty comfortable pushing a bigger gear. Just can't get too far ahead of myself by picking up the cadence, so it takes a little patience.
Understand that I'm also experimenting with trying a higher cadence, and a few other things, like getting more comfortable out of the saddle when climbing on dirt roads. With the general goals in all of this to make me a little better and/or a little safer and/or entertained a little more. :-)
Riding with Peter yesterday, he would get out of the saddle and take off when we got to a hill, and I struggled to stay with him. Sometimes I did this by also standing, sometimes by just staying seated. There was no doubt that it was easier for me to do it when I stayed seated. But whether standing or seated is a more efficient way to climb varies a lot from person to person. Just watch the mountain stages on the Tour: some of the best riders rarely stand, some seem to be constantly getting out of the saddle for long periods.
It's well established that professional cyclists are more efficient at higher cadences. The difference between 60 rpm and 100 rpm is substantial, and those on the Tour on a flat stage typically ride at 90-100 rpm. Higher cadence engages more slow twitch muscle fibers, which leads to less fatigue over time. How that translates to us recreational riders, however, is unclear and the best advice apparently is: do what feels best. When I do time trials in the range of 20 miles, my sweet spot seems to be 75 rpm. I've tried to drop a gear and keep my cadence over 80 rpm, but it just doesn't work for me, and I don't end up with a faster time.
It takes some pretty good coordination (or at least good timing accuracy) to pedal efficiently at a higher cadence. I find that nearer the end of a long ride I have to revert to a slower cadence, or I'm basically still pushing on one pedal while I should already be pulling back on it. I don't know whether it is just mental fatigue, or whether my reaction time is just a few milliseconds slower after I've been riding for a couple of hours, but at some point it gets really hard for me to pedal circles rather than squares if the rpms are too high.