High Sierra Climbing Camp, Day 1


By Neil Shirley/ Photo: OPP Creative

Spending a few days riding some of the biggest, and most scenic, climbs of the Eastern Sierra is something that’s long been on my to-do list, and I’m finally checking it off. Using Mammoth Lakes as home base, a half dozen friends and I set out for three full days of riding that will take us as far North as Tioga Pass into Yosemite, and as far South as Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains, which lands itself on the list of top-10 hardest climbs in the U.S. The full Eastern Sierra climbing article will feature in Road Bike Action Magazine.

With 30,000 feet of climbing and 250 miles planned over three days in Mammoth Lakes area, it might have been a little too ambitious of an undertaking. But as someone recently reminded me, “cycling shouldn’t be easy”. Point taken. So with that, Day 1 would feature a full 100 miles that would take in some of the most scenic terrain north of Mammoth. Yosemite would be the ultimate objective, and double as our turnaround point.
After a quick jaunt up to the Twin Lakes for a photo-op, we headed out Mammoth Scenic Drive and on our way toward Yosemite and the biggest challenge of the day, a 12-mile ascent up Tioga Pass that is the eastern entrance for Yosemite National Park. Photo: OPP Creative
Between Mammoth and Tioga lies a handful of rolling climbs along Hwy 395, and the option to add a few extra miles by taking in the June Lake Loop. This would be my first time on the June Lake Loop and from now on it will never be an option again–it’s a mandatory addition. Crystal blue water surrounded by massive 12,000 foot tall granite peaks were well worth the deviation. Photo: OPP Creative
Once back on Hwy 395 it was just a short five miles to the turnoff for Tioga Pass and then for the next hour and change we would be going up to just shy of 10,000 feet elevation. With an average gradient of 5% over 12 miles, the 3,100 foot climb isn’t the outright toughest climb out there, but it definitely left its mark.
The only downside to doing the climb on a Friday was the fact that traffic was nearly non-stop. Riding single-file kept us to the right of the white line and well away from the RVs heading into the park. Photo: OPP Creative
Two miles before hitting the summit the road flattens out and opens into a valley with two lakes that were very photo worthy.
At the very summit is the park entrance which was where we turned around and enjoyed the plunge back down the way we came, hitting speeds close to 60mph.
The long haul back from the bottom of Tioga Pass to Mammoth Lakes was directly into a stiff headwind, but we didn’t complain when the wind was at our backs on the way out. After arriving back in Mammoth, and eating a couple of good meals, we were ready to think about day two. Day two will consist of “just” 75 miles, but in those miles will come 10,000 feet of climbing just south of Mammoth Lakes. Check back for the day two report. Photo: OPP Creative




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