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 . Here’s a link to the write-up from Day 1, and ride files from Days 1 and 2.
For Day 2 we cut back the miles to double digits and upped the amount of climbing from the previous day. The plan was to drive from our base in Mammoth Lakes to Tom’s Place, which is just 20 miles south. From there our route featured three main climbs that totaled up to 10,000 feet of elevation gain over the course of 80 miles. Photo: OPP Creative
On tap first was Rock Creek, which goes straight uphill for 10 miles from Tom’s Place and dead ends into Mosquito Flats, a popular hiking spot. It’s one of my outright favorite climbs of the area because of the scenery; and with fresh pavement laid down last summer, with a dedicated bike lane, it’s absolutely a joy to ride. Other than the gradient pitching up in the first two miles, the climb holds a steady 6% grade and nets a 3,000 foot vertical gain. Within the final two miles you pass the picture-perfect Rock Creek Lake on your left, and the store/cafe on the right. The cafe, Pie In The Sky, had long been famous for their pies, but as of this year the pie-maker said she was done making the delicious treat and it is no longer available. A slice of huckleberry pie a la mode would have been a nice treat after a long climb. Photo: OPP Creative
Because of a road closure due to a fire, we had to change our route slightly and descend Sherwin Grade on Hwy 395 instead of the quiet Lower Rock Creek Road. Fortunately the highway has an enormous shoulder and traffic was light so it wasn’t a big deal. From the bottom of the grade, and the northernmost point of Owens Valley, we headed due West and into the canyon of Pine Creek Road that climbs for eight miles and just like Rock Creek, has a 3,000 foot vertical gain. Photo: OPP Creative
Once climbing out of the valley floor, pine trees and the sound of Pine Creek’s running water helped take our minds off the 7% grade and remind us how spectacular the Sierra range is. As we reached the top, sheer granite walls jet up to 13,000 feet surrounding us on three sides, and ultimately the road ends at what used to be the worlds largest tungsten mine.
After a fast descent back down Pine Creek, we made our way through the valley and crossed over to the East side of Hwy 395 and into the Owens River Gorge. An old access road closed to traffic snaked its way along the river for a few miles before starting the long ascent of Gorge Road. Because Lower Rock Creek Road was still closed, we took a chance on a new route and none of us were quite too sure what the end result would be. Gorge Road took us up six miles and more-or-less paralleled Hwy 395. There were no problems with Gorge Road itself, which was only a single lane road, but since we saw only one car the entire time that was hardly of concern.
Our worry was the final two-mile stretch from where the pavement ends until we could connect back with Hwy 395. It turned out to be pretty much as bad as our worst case scenario, with sand so deep that it was nearly impossible to ride some sections on a road bike. Yet, that’s also what made this section one of the most fun experiences of the day. Fighting to keep all momentum going forward while trying not to go anaerobic was quite the challenge. Some fared better than others, but ultimately everyone made it through the dirt, and all without even a single crash. It was a great way to finish off Day 2 of our High Sierra Climbing Camp. Now after a good night’s sleep we should all be ready for a rather brutish Day 3 that will include a trip up the 6,000 foot ascent of White Mountain out of Big Pine and a total of 12,000 feet of climbing by the time we finish up. Photo: Opp Creative