High Sierra Climbing Camp, Day 3

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 Days 1 and 2, and ride files from Days 12 and 3

The climb de jour: White Mountain to Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

So we’re sitting around the dining room table at 6:30 AM staring blankly into our morning coffees, trying to get enough liquid courage to put on our bibs and head out for the third and final day of our visit to Mammoth Lakes when Burke Swindlehurst announces he will be going for the KOM on the first ascent of the day, the 6,000 foot, 20-mile trudge up White Mountain to the Ancient Bristlecone Forest. “The other climbs haven’t been long enough for me” he says. And by “other climbs” he means the 8- to 12-mile climbs we’d done the previous two days. So much for the final day being filled with friendly banter while ascending the 11,000 feet of total climbing that awaited us. Photo: OPP Creative
Getting up to Ancient Bristlecone Forest in the White Mountains would be the biggest climb we’d be hitting in the three-day trip to Mammoth Lakes. It also happens to land itself on the top-10 list of hardest climbs in the U.S., along with Onion Valley and Horseshoe Meadows that are just 40-miles South of where we were. The ascent begins just two miles after the intersection of Hwy 395 and Hwy 168 in Big Pine, 55 miles South of Mammoth. We started our ride in Big Pine and began climbing nearly straight away. Photo: OPP Creative
After 10 miles and an average 6% gradient on Hwy 168, the road for the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest takes a left and becomes undulating for five miles before a truly challenging final five miles of steep climbing that takes you to the Visitors Center. Few cars and serene panoramas of the Owens Valley and Eastern Sierra range make the challenging climb entirely worth the two, three, or four hours it might take. Or, in the case of Swindlehurst, 1 hour, 42 minutes. No, he didn’t get the KOM, but he was a close second. Not a bad ride, but considering he has won the Tour of the Gila three times as a professional, it’s of no surprise he can go uphill fast. Photo: OPP Creative
The Ancient Bristlecone Forest gets its name from the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine trees that grow on the climb at an altitude between 9,800-11,000 feet. With the paved summit topping out at just over 10,000 feet, we had the opportunity to see the rare trees up close as we recovered and shared stories of conquering the rather challenging switchback section that comes within the final couple miles of the climb. Photo: OPP Creative
After a long, long descent and a water/food stop back at the car, we headed to the other side of the Owens Valley and into the Sierras for our final climb of the day, and our trip. On paper, Glacier Lodge didn’t seem like it would be too bad with a length of 9.5 miles and just over 3,500 foot of gain, but with tired legs it turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated. Photo: OPP Creative
In the last two miles the grade relaxed and the high desert terrain of the valley gave way to pine trees and granite peaks. At the top, we took a dip in the icy stream water for a well-deserved refresh before the plunge back down to the car. Over the three days we climbed 30,000 feet on some of the most challenging and scenic terrain the U.S. has to offer. Be sure to look for the full Eastern Sierra climbing feature in Road Bike Action Magazine. Photo: OPP Creative




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