Published on August 18th, 2014 | by Jim
Living Dangerously… The Sierras
This will be a short post—there really are no words to adequately describe the two rides I’ll share with you today. But I would recommend them to anyone with the necessary fitness. They are kinda hard.
The first ride was a simple out and back—from Bishop to the Schulman Ancient Bristlecone Pine Grove. On paper, this was not the hardest ride I’ve ever done; that honor belongs to The Tour Of The California Alps, aka, The Markleeville Death Ride, with 129 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing, brutal and grueling but staggeringly beautiful. This ride to the Bristlecone grove, however, might possibly have been the best road ride I’ve ever done.
The numbers are not impressive: 75 miles round trip with over 6,000 feet of climbing—almost all at once on a climb that lasted well over 22 miles. It was warm in the Owen’s river valley and almost cold at the summit (over 10,000 feet at the visitor’s center). As I descended back to Big Pine I thought to myself, “If I have a tailwind back into Bishop, I will dub this the best ride I’ve ever done. Guess what? A MASSIVE freakin’ tail wind like no other in memory for the final 14 miles into Bishop! This was one really fun ride.
After a day of rest, well not really rest, we rode in the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine where I embarked on a shorter ride with more climbing. At less than 60 miles for these two epic climbs combined, but with probably 8,000 or 9,000 feet of elevation gain, these hurt a bit; but they were worth it. I started out from Tuttle Creek Campground (a bargain at $5 a night with bathrooms, a creek and potable water) and headed up Horseshoe Meadows Road. The thing about this road is that the switchbacks are so prominent and so long that I swear you can probably see them from space. They are intimidating. For anyone caring to know, the first ramp is 4km, the second is 3km, the third is 2km and the next several are around 1km long. You have to love predictability.
After topping out on the summit, it was time to tackle the most iconic climb in the Eastern Sierras—Whitney Portal Road. While not as long or impressive looking from the valley floor, this one starts out steep and never seems to let up. At 14 miles long (from Lone Pine) it is well shy of the Bristlecone climb from two days ago and has nowhere near the elevation gain. But it’s the accumulation that gets you. And, oh, you’re looking at Mount Whitney for much of the approach. Bonus!
One thing I should mention about these two climbs—the pavement leaves a lot to be desired. Not much of a problem on the ascent, but descending is a full on battle with expansion joints and cross winds. Having hit almost 55 mph on a descent last week ago, I was curious to see if I could beat that speed. Just not on these two roads. Yikes!
So, here’s your list for the Eastern Sierras. Bristlecone, Whitney and Horseshoe. There are also quite a few others if you have the time. I have the time but it IS August here and it’s HOT!!! Oh, and there’s thunderstorms. So I’m heading north for a while.