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Cycling in the Sierra's (long, with pictures)

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
Each year I embark on a supported cycling tour (meaning somebody else carries the gear !) through a different mountain range. This year I decided that I finally had to see the Sierra's and Lake Tahoe. I did Adventure Cycling's "Sierra Sampler" tour, which stretched from Truckee (just north of the lake) to Bishop (just south of Mammoth ski area) over six days.

The weather was nearly perfect. I got the idea that it doesn't rain a whole lot in the Sierra's! Temperatures were c-o-l-d at night, but thankfully my sleeping bag is pretty warm. The first couple miles of riding in the morning were usually a shiver-fest as well, but the first climb of the day always resolved that.

Day 1: Truckee to South Lake Tahoe
We started at Donner State Park, the campsite of the doomed Donner Party. I took a short ride partway up Donner Pass so that I could see what they were faced with trying to get through. I can't imagine getting a wagon train through there today, let alone 160 years ago.

We rode down some bike path that supposedly bordered Lake Tahoe on the western side, but for mile after mile -- no lake. Where the heck is this thing??? I flew all the way across the country, I darn well better see this lake! But finally there was a clearing in the trees and a break in the houses and:

Wow! First time I have ever seen the lake. I just stopped and stared for a bit. I dipped my fingers into the lake to see how cold it was, and, ummmm, yeah, I wouldn't go swimming in it.

We rode on, and inevitably, the road started tilting upwards. We embarked on a nice "warm-up climb" of about five miles up to the Vikingsholm Viewpoint, where we saw the lake from above:

The air was pretty hazy; wasn't sure if there were forest fires near by or if it was just hazy. There was no appreciable cloud cover. We did a rather slow descent (bunches of hairpin turns) and ended the day in a campground a view miles south of South Lake Tahoe.

We did pass by Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows during the day, so now I know exactly where they are. The Lake Tahoe area is gorgeous, but it's a bit too built-up for my tastes. I was expecting a heavy presence of man-kind though, given the dozen some ski areas in the vicinity of the lake.

Day Two: South Lake Tahoe to Topaz Lake, Nevada
At our nightly map meeting, we were told that there are only "two hills" today -- one was Luther Pass, the other being Monitor Pass. Nine miles and eleven miles long respectively. Sounds like a fun day!

Luther Pass was fairly easy -- just a steady five, six percent for nine miles. The road was still in the shade of the nearby mountains, so it was a nice cool climb. The descent was a "no brakes required" screamer. Raced to the bottom, blasted through Markleeville (starting point of the Death Ride), and started up Monitor Pass.

Monitor Pass was not in the shade, and the temps were beginning to climb somewhat. It started out pretty gradual, lulling me into thinking that 11 miles of this is no problem at all. But then we hit a 2.5 mile stretch that was STEEP. We were only around 6,000 some feet at the time, but my East Coast lungs were burning. I had to stop a number of times to let my heart rate recover.

The descent from Monitor Pass into Nevada is one for the ages though. Fifteen miles of cruising at about 40mph. I did have to hit the brakes occassionally, but there were only two tight turns that really required slowing down. Very little vegetation, so I had awesome sight lines around the turns and could just fly. Awesome views of the valley floor beneath us, with Topaz Lake at the very bottom:

Day Three: Topaz Lake to Lee Vining
Topaz Lake is actually in Nevada, so I can now cross two more states off my list -- California and Nevada. Up to about 25 overall now.

The day again involved lots and lots of climbing. Our first step was to get through Walker Canyon, which was a 25 mile climb. Very easy grade, but for the one-and-only time in the trip -- we got the wind in our face. Nice... Very pretty in there with the rock walls of the canyon hugging the road:

After finally escaping the canyon (and the wind) we embarked on another long climb up Conway Pass, which leads to an unbelievable view of Mono Lake:

After having seen nothing but sagebrush and rock for the past 60 miles, it was quite the treat to see some color. Apparently the water level is very low due to the very dry winter and summer, but it was still something to behold.

Day Four: Lee Vining to Mammoth Lakes
I had been wondering if Mammoth Lakes was home to Mammoth ski area, and my suspicions were shortly confirmed. First though, we had to get through the June Lake Loop, a scenic detour off the main highway. No major climbs today, just some "rolling hills" -- meaning none of the climbs were longer then two or three miles.

Upon arriving at Mammoth Lakes, we were told about the "highly active" bear population, and how we should leave absolutely no food or other "good smelling" items like soaps, shampoo's, etc. in our tents. Nothing like sleeping in a tent in known bear country to ensure a bad night's sleep. Yikes! Some dogs started barking at about 2:00 AM, which assured my panicked mind that bears were in the vicinity.

To be continued...
post #2 of 9
Thread Starter 
Day Five: day off at Mammoth Lakes
Those Tour de France people get days off, and so do we. I spent my day off hiking to Devil's Postpile:

and to Rainbow Falls:

It was nice to be off the bike and utilize some walking, as opposed to cycling, muscles for a change! We spent another night in Mammoth Lakes (aka, bear country), and again, I didn't sleep a wink.

On the way there, we did see Mammoth ski area:

That top part looked awfully steep! And lots of fun.

Day Six: Mammoth Lakes to Bishop
Mammoth to Bishop is about a 50 mile trip, approximately 46 miles of which were downhill. My kind of day! I did take an optional trip into Rock Creek Canyon, which involved an 11-mile, 3000 foot climb. But I figured that the day would pass by so quickly with all the descending that I might as well do the optional climb. Very nice scenery as I climbed into the mountains; the road just dead ends at a parking lot and a trail head. One of the prettier spots in the upper parts of the canyon:

Day Seven: Bishop Creek Canyon
We were originally supposed to finish the ride by riding to Lone Pine, but the original days itinerary was canceled due to forest fire activity around Lone Pine. They laid out some optional routes instead, one of which involved climbing into Bishop Creek Canyon, which is what I elected to do. The whole climb is 18 miles long, but since I had to be back in camp by 11:30 (for the bus ride back to Reno), I only managed to get about 13 miles into it before I had to turn around. But that did mean the last 13 miles of my vacation were a 40+ mph who-needs-brakes? screamer back down the canyon. Awesome way to end a cycling vacation!

post #3 of 9
Great pictures Kevin !
Sounds like an awesome trip.
post #4 of 9
nice work.

That descent down the backside of Monitor sure is a fun one.
post #5 of 9
^^^^^What he said!

Especially the Tahoe thing brings back fond memories about spring touring and sharing turns with a great bunch of maggots.
post #6 of 9
nice TR... looking at your pix makes me appreciate the great road riding out my backyard. speaking of which, i need to get back on my bike.... too much work these days.
post #7 of 9
Very nice Kevin. I haven't been out that way since 1983! Mono Lake is like and alien landscape - weird. Feel any tremors while lying awake in your tent at Mammoth?
post #8 of 9
Originally Posted by crank View Post
Very nice Kevin. I haven't been out that way since 1983! Mono Lake is like and alien landscape - weird.
We used to always say we were entering Planet Inyo when we came over Conway summit.

To bad about the hazy skies. It is usually some of the bluest sky you could ever imagine.

Great TR!
post #9 of 9
Thanks for the trip report. Very nice tour indeed. I was over that way on September 1 on the motorcycle going over Carson Pass to Markleyville, then Monitor Pass, Walker and back across Sonora Pass. If you want to see a steep narrow winding road, check out Sonora Pass. Here is looking down that nice long grade on Monitor Pass Road going toward Walker. Is that you just ahead I'm about to pass?

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