Sierra Nevada - Tioga/Sonora Pass

Discussion in 'rec.bicycles.rides archive' started by Jobst Brandt, Nov 1, 2003.

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  1. Jobst Brandt

    Jobst Brandt Guest

    Sierra ride, fall 2003

    On Friday, 24 Oct 2003, four of us began a late fall bicycle tour over the Sierra as we often have
    in spring and occasionally in late summer. This was later in the year than usual, so we planned with
    having less daylight, deciding to drive on Friday afternoon to Sonora, our usual starting point, and
    ride to Groveland on HWY120 the Yosemite highway.

    John Woodfill and I drove to meet Jeanie Barnett in Sonora, and Brian Cox, who could not take Friday
    afternoon off, drove to Groveland later that evening to make a foursome. The three of us took
    Tuolumne Road from Sonora (1750ft) to Wards Ferry Road for a short climb of 350ft before descending
    to Wards Ferry Bridge (815ft) in the Tuolumne River Canyon.

    With a new coat of asphalt, the old hand laid paving stones were finally covered making the descent
    smooth and swift. As we crossed Wards Ferry bridge over the end of Don Pedro Reservoir that was some
    50ft below high water, the abutments of the old one lane bridge were visible below. The banked new
    and wide highway bridge that was built to span the backwaters of the new Don Pedro Reservoir stands
    in stark contrast to the ancient, seldom used and twisty one lane road it serves. We saw no one from
    the start of the descent until we reached Deer Flat (2579ft) before going over the hill (3000ft) to
    Groveland (2846ft).

    After a comfortable nights rest in the Groveland Motel, we got started with a hot breakfast before
    heading up HWY120 to Yosemite Park Oak Flat entrance (4830ft). Old HWY120 was visible now and then,
    south of the new road as it climbed every hill and dale on its way, as I recall from rides before
    the new road was built. On the way, we passed small groves of Maple and Dogwood with beautiful
    autumn leaves, and crossed the south fork Tuolumne River twice before making the final climb to the
    Park Entrance. Toll takers expect $10 for each riding bicyclist but only $10 for a carful of bicycle
    riders with bicycles on the rack.

    I took advantage of the old-timers fee and got a lifetime pass for $10 while the rest of the team
    had yearly passes anyway. We got a Coke at the information office before heading down the road to
    Hodgdon Meadow Camp Ground on the old Tioga Road. Just before the maintenance yard, a "One Way - Do
    Not Enter" road comes in from the left over a small hill. That was our road that I recall driving on
    formerly when it was still open to car traffic.

    Although pavement is a bit rough in places, we met no one in this beautiful forest of Cedar, White
    and Red Fir, Ponderosa, Sugar Pine, Maple, Dogwood, and finally Sequoia Gigantea Redwoods farther
    up. The solitude and depth of the forest makes this an especially pleasant part of the ride to Tioga
    Pass. The Dogwood, that has pale green leaves and large white magnolia-like blossoms in the spring
    were ablush in pink and red foliage from low fall temperatures. In contrast, we had pleasantly mild
    temperatures as the day progressed even though we were gaining altitude.

    As we reached the Tuolumne Grove, we also met hikers who, as we, took pictures in front of the giant
    Redwood and the Tunnel Tree. The most photographed Redwood, next to the road has been fenced off,
    apparently to protect its roots from trampling tourists, so we got a more distant shot of this 20ft
    diameter giant. We joined the new road (6200ft) and went down to the Crane Flat store and gas
    station for something to eat and drink before returning to our route up the Tioga Highway.

    Although most of the trees are evergreens along this route, the autumnal feeling is inconspicuously
    everywhere. As we approached White Wolf Road and crossed the divide at McSwain Meadows (8224ft) to
    descend to Yosemite Creek (7487ft), clouds of smoke from controlled burning of underbrush crossed
    the road. Warning signs of "Smoke on Road" seemed to imply that cigarettes should not be smoked "off
    road" but I may have misinterpreted that. Yosemite Creek was so dry, water was hard to detect
    between its granite boulders.

    On the gradual climb to Porcupine Flat, we had a grand view to the south on our way to Olmstead
    Point (8470ft) where we stopped to view Half Dome and other peaks that Brian, a regular Yosemite
    rock climber could name for us. After a food break, we rolled down to Tenaya Lake and climbed to the
    saddle (8639ft) between Pothole and Fairview Domes before descending to Tuolumne Meadows. In the
    spring this was an expanse of rich green grass and wildflowers whose grass had now turned brown and
    the flowers, all but some scarlet Penstemon Xparishii, gone for this year.

    From here it's a gradual climb along Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River to Tioga Pass (9943ft) on Dana
    Meadows, a broad flat saddle between Dana (13053ft) and Gaylor (11004ft) Peaks. The cloudless sky,
    streaked by many persistent vapor trails of airliners, apparently from high relative humidity even
    at great heights, possibly a sign of changing weather.

    The slight headwind, that prevailed off and on most of the day, was more noticeable as we crossed
    the summit to descended past Tioga and Ellery lakes into Lee Vining Canyon. After the big sweeping
    turn at 9000ft we were in the wind shelter of Mono Dome (10622FT) that gave us a slight tail wind
    from which Brian and I got a fairly high top speed. We pushed a bit of wind along the flat runout of
    Lee Vining Canyon before turning off on the old road into Lee Vining (6700ft) on HWY395.

    Mono Lake, to the east, was pastel blue in the afternoon light with just enough waves to make
    sitting ducks, of which there were many, hard to see until we got closer to the water. We stopped at
    the general store for some food and drink before pushing off toward Bridgeport. Here on the east
    slope of the Sierra, groves of brilliant gold aspen lined the road and made beautiful blotches of
    color in small canyons up on the dry slopes sparsely covered with pastel green sage.

    From Lee Vining it was a 250ft drop to the lakeshore before we began climbing the approach to Conway
    Summit, visible to the north. Conway is a striking road as it makes its climb in one long ess-bend
    with two quarter mile radius hairpin curves. The road offers a majestic view to the south of Mono
    Lake and onward to Mammoth Mountain. We stopped for some pictures of Aspen groves below the road and
    of the vast landscape to the south before crossing Conway Summit (8148ft). Our headwind was back as
    we descended along Virginia Creek toward Bridgeport, the last few miles being flat along the east
    side of the great marshy Bridgeport Valley.

    Bridgeport (6468ft) is a quaint town with a beautiful Victorian Courthouse and other historic
    mementos of past glory. Today it appears mainly as a cattle gazing ground with its huge lush
    green fields, fields that now were already brown from freezing weather that Bridgeport has in
    abundance at night.

    After an excellent dinner in the Bridgeport Inn, we walked past the former dining hot spot, the
    Sportsman's Inn with it's huge dining room nearly empty. Once again the value of good management
    was apparent. After a good rest in the Silver Maple Inn, the Hayes Street Cafe cafe was open
    bright and early at 6:00 on Sunday, even though we changed from daylight savings time to
    standard time. However, we dropped in at 7:00 just to make sure we weren't there on a false
    alarm. After a delicious eggs, sausage, and hotcakes breakfast, the 20F cold outside seemed OK.
    In fact it was rapidly getting warmer. After three flat miles out of town, we started climbing
    Devils Gate Pass where riding would be more warming than the wind was cooling. The good
    breakfast came in handy for this.

    The ride up Devil's Gate is a gradual one that rolls along the west side of broad sloping grassy
    Huntoon valley that gets narrow before the pass. The summit is deceptive from the south because
    after it crests, takes another half mile to reach the real summit that appears lower at first. On
    the way up, in the broad part of the valley, a seemingly perpetual heard of sheep was grazing as
    usual, across from "the brick house" that seems to be the shepherd's place. It looks out of place
    there, all by itself surrounded by Junipers.

    Farther up, we scared a bunch of Crows and two Golden Eagles from some carcass on which they were
    feeding. My first reaction was that they must be Turkey Vultures but that didn't work, there being
    none out here, especially in the cold season. They flew away and out of sight with graceful and
    slowly measured wing beats. By the time we reached Devil's Gate (7419ft) with its jagged rock
    formations, the day had warmed for the descent to Sonora Junction.

    Fales Hot Springs looked the same as always, as if it were recently closed and would soon open
    again. I don't understand how this place can keep that appearance over all the years I have ridden
    past there. We turned left at the junction of HWY395 and HWY108 (6909ft), rolled across the dry
    swamp and descended to the West Walker River that was flowing more briskly than I expected for the
    dryness of the summer.

    The Marine Mountain Warfare School along Pickel Meadow has grown with substantial buildings where
    not long ago, only tents prevailed. The old main gate was closed and covered with barbed wire and
    the old guard shack WAS Barricaded. A new entrance had a steep uphill approach and concrete road
    divider blocks arranged in a maze to prevent car bomb gate crashing. The only personnel we saw were
    guards at the maze.

    At the end of a nearly flat run of a mile or so, the road takes a few steep jumps to climb around
    the narrows of the Walker river and descends into Levitt Meadow where there was once a store of
    which not a stone remains. We got out of out of our warm clothes and ate and drank for the short six
    and a half mile climb to the summit. Just after the Pack Station (7155ft) the road has its steepest
    grade of more than 20% as it rounds a hairpin bend to make a half mile climb that gradually eases
    up. I find this side of the pass easier because it starts higher and has flat sections between the
    steep ones.

    There are some good photogenic spots on this road as it climbs next to Levitt Creek, one of which I
    always remember as the one that fools some descenders. At 8200ft a sharp steep ess-bend with poor
    superelevation is invisible from above because it lies behind a short bump. In the spring this curve
    usually has snow banks that keep the road wet, a surprise for the fast descender. Just the same it
    makes a good picture for ascending riders taken from above. A second steep ess-bend lies at 8900ft
    shortly below the final dip and quarter mile climb to the top along Sardine Creek.

    We got to the top fairly close together, this not being a climb where reaching the top is more
    important than talking or waiting for a friend. The effort of reaching the summit without blowing
    up is paramount. Sonora Pass (9643ft) has a slew of warning signs as well as a county line at the
    summit, showing that highway sign makers are busy. The descent stars gradually as it makes a big
    sweep around a small valley as it descends along Deadman Creek. The short section between 8000ft
    and 9000ft, known as the Golden Stairs for its continuous steep grade, but is not a fast descent
    for its tight curves. At Chipmunk Flat (7954ft) there is even an uphill that takes a bit of effort
    in the descent.

    After the climb, a long descent sweeps down to a steep ess-bend after which it flattens for a while
    before the final steep half mile drop through the Rock Window, the climbing challenge on the ascent.
    The steep part ends at Baker Campground in Kennedy Meadow (6268ft) after which the road looks like
    most other highways as it descends along the Stanislaus river to the Dardanelle (5765ft) store and
    gas station.

    In spite of the steepness of Sonora Pass, it is not an especially fast road. Its straight sections
    come between sharp curves and although steep enough it is mostly not straight enough to reach the
    100km/h speed so often mentioned. Passing cars is relatively easy, the smell of hot brakes being the
    telltale of their problem. In contrast, the bicyclist, has so little weight and so much wind drag
    that heavy braking is not required often.

    We stopped at the Dardanelle Store for food and drink before taking the last steep ups and downs on
    the way to Clark Fork Road (5671ft) from where we climbed the two mile grade to Donnells Overlook
    (6231ft). Donnells Reservoir was as low as I've seen it, similar to Don Pedro, but from 1300ft
    above, it made little difference. From here it's a roller coaster gradually loosing altitude before
    the fast drop to Strawberry (5320ft) on the South Fork Stanislaus River. A hot burrito at the store
    has been an old tradition that felt good for the climb to Cold Springs (5720ft)from where it is
    nearly all downhill to Sonora.

    We turned south on Confidence-Tuolumne Road at Twain Harte and stopped at the corner Frosty Freeze
    shop for a big root beer freeze. I was surprised to to see that in Tuolumne (2577ft) the West Side
    Lumber three foot gauge crossings were still in good shape and all the tracks from the glory days of
    logging in place. On the way back to Sonora on Tuolumne Road, we passed the tiny train station at
    Ralph, the junction of the Sierra and Sugar Pine railways, where a historic marker explains who
    Jonathan Florentine Ralph was and what trains ran there.

    We got back to Sonora, or better said, to Wards Ferry Road in time for Brian to ride to his car in
    Groveland, as we headed to Sonora to load up and drive home in a traffic that looked more like rush
    hour than Sunday evening. Saturday was 116mi and 13010ft climbing, Sunday 102mi and 7020ft climbing.

    Judging from the weather since, we were lucky to catch the last warm days in the Sierra and a
    wonderful ride it was. Snow has fallen below 3000ft and in the hills around SF Bay.

    Jobst Brandt [email protected]

    Jobst Brandt [email protected]

  2. An an Aoine, Deireadh Fómhair 4, chuir ceathrar againn tús le turas rotháiocht déanach Fómhair, mar
    a dheineamar go minic cheana san Earrach agus sa tsamradh déanach. Ba dhéanaí so sa bhliain, agus ba
    theirce an solas, agus chinneamar ar thiomáint ar an Aoine go Sonóra, mar a dtosnaímís de ghnáth,
    agus gluaiseacht go dtí Groveland ar mhórbhóthar Yosemite.

    Thiomás le Seán Woodfill chun bualad le Jeanie Barnett i Sonóra, agus tháinig Briain Cox, chun
    bualadh linn i nGroveland, agus an ceathrar a dhéanamh dínn, toisc ná raibh an Aoine saor aige.
    Ghluaiseamar bóthar Tuolumne ó Shonóra go Bóthar Bhád Farrantóireachta Uí Bháird a d'ardaig 350
    troigh agus a thit go Droichead Bhóthar Bhád Farrantóireachta Uí Bháird i scrogall Abha na Tuilumne.

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