Spring ride in the Sierra

Discussion in 'rec.bicycles.rides' started by [email protected], May 27, 2004.

  1. Spring ride in the Sierra 2004

    The route for this ride was Sonora and Monitor Passes to Markleeville
    on Saturday and back to Sonora over Ebbetts and Pacific Grade Passes
    on Sunday. It seems to be getting harder to find time to ride,
    considering that we got only two riders for this pre-memorial day ride
    over the Sierra.

    Ray Hosler and I put or bicycles and baggage in the car on Friday, 21
    May and headed across SF Bay from Palo Alto on the Dumbarton Bridge
    HWY 84, staying off freeways until Sunol on the other side of the east
    bay hills. Traffic on I680 was dense but moving, whereas on I580 it
    was a crawl to Altamont Pass where there had been a rear-ender that
    everyone had to inspect as they passed, slowly.

    Traffic lightened as we got on I205/I5 to the San Joaquin River, where
    we took SR120, the Yosemite route through Manteca, Escalon, and
    Oakdale. Continuing on SR108, the Sonora Pass route, we got to Sonora
    in good time to put our equipment in order and get some dinner.

    Having brought along breakfast, we were able to get on the road at
    6:00 heading up the hill toward Twain Harte, a town named after the
    two writers of the old west. This route is unusually straight and
    wide in places for the little traffic is sees, except in ski season.
    As the road begins to climb, a two mile divided four lanes of 6% and a
    flatter part got us past Twain Harte and on to Confidence.

    Although there were early vacationers, traffic was light, the sky was
    blue and we had a light but increasing tailwind. Farther up, past
    Long Barn, a long widely divided four lane section took us through
    lush green meadows and rich forests of Sugar Pine, Lodgepole,
    Ponderosa, Jeffrey, Cedar, Madrone, Oak and others. The richness and
    varieties in this forest are striking in comparison to the coast range
    where we usually ride. The woods smelled of mountain misery that has
    a faint artichoke flavor. Lupine, wall flower and wild iris gave
    color to the woods. It is easy to forget how this area was logged
    nearly bare in the early 20th century when many of the towns and roads
    got their names form logging camps. Of course most of this was done
    with railroads that climbed high into these mountains with gear driven
    steam locomotives.

    Interestingly, traces of logging railroads are still visible around
    Cold Springs, Strawberry and Pinecrest, above 6000ft elevation. These
    were railroad engineering feats hard to imagine today, considering the
    steepness and rugged terrain.

    http://tinyurl.com/2vnvc (map Strawberry)

    We stopped at Strawberry for a snack before heading up the two mile
    grade up to the ridge that parallels the gorge of the Stanislaus river
    with Ebbetts Pass road on the far side. Along this section, remnants
    of winter snow and bright red snow plants decorated the road as it
    winds through massive dark gray rock formations on its way to a high
    point (6300ft) at Donnell Lake overlook.

    http://tinyurl.com/yuocw (snow plant)
    http://tinyurl.com/23u6q (map Donnell)

    Here a sheer cliff gives the visitor nearly 1500ft vertical drop to
    the Stanislaus river rapids and falls below. The majestic spires and
    domes of the Dardanelles rise to 9000ft as a backdrop to this huge
    gorge. This great scene comes just before a long descent to Clark
    Fork junction (5671ft) after which the "real" Sonora Pass becomes
    evident in steep whoop-de-doos and narrow curves.

    The Stanislaus, that was so far below was right next to us now. The
    road winds over a series of rollers to Dardanelle (5765ft) where we
    stopped at the store for some food for the climb ahead. The store has
    a tall pair of antique 1920's gas pumps with the large glass cylinder
    on top adjacent to a modern Union76 pump with an astronomical price
    per gallon. Other than that, the place looked unchanged in the last
    50 years. The proprietor had a Chevy Suburban fitted with four sets
    of rubber tread crawlers, essentially snow mobile tracks instead of
    wheels with which he said he could traverse five feet of fresh snow.

    http://tinyurl.com/2n82g (map Dardanelle)

    We crossed the river and began climbing out of this lush flat meadow up
    the Eureka Valley as the river churned through impassable rapids and
    falls. Watching fishermen casually fishing on the banks of the river
    that if they fell in could not avoid being drawn down the rapids just
    down stream is worrisome.

    http://tinyurl.com/2jdo9 (map Rock Window)

    At Kennedy meadows the road begins climbing abruptly and vanishes
    around a large cliff. Just around this corner the Rock Window
    (6800ft) about 500ft above and about a quarter mile away becomes
    visible. That the road levels off just through the gap is good to
    know while riding up this magnificent landscape as the river is left
    behind in the valley. From here the steep road seems almost flat as
    it rolls up to the big ess and rises above Deadman Creek leveling off
    at Chipmunk Flat (8000ft) in a short climb.

    http://tinyurl.com/3hdq8 (map Golden Stairs)

    Here we were getting into larger snow fields and the notorious Golden
    Stairs that begin with a steep pair of hairpin turns and a quick ramp
    up to the 9000ft marker. Skiers were enjoying a spate of fresh snow
    that fell the night before to put a clean white blanket over the
    slopes of spring snow. Farther up, snowmobilers were climbing as high
    as their traction would take them to make steep high speed runs down a
    huge snow bowl, sounding like so many chainsaws.

    The Golden Stairs have always been a challenge similar to the Rock
    Window because years ago when we were young and foolish, we raced up
    to the bottom of this section. Being so out of reserve, resting at
    the skier's bowl was a must. These days I approach the steep ess bend
    carefully and ride to the top of this section in relative ease but
    wonder how fast we went forty years ago. The gradient breaks suddenly
    at 9000ft so I could shift up to a 50-17 gear to cruise to the summit.

    http://tinyurl.com/2t8qr (map Sonora Pass)

    After a picture stop in front of the summit sign, warnings about steep
    grades and county line, we dived down the descent that is probably the
    hardest part coming up from the east. How steep it is is apparent
    from the more than 50mph achieved in the dip across Sardine Creek and
    the hard braking required up the 18% grade to the bend at the crest.

    The descent is nearly all downhill except for a short bump along
    Leavitt Creek that gets to the valley by way of Leavitt Falls while
    the road makes a steep zigzag over densely spaced contour lines on
    the map as takes one of the steepest runs down to the 26% curve at the
    Leavitt Pack Station (7155ft) in Leavitt Meadow. From here we had a
    brisk tailwind as we passed the Marine Mountain Warfare Camp and Air
    Strip. Even the climb out of the West Walker river was a snap with a
    20mph wind with gusts to 30mph. Riding no-hands at 25mph it was
    practically still air with an occasional blast from behind.

    http://tinyurl.com/2ewcn (map Leavitt Meadow)

    In spite of the wind that kept most birds hidden in trees and bushes,
    we managed to sight a yellow headed blackbird in the Tule swamp next
    to the road. It was a sort of "mission accomplished" because these
    birds don't show themselves in the areas we ride in otherwise. We
    weren't sure which way the wind would blow in the Walker River canyon,
    it being north-south and the wind coming from due west. We were
    lucky, the wind was predominantly in our favor except where a side
    ravine entered from the west. At some of these places the turbulence
    was so strong it practically brought us to a stop holding onto the
    bars tightly.

    After a windy ride we entered Antelope Valley and headed west into
    Walker where the wind was mostly in our faces but not as strong as in
    the canyon. We stopped for a late lunch at the Mountain View Barbeque
    before cruising on toward Coleville and Topaz with a mix of side and
    tailwinds. We turned west on HWY89, Monitor Pass whose long westward
    run was directly into the wind but because it was cool, almost chilly,
    the climb was literally no sweat and the reverse runs on the double
    ess higher up after the first turn at the creek were with the wind.

    http://tinyurl.com/2wtoc (Monitor Pass)

    The top of the climb is more or less at the Alpine County line
    (7956ft) but today, with the stiff wind it went on up this mild grade
    to Monitor Pass summit (8324ft). To make up for that, the sky was so
    clear that the sun felt downright burning hot and the surrounding snow
    capped mountains seemed amazingly near. We stopped at the Summit for
    the usual photo at the stone marker in the grove of stubby wind pruned
    aspen that were just sprouting their coat of summer leaves. From
    here, although Heenan Creek takes a more direct route, the road
    descends 100 feet and rises to what looks like another summit at the
    same elevation although it is 30ft lower.

    The road descends through a series of sweeping curves around Sagehen
    Flat at the south end of which it passes Heenan Lake from which
    Monitor Creek flows down a narrow canyon to the East Carson River.
    Many old closed mines with ugly tailings and slurry ponds that were
    never restored after mining ceased line this canyon. The descent can
    be fast and with a gusting headwind up to 30mph gave made wind speeds
    greater than 70mph. The turbulence required careful steering as I
    thought of riders using aero wheels.

    http://tinyurl.com/ysy5g (map Monitor Creek)

    After reaching the Carson River we had some crosswinds as we rolled
    downstream toward Markleeville but that was all downhill anyway except
    for the short climb out of the river to Markleeville Creek. Looking
    at the rushing clear river reminded me that no major river flows out
    of Nevada. They all flow in, find a salt lake and dry up. Somehow I
    like the idea of rainwater returning to the sea but in this area it
    leaves its salts behind as it dries up somewhere in the desert.

    We got a before-dinner snack at the grocery store, got cleaned up in
    our room and had a fine dinner at the Hotel. Lodging was a bit weird
    in Markleeville. We had a reserved room at the J. Marklee Toll
    Station but never saw anyone from the inn. There was a faded note on
    the office door that said as much as "we'll be back soon" but nothing
    happened. Anyway the room was comfortable and clean. Can't complain.


    We slept in and got ready to go at 7:00 but the whole town was still
    asleep, probably getting ready for the coming Memorial Day weekend.
    After tootling around, looking for some signs of life, we rode out of
    town toward Ebbetts pass to Carson River Resort, a couple of miles up
    the river. There was no breakfast here either but the store with all
    sorts of camping and outdoor supplies was open so we downed some
    sustenance before heading out under a crisp clear sky, the wind still
    blowing as it had all night.

    The number of fishermen along the river was amazing. I had no idea
    that this was such a popular pursuit. SUV's and Pickup trucks were
    parked everywhere along the river while sedans or station wagons were
    nowhere to be seen. I thought about bygone days, when people got here
    in a Model-A Ford or even a Model-T with skinny near smooth tires in
    contrast to the huge knobby tires and jacked up black pickup trucks
    that appear to be essential for vacation travel these days. Of course
    today the roads are paved unlike the old days.

    The road doesn't start climbing noticeably anywhere in particular but
    there are a few bumps after leaving the Carson River for Silver Creek.
    We passed old landmarks, the white house and brick kiln with its huge
    square red brick chimney standing alone next to a heap of misfired
    brick debris. I didn't read the historic marker this time as we
    passed the miniature cemetery with its cast iron fence posts, and real
    and plastic flowers. Then came the silver painted school bus body
    that was blanked off at the firewall and had its wheel wells covered.
    It seems to have been unoccupied all the years I have seen it but it's
    still in good condition.

    Mule ear, or was it skunk cabbage, was blooming in the meadow between
    road and river, and aspen were full of green among the firs that took
    over as we gained altitude a bit at a time. After we crossed to the
    north side of Silver Creek, we left it below as we hit the first steep
    rise. The continuous double yellow center-stripe on this narrow
    winding road finally gave way to a single intermittent stripe before
    vanishing altogether.

    It is here that reality of this road makes itself known although there
    were signs warning of 24% grades and no vehicles over 25ft back in the
    valley. Back there the road looked like any other two lane state
    highway, but now it became apparent that those were not idle warnings
    as we rounded Cadillac curve, a steep hairpin that when missed
    descending assures a long tumble toward, but not reaching, Silver
    Creek. The Cadillac that went over the edge here and gave name to the
    curve is now also long gone.

    http://tinyurl.com/ypoxy (map Cadillac Curve)

    Scars in the pavement and football sized debris gave evidence of
    rockfall and the sudden steep climbs reminded us of the pioneers that
    built this road when Caterpillar, Komatsu, Euclid, and Wooldridge had
    not yet been heard of. The north side of the canyon exposes cliffs
    similar to those on Sonora pass, places where eagles soar. It was
    here on another tour where my friend asked why they were called golden
    eagles when they were so dark. Just then the bird made a turn in the
    afternoon light to reflect an entirely gold wing spread as it soared
    motionlessly as an airplane, "fingers" spread to catch the finest

    A sapsucker made the usual furtive exposure, hopping around the trunk
    of an aspen just far enough so I could just get a side view of this
    colorful red headed woodpecker. The tree had the typical rows of
    holes left by prior visits of these birds. Meanwhile Clarks'
    Nutcrackers gave their noisy calls but lesser birds' calls were muffled
    by the roar of the wind in the trees.

    http://www.stanford.edu/~petelat1/ (sapsucker)

    Above we could see Cascade Creek, aptly named as it found its way down
    the ravine as we climbed steeply toward Kinney Reservoir. From here
    on the last mile to the summit the forest floor was still in deep
    snow. Ebbetts Pass, although a steep and interesting road, does not
    have and exciting summit. It is around a corner in the forest with a
    flat approach form either side. In fact the road climbs a little to
    the west before stating its beautiful descent along the south rim of
    Hermit Valley and the Mokelumne River.

    http://tinyurl.com/2epqg (map Hermit Valley)

    This descent is not steep and is a fairly uniform grade with excellent
    pavement and a spectacular view to the south of seemingly endless
    wilderness. It is a view that makes one feel small and insignificant
    in a mountainous landscape, not quite like the Himalayas but for city
    folk, it is big. On the way down we passed six or more bicyclists
    going east, one of which was a friend with whom I have toured at times.

    After crossing the Mokelumne the road makes a steep jump and continues
    over steep to moderately steep grades to Pacific Creek that was
    running at a fair clip although not like the times that we got here
    before the road was officially open to traffic and snow was deep from
    Bear Valley to Silver Creek. We stopped at the bridge (7450ft) and