Tag: carson pass

Climbing Mountain Passes – 5 Key Things to Know

I’ve lived here in the heart of the Sierra Nevada for about 3 1/2 years now and in that time I’ve tackled our “Big 3” (Carson, Ebbett’s, Monitor) a bunch of times (well except for Carson Pass), and I’ve done some of the lesser known climbs as well. The below tally is by no means a comprehensive Sierra Nevada list but it gives me enough experience to offer some advice as to what to be wary of when you’re climbing big mountains here in the California Alps.

The Current Count

  • Carson Pass = 1
  • Ebbett’s Pass (N. – the Markleeville side) = 14
    (my favorite climb as you can see)
  • Ebbett’s Pass (S. – the Bear Valley side – from Hermit Valley) = 2
  • Geiger Grade = 1
  • Luther Pass = (S. – the Tahoe side) = 2
  • Kingsbury Grade = 2
  • Monitor (E. – the Topaz side) = 5
  • Monitor (W. – the Markleeville side) = 7
  • Spooner Summit (Hwy. 50 – E. – the Carson City side) = 2

That’s a total of 32 climbs on local mountains (or passes as they are also referred) for approximately 112,000 feet of climbing, or the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest almost four (4) times! Here’s some of what I’ve learned in all those hours and pedal revolutions.

Climbs up Mountains are Steep

Yeah, this may seem like a no-brainer but just last week, as I was climbing the west side of Monitor (the first 3.5 miles of which average close to 10%) I came across a few cyclists struggling to maintain any kind of cadence. I noticed that several did not have the right gearing (I ride a 50-34 in front and a 30-11 in back).

Lesson learned #1: make sure you have the right chainrings and cogset.

The Air is Thin

A couple riders told me as I passed (and they gasped for air) that they didn’t realize how hard it would be and that it was difficult to get any air. Some riders I’ve talked to like to come up and spend time here before they hit the climbs. Others come right up and do their climbing before their body realizes they’re here. In any case, be do your homework!

Lesson learned #2: address acclimatization.

Winds Can be Vexing

One of our members, Dr. Rich Harvey, commented on this post (which I wrote some time ago) and it was he that used the word “vexing.” So appropriate because here in the mountains there really are NO reliable wind patterns. Just yesterday I rode part-way up Ebbett’s Pass, into the wind. Did I get the tailwind on the way back? Nope. The wind shifted due to, among other things, the valley winds (explanation in that post).

Lesson learned #3: It’s a rare day that there is no wind and so set your expectations (and plan your wardrobe) accordingly.

The Climate can Change Quickly

There can be a temperature variation of 10-20 degrees between the start of the climb and the summit! And, in the summertime there are often afternoon thunderstorms. During the 2018 Deathride several of our riders were pelted with hail and rain on Carson Pass. This was in July and it was sunny here in Markleeville!

Just last Saturday I climbed Monitor. I brought an additional neck-gaiter and hat for the descent but it wasn’t enough. The wind came up and the temperature dropped while I was still climbing up to the summit. I did have a vest on, and arm-warmers, but I should have brought another jersey or vest. In the past I’ve done so (using a cinch-pack). This day, though, I didn’t follow my own advice and I was so cold on the descent I started to shiver badly enough that I had to stop and warm up before I could continue.

Lessen learned #4: Bring the necessary gear, or layer up, so you can deal with any adverse conditions that may arise.

There is No Cell-Service

We’ve all come to take cell service for granted. Here in Markleeville it’s really only Verizon that works. My wife and I had AT&T in San Jose but when we moved up here we quickly switched to Verizon. That doesn’t do diddly-squat up on Ebbett’s Pass, though, or even in some of the lower elevations. I carry a Garmin inReach Mini on my rides. Admittedly, I already had it before I moved up to the mountains because I’ve got a yellow-jacket allergy. But, had I not had it before I moved here I would have gotten it afterwards. Among other things (including an SOS feature) it allows me to send texts to my wife from anywhere in the world.

Lesson learned #5: Get a satellite communication device if you can and if you can’t (and I do this also) make sure you have clearly communicated to “your person” your route, your approximate return time and what to do “if you don’t hear from me by such and such a time.”

Cycling in the Mountains is an Awesome Experience

And one that is made that much better if you are prepared for what you’ll experience. Understand the topography; prepare for the thin air, wind and climate; and address communication. By following some of my lessons learned you too can have an awesome experience cycling in one of the world’s most amazing venues – the Sierra Nevada, and our little slice of heaven within, the California Alps.

A Deathride Resurgence in the California Alps

Well, in case you don’t already know…It’s official! Registration is open for the 40th anniversary of the Tour of the California Alps (aka The Deathride)!

The Alpine Co. Chamber of Commerce, located here in Markleeville, CA, hosts and owns the ride, and this year, as I alluded to back in September, we’ve (full disclosure – I’m on the Board of Directors) decided to up our game, hence the tagline: “Deathride Resurgence.”

First and foremost, we’ve hired the Bike the West team! These are the same professionals that put on “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride” and “Tour de Tahoe” so we are stoked! (I’ll be riding the former in June, by the way).

We’ve also inked a deal with Alta Alpina Cycling Club to host a training series of approximately five (5) different rides in the Deathride area. This club (it is based in Carson Valley – Lake Tahoe but members, including yours truly, do a lot of riding in Alpine Co.) does a lot of good works in the area (among other things they are one of our “Adopt-a-Highway” neighbors) and also has great experience putting on races and rides of their own, including the Alta Alpina Challenge.

As the only hard-core cyclist on the board, I’ve also been making it my mission to help my colleagues better understand why we cyclists do what we do and why we like what we like; I’ve been able to bring some of what I’ve learned doing organized rides over the years as well as share some insights about the Deathride course and the mountains that we climb.

15000 Feet of Elevation and 5 Categorized Climbs

Like I mentioned above, a change in terminology…We’ll still be climbing both sides of Monitor Pass, both sides of Ebbett’s Pass (albeit not all the way into Bear Valley – keep reading) and the eastern side of Carson Pass. In the past we referred each of these as passes but this year we’ve begun using the UCI lexicon – climbs. Technically, we only climb to three passes, right? We do, however, do five categorized climbs, four of which are hors catégorie (the other is a Cat. 1).

A Renewed Emphasis on Safety

With a strong(er) emphasis on safety this year, including more outreach to neophyte deathriders, we will make the ride even safer. We’re talking hay bales at risky corners (think Cadillac Curve), better signage, more robust outreach to non-riders, course marshals, safety talks and training, SAG and sweep support, HAM radio communications and staggered starts. For you early birds, including this guy, that means no more getting on the course at 3:30 a.m. The ride begins no earlier than 5:00 a.m.; we’ll have groups of riders departing every 15 minutes (you can pick your start time when you register). While we’ve got an excellent safety record, thanks to Curtis and Team, we’ll be even safer this year.

Other Route Options Being Explored

We had hoped to change the route this year to include Pacific Grade, and to remove Carson Pass. Unfortunately due to various concerns from CalTrans, local and state law enforcement, business owners, and others, we were not able to make it happen. Many riders have expressed support for this change and we appreciate that but currently there are so many logistical concerns we decided we needed to move on, at least this year. We’ll continue to work on it with the hopes that we can bring our neighbors to the southwest into the Deathride fold. Wouldn’t it be awesome to ride into Bear Valley or Lake Alpine next year? And, while Carson Pass is beautiful, I personally would much rather do a longer stretch of Highway 4 instead. Have some thoughts on this? Comment on this post or our Facebook page or better yet, bring your fine self and your voice to the ride this year and let us, and others, know how you feel. We’d love to hear from you!

You coming?

It’s a grueling and painful, yet amazing experience to do the Deathride. I’ve ridden it three (3) times yet only completed all the climbs one time (in 2017). In 2018 I was only able to complete three (3) climbs and last year, while I was the strongest I had ever been, I caught a nasty cough the day before the ride. Still, I was able to complete four (4) climbs: 7.5 hours on the bike, 10,433 feet of elevation and about 83 miles of distance. This year, I’m hoping to PR this bad boy and it would be great if you could join us too. Whether you’re all in and planning on doing all the climbs or doing fewer, I promise you’ll have fun and most importantly, you’ll learn a lot about yourself. And remember, there will be no cars on Monitor or Ebbett’s for most of the day – and that makes for an even more remarkable (dare I say mind-blowing?) experience.

I should also mention that we’re looking to up our game when it comes to food, fun and other amenities. Those things are still a work in progress so stay tuned for further updates but suffice it to say we’ve heard you, and our community, so it’s all on the table and our goal is to impress.

So, if you’ve joined us before, we’d love to have you back and if you haven’t and you’re looking for a world-class ride in a world-class setting, come and check it out. Alpine Co. would love to see you!

Some photos from past Deathrides

I’ll leave you all with some images that I’ve taken from past rides. Enjoy!

Oh and by the way, there’s been some confusion over the years about the relationship between California Alps Cycling and the Deathride. While the ride is near and dear to our (and mine) hearts, and were are both in Markleeville, California Alps Cycling is not affiliated with the Deathride.

A Tale of Two Trails – Both in the California Alps

Charity Valley Trail

This trail, maintained by the Alpine Trails Association (ATA), of which I’m a proud, and rookie, member, traverses approximately 7-8 miles between Blue Lakes Rd. (off Hwy. 88 in Hope Valley) and Hot Springs Road, in Markleeville. On this particular day (Sunday, July 28th), the ATA hosted the hike in order to show members, residents and guests what they did and how and where they did it. Like I said, I’m a new member so it was my first chance to see first hand what I’d gotten myself into! With that said, I must disclose that workdays (i.e. trail-building, tool-sharpening, etc.) are currently on Tuesdays and since I’m gainfully employed, I’m not available. After this hike, I must admit, I’m a bit grateful.

And so the day began…

…at the trailhead on Blue Lakes Rd. Well, we actually met at the opposite end of the trail, on Hot Springs Rd. where we left some vehicles, as we needed to shuttle up to Blue Lakes. This was NOT the day to do the entire out and back! Anyway…some 411: While this is a public trail, it begins in private land and so the only marker is a rock cairn 6.2 miles from the turnoff at Blue Lakes and 88. There is a small parking area across from the trailhead. We did some orientation and sign-up stuff at the HSR trailhead and then we got a lesson in tools and such at the BLR trailhead.

Off we went…

at a gentle, posey sniffing, pace. The plan was to take our time, stop and smell, or at least photograph, the wildflowers, as well as learn about trail-building techniques. We were also regaled with stories about the local history of the trail and surrounds.

The trail was amazing! Wildflowers and such for the first couple of miles, waterfalls, pools, an old beaver pond, shaded forest; cool, big-ass trees (a lot of the area was not logged and so we were privileged to see some old-growth firs and pines), granite and some amazing views throughout.

That lily-pond, though, was the highlight of the day. A lili-pond in the heart of the California Alps?! I had never seen such a thing. Yet another hidden gem on this fantastic trail.

Admittedly, it wasn’t all fun & games; there were some fairly technical sections of the trail with rocky switchbacks, granite “steps” and other such obstacles. I ride 5000-6000 miles a year so I figured 7.5 miles (advertised distance) would be no problem whatsoever. Wrong! All that downhill, and the distance itself, took a toll on those gams. I was pretty sore for a couple days and realized that I’ve got to put a bit more core, including Bosu and Swiss-ball work, into my routines. Too much cycling makes Mark a dull boy. Well, at least that’s how my legs felt. Still, an awe-inspiring day filled with sights, sounds, conversation and laughter. And a shared sense of experience that one gets when doing such an adventure with a dozen others. What a day! Thank you ATA!

Frog Lake via the Pacific Crest Trail

I had snowshoeed the PCT to Winnemucca Lake last winter but this was the first time I had actually seen the trail itself. As I told Mom, who joined me for this short and relatively easy hike, it all looked so different without the snow. In some ways it was harder as the snow had flattened out many of the obstacles we hiked over on this day, which by the way, was a week ago Sunday, August 4th.

All Trails shows this section that we hiked as part of its Lake Winnemucca from Carson Pass via Pacific Crest Trail so take a look and if you’re so inclined, definitely head up to Winnemucca Lake – so worth it. Mom and I didn’t have the time so we went with the shorter out and back to Frog Lake.

Frog Lake is that first lake you pass on the trail towards Winnemucca Lake.

Parking can be a challenge…

but there is overflow parking about 300 yards east of the main trailhead and we were able to find parking there. Keep in mind there is a $5.00 charge to park in the overflow lot. You can also park at the trailhead on other side of Hwy. 88, about 100 yards west, if that. There are restrooms at both parking lots and at the southern lot, where the trailhead we took starts, there’s a visitor center with helpful rangers and docents. Be sure to stop by there if you do the hike; the folks in the center are eager to answer your questions and point you to some great resources.

Wildflowers Abound!

We had heard that the wildflowers were popping just a couple weeks prior so were hopeful that we’d get to see our share. We were not disappointed!

There was one point on the trail where, as we turned to head east, we were greeted by this amazing field of color (that’s me in the middle of it and Mom is on the trail). Most of the pix you see above were taken there but there was lots of flora on other parts of the trail too. And, the butterflies were very happy. So many flying about – between the flowers and the ‘flies it was crazy pretty.

The lake itself…

was like an infinity pool. There was a field of wild iris nearby although there were starting to wilt so we were just a tad late for that show. Next year we’ll have to go a bit earlier. Fields of purple iris’ are wondrous. Saw some on Monitor Pass, along with Wyethia (Mule Ears) and White Lupine, earlier in the summer and it was quite the contrast.

A lone Wild Iris on the trail. Imagine a field of these!

Speaking of the lake…The entire hike, including a trip around Frog Lake itself, was about 3.3 miles. We did it a pretty slow pace so we could take in all the scenery; we were out on the trail for 2.5 hours. Here’s a few shots of the lake – see what I mean about the infinity pool?

Great views to be had!

At the other (northern) side of the lake there was a nice outcrop and we could look down to see Red Lake, which thanks to a massive algae bloom was (still is) actually green, and Hope Valley. All of this just 30 minutes from Markleeville, or just down the road from Kirkwood!

Well, there you have it! Two cool hikes in two weeks – one somewhat epic for you hardcore hikers and the other much more user-friendly. Be sure to come on up to the Sierra and experience some of the amazing trails before the summer ends or wait until the fall, when you won’t see the wildflowers but you will see the aspens in “full-bloom.”

Have some hikes or other adventures you’d like to share with fellow readers? Give us the data that matta by commenting on this post!

 

The Deathride Cometh to the California Alps

I still can’t believe it’s been over a month since my last post and that the Deathride is less than a week away! Certainly my day job has been taking a lot of my time, but that’s understandable, especially lately (typical mid-year craziness combined with regular craziness- I won’t bore you, you likely have similar woes) but as I cast my mind back (RIP Paul Sherwen) to the past few weeks (months?) I realize the time-warp is mostly due to training for the ride itself. Well, okay, here at California Alps Cycling we’ve also been doing a bit of prepping for the exposition (can you say “cool schwag?“), and we’ve been getting our ducks in a row for the bag drop, too. Check out our Deathride page for more information on that and THANK YOU to those that have signed up!

Okay, Before I Continue – The Roads are Ready!

I’ve spotted the Caltrans crews out and about our local highways recently doing a bit of sweeping and other clean-up. The place is looking good!

I rode up to Ebbett’s Pass on Sunday, June 30th, and other than a few errant rocks (it’s a constant here) the road looks great. The snow was mostly gone, and no doubt will be completely gone come next Saturday. Oh, and Kinney Resevoir is no longer an ice rink!

Just this past Saturday, I rode both sides of Monitor Pass; it was a glorious day! I’m not saying it wasn’t painful, it was, especially that eastern side. BUT…the weather was perfect (it’s probably going to be a bit hotter next Saturday) and the wildflowers were popping! There should still be plenty left for the ride next week. I’ve lived here almost three years now and I’ve never seen Monitor looking so pretty so if you’re riding next Saturday be sure to look around.

As for Carson Pass, well I have to admit I haven’t had a chance to ride that one lately. Member and co-founder (and wifey) Pat, drove over to the Bay Area today (poor thing) though, and she reported that the road was good. It will be even better Saturday the 13th since it will be “staffed” with volunteers and riddled with riders. I did ride a portion of Blue Lakes Rd. last month, however, and thoroughly enjoyed the descent therefrom!

Training in the Sierra

Alright, I feel better now. You’ve got the latest intel and I’ve whined about how busy I’ve been. So, onward we go. Preparing for a ride of this magnitude takes months. My wife has been so supportive, as spouses and partners of cyclists have to be, and I’m grateful that the ride is under a week away.

As you may recall from one of my previous posts, I’ve done a bit of research and in applying said nuggets I’ve become stronger and faster, and I have more endurance too. So in the last several weeks, I’ve done an organized ride and a bunch of other “tests” to keep those legs lean and mean and keep my confidence high.

Tollhouse Century (part of the Climb to Kaiser)

The “organized test” took place on June 22nd. I was joined by my brother from another mother, and CA Alps Cycling Legacy Member, Scott (aka Scotty) Keno. It was a really fun day on the bike, made more so because we were joined by three other riders: Dan, Robert and Scott. It was great having the company; it made the day go faster, and so did the pulls! Click here for a Relive video of our day, including a couple “interesting” moments/photos. Short answer = We passed the test. I was really stoked that I was able to do the ride so quickly, and with fewer and shorter rests. All that training definitely paid off! Check out this post; it’s a little reminder of how I got here. You can follow the same plan and perhaps get the same (or better!) results.

The other tests

This ride was the first test, if you will. The other two tests were Ebbett’s and Monitor. So, I’ve done three out of the five and I’m feeling good. Now, it’s on to those other trials: recovery, rest and patience. The latter is not one of my strong suits but I’m learning. Learning how to pace myself. Learning how to take better care of the bod’ and most of all, learning how to enjoy my time on the bike more. Did an active recovery ride today and tomorrow it’s a rest day. I’ll do a couple walks this week and maybe an easy spin on Thursday so I’ll be rested for Saturday. Then I can let these horses outta the gate!

What about you?

You coming to Markleeville next weekend? Perhaps you’re already here? If you answered in the affirmative to either then we look forward to seeing you Friday at the Expo and Saturday on the road. If not, then we wish you well in your next adventure, crucible, challenge, or whatever it is you want to call it.

Now…Let’s Kick Some Passes’ Asses!

Current Road Conditions in the Heart of the California Alps

One of my Strava friends recently asked on one of my posted rides if the gates for Monitor and Ebbett’s Pass were open. That question made me realize I hadn’t posted an update on the local road conditions lately. So, here’s one!

Four recent rides

Since last Sunday I’ve toured the area around Markleeville and ridden in or to Diamond Valley (Hwy. 89 between Markleeville and Woodfords), Wolf Creek Road (Hwy. 89 between Markleeville and Monitor Pass and Hwy. 4 from Monitor Pass up a portion of Ebbett’s Pass) and Crystal Springs Road (Hwy. 88 from Woodfords up a small bit of Carson Pass) and have this to report:

  • Diamond Valley – Snow on the sides of the roads but no ice on the roads themselves. Lots of “snow plow dirt” and other detritis on the shoulders though.
  • Wolf Creek – Ditto – heading up Ebbett’s to Wolf Creek you’ll see some small slides, with assorted rocks and boulders, though. Not too “bouldery” on the roads themselves but certainly some. On one ride earlier this week I heard, and then saw, some rock coming down one of the hills onto Hwy. 4. A bit disconcerting…
  • Wolf Creek Road itself is gated/closed.
  • Crystal Springs – Easy going on Hwy. 88 with only the plow detritus on the shoulders. No ice on Crystal Springs Road.
  • Monitor Pass is closed for the winter. The gates at Hwy. 395 and at Hwy. 4/89 are closed.
  • Ebbett’s Pass is closed for the winter. The gate at the Hwy. 4/89 junction is open, and the sign nearby reads the road is closed seven (7) miles ahead (Raymond Meadow Creek), HOWEVER, the road is actually closed 2.5 miles from the junction (at Wolf Creek Road). It’s likely that the gate will be closed at the junction at some point in the near future though, as more snow is forecast for this weekend.
  • Carson Pass is open.
  • Luther Pass is open.

Pix of some of those roads

The lucky shot

Sam (could be Samuel or Samantha) the bald eagle (as we’ve named it) posing for a pic near the Hwy. 4 and Hwy. 89 junction.

Have a great Friday and a wonderful weekend! More snow is on the way so please remember to ride safe and let’s kick some passes’ asses!

The disclaimer

The information and content on this page, as well as any other California Alps Cycling (CAC) page or materials, is general in nature and must be used with an understanding of your capabilities and expertise. Please be sure that any trails, roads, hikes etc. that you use are suited to your skill set as CAC is not responsible for any injuries to you, your companions or your equipment.  Additionally, while we strive to provide accurate, timely and complete information, it is subject to change and therefore CAC is not responsible for the accuracy thereof.   

Snowshoeing – Lessons Learned on the California Alps

Last week was so cold and icy that I accomplished my entire weekly cycling goal of 100 miles, on Zwift. So, when Chris (Schull, one of California Alps Cycling’s Legacy Members) and his wife Shyanne (and their two pups, Kona and Java) offered to take me on a ‘shoe trip to Winnemucca Lake last Saturday I was all over it.

A map of the trail from Highway 88 at Carson Pass and Winnemucca Lake.
The trail from Highway 88 (Carson Pass) to Winnemucca Lake.

Lots to learn

Now I’ve done a lot of hiking, some backpacking, lots of camping and quite a bit of hunting in my day, including an elk hunt in the snow many years ago. Still, I was unprepared for our little adventure – this was only my 2nd snowshoe trip afterall. Click here if you’d like to read the post about my first snowshoe adventure, by the way.

My gloves were too small. They worked great on the property but add a little sweat and they were too hard to get on and off, and they didn’t have the fingertip sensor so I couldn’t snap photos without taking them off. Lesson 1. Lesson 2 – my pants. I had a great weather proof pair of Arcteryx snow pants, however, they didn’t stay put due to a drawstring that kept loosening. Suspenders would have helped greatly! Handwarmers were another item I could have used. One of my fingers went numb and into pre-frostbite because I had trouble putting on my snowshoes with my gloves and so had to take them (the gloves, not the shoes) off. It was a hard, kinda lumpy (with white patches starting to appear) digit until Chris gave me one of his handwarmers and showed me how to put it in my glove and wrap that finger around it. Lesson 3 and a big one. The biggest lesson I took away, though, was not to rush the preparations. I was a bit cocky and so figured I could just get all my gear together the morning of the hike. Big mistake. It wasn’t just a hike and more preparation and time was warranted.

On with the adventure

Once I got through (or we got through) my “greenhorn issues” (thank you Chris for having my back and thank you Shyanne, Kona and Java for waiting on my sorry ass) we were able to make some tracks. It was a beauty (albeit chilly) day on the pass. About 20 degrees or so. The day was fairly clear, though and until we reached the lake, there wasn’t much wind. It took us about an hour to get to the lake (we averaged 2 mph for the entire hike) where we found some shelter from the wind and had our lunch. Oh, and I learned another lesson here…bring something to sit on. Shyanne used a plastic garbage bag – light, easily packable and cheap.

Chris, Shyanne and Kona and Java taking a lunch break near Winnemucca Lake.
Lunch stop at Winnemucca Lake (the actual lake is to our left). Notice that Shyanne is comfortably seated?

We took a few minutes for some lunch and some spiked hot-chocolate (oh, so good!) and the goilz (Kona and Java) enjoyed nibbling kibble nuggets that Chris had thrown out on the snow. It wasn’t quite a bluebird day (there was some clouds as you can see) but it was damn close. There is something about being in the mountains with snow all around. It magnifies the beauty ten-fold, maybe more. For those of you who ski or do other winter sports I know you know what I mean.

Back to the barn, er truck

Now that we had put my wardrobe (and other malfunctions behind me) and had some much needed sustenance and cockle-warming we were able to put the pedal to the metal as it were and make good time heading back to the vehicle. Oh, I should mention that you need a Sno-Park permit to park at the trailhead. We forgot ours and so had to head back to Sorensen’s to get it or risk a $94.50 fine. Thankfully, not too much of a delay. Anyway, the trip back was uneventful and we made good time. We covered just over 4 miles with 1:47 of moving time and about 2 1/2 hours elapsed time and when we got back to CA Alps Cycling HQ we had a warm fire, cold beers and some good company with whom we could share our adventure. Here’s a few more pix from the day.

I wish you well on your next adventure. Why not head here to Markleeville for it? We’ve got some good eats and cold beer, a nice hot spring and more snow is on the way. I hope to see you soon and remember not to rush the preparations and most importantly be safe and kick some passes asses!