Tag: featured

Clearing Those Passes in the California Alps

Last Tuesday, April 2nd, I attended the Alpine Co. Board of Supervisors meeting here in Markleeville and one of the presenters was Dan McElhinney, CalTrans’ Acting Director for District 10.

Among other things, Dan brought us up to speed on CalTrans’ plans to clear snow from three (3) major Sierra passes: Monitor, Ebbett’s and Sonora.

They are planning on starting on Monitor next week and expect that it will take about 10-14 days to clear the many feet of snow that have accumulated. They’ll begin work on Ebbett’s and Sonora soon thereafter, or perhaps simultaneously, depending on resources. Apparently there is about 20′ of snow, with the associated ice that comes with months of freezing temperatures, on Ebbett’s and so, of the three (3), it will likely take the longest.

CalTrans assured the Board, and the public in attendance, that it will work VERY HARD to have all three (3) passes cleared by Memorial Day. Mr. McElhinney, and Clinton Neeley, the Maintenance Supervisor for District 10 (he’s based in Woodfords and was also at the meeting), both understand the importance of the work that needs to be done. With fishing season fast approaching, and the Deathride coming in July, clearing these passes, and clearing them ASAP, is vital. Monitor Pass, as the Board Chairman, David Griffith reminded us, is especially important since it is a vital connection between Hwy. 395 and Hwy. 89 – when it’s open, travelers can take the shorter route into Markleeville and then into Tahoe. When it’s closed our little town becomes a cul-de-sac and since much of our income is derived from tourism, that impacts our local businesses.

Here at California Alps Cycling, we’ve developed a nice relationship with Clinton and his crew; we work closely with them on our Adopt-a-Highway program. We’re so appreciative of the tough, sometimes dangerous work that they do. I personally make sure to tell them that whenever I see the crews working on roads I’m riding and I always salute them when I see their trucks or plows passing by.

So, when you see the crews out there, please let them know how much you appreciate the work they do. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to kick those passes’ asses!

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!

Winter Cycling in the California Alps

I’ll try not to whine too much as I write this post. After all, I get to live and work in the heart of the California Alps. Still, the winter can be tough up here in terms of cycling. The roads, even though most are plowed, have a tendency to ice up a bit (or more than a bit), especially after a decent snow, and that can make things a bit difficult on any bike, let alone a road bike.

A crisp, cool and icy Diamond Valley afternoon.

Over the last several weeks it’s been so icy most of the time that riding outside was not really safe. Thankfully, there are options. For example, a bluetooth trainer helps lessen the boredom and makes a virtual ride more engaging. I use a CycleOps Magnus with Zwift. The trainer syncs with Zwift and so as the grade increases on the screen, the resistence increases on the trainer. It’s not climbing per se but it certainly feels more realistic than mashing a bigger gear to simulate a climb. With this set up I can spin at a high cadence when I climb in the house just like I would when I’m on the road.

Last weekend, I took another step forward. I mounted a flat screen in my workout room and hooked it up to an old Apple TV. I did have one problem, though: the Zwift app. was kinda janky and running it with the Apple TV remote was problematic. So, I went with Airplay instead. That actually turned out to be a better set up. I put my laptop on a tripod (you can get a special tray on online to attach to any tripod), placed it by my side, opposite the stool I have for my water bottle, phone, towel, etc. and man, it felt like Mission Control! And that larger screen (46″) made for a much more immersive experience than what I had used previously – just the Mac in front of me on that tripod. Since the beginning of the month I’ve put in about 214 miles, with 172 of those on Zwift. I cast my mind back to the winter of ’16-17 when I rode 600 miles during one period, all indoors!

Yeah, I here ya! I need to find something else to do perhaps. A bit of snowshoeing maybe? Time to learn how to ski? How about a hike? Yup, I need to do some of that too. I do have a sweet little gym set up (little being the operative word) so I can do some core work, keep the upper body strong and work on those hammies and glutes a bit too. But, I agree, some other outdoor activities are warranted.

With that said, I did get a little break in the weather, or ice I should say, and got outside for a couple hours last Sunday. I was able to ride up Highway 4 (Ebbett’s Pass) a bit. The snow, and requisite gate, however, stopped me at Wolf Creek but I did get a glimpse of a bald eagle and I startled a coyote (doing it’s “business” on the side of the road). It’s the little things…

Snow and ice behind the gate at Hwy. 4 and Wolf Creek Road.

It was a great day, made even more special by the fact that I was outside. Yet another perk of riding inside: the rides outside are just a bit more enjoyable. If you’d like to do a bit of winter riding in one of the most beautiful places in the world, come on up, the weather’s fine…for now.

Snow on the sides of the road but not on it! Made all that much sweeter by that bright, shiny orb in the sky.

It’s Often Windy Here in the California Alps – Why is That?

As a San Jose native, I was very familiar with the wind patterns. I lived in South San Jose for many years and could plan my rides knowing pretty well how the wind would blow: Go out early and get the tailwind on the way home. Go out later in the afternoon and get the headwind on the way home. Certainly this did depend on the direction of my ride but for the most part I could easily predict the patterns.

So, what’s the deal here? Well, thanks to “A Sierra Club Naturlist’s Guide” by Stephen Whitney I’ve found some answers. 

Mountain winds: “Winds and breezes passing over a rugged mountain range such as the Sierra follow tortuous courses over and around ridges, up and down canyons, through gaps in the crest. Eddies set up by the irregular terrain blow here and there in vigorous gusts that rattle trees and shrubs one minute only to abruptly die down the next. In the protection of a large boulder or grove of trees there may be scarcely any wind at all, while just a few yards away, in a more exposed area, it howls furiously.”

Wind-driven clouds in the CA Alps

Okay, so that makes sense. It’s somewhat analogous to the flow of a river. Rocks = rapids. Eddies are often downstream of those big rocks and flat water can bee seen where there aren’t any big rocks to interrupt the water’s flow.

Let’s dive a little deeper, though. Why is it that I can head up Hwy. 4 (Ebbett’s Pass) with a headwind and then not get that tailwind on the way back? Okay, sometimes I do get the tailwind but it’s not consisent like it was in Silicon Valley. Well, Mr.Whitney has a bit more information in that regard. It’s about mountain breezes, valley breezes and the mountain ranges “intrusion” into the tropopause

“On a warm summer morning the air next to the ground surface is heated and rises. Cooler air nearby moves in to replace it and rises in turn. This movement is felt during the day as an upslope breeze.” Typically, he writes, this starts about three hours after sunrise and reaches its peak during the hottest hours of the day and then it tapers off again around dusk. This is a valley breeze.  “At night, cool air flows downslope, creating the mountain breeze.”

Dust off those cobwebs and cast your mind back (thanks Paul Sherwin) to those high school science days (daze?); here’s some additional data: “Wind speed increases over mountain crests and through canyons and passes because air – like any fluid – accelerates when forced through a narrow passage. As a volume of air moves upslope, it is increasingly squeezed between the mountains and the tropopause, the inversion layer acting as a lid on the lower atmosphere. Since the volume of air remains the same as it squeezes over the mountain crest, it becomes elongated.” Okay so that means it picks up speed. Makes sense. He goes on to write that “air forced to squeeze through a canyon or mountain pass is accelerated in much the same way.”

So, there we have it! Mountain winds, mountain breezes and valley breezes combined with the myriad canyons, crests, passes and that ol’ tropopause challenge those of us who cycle in the California Alps. It’s a rare day when we have no wind and due to the topography you can’t count on consistency. If you ride here then you, grasshopper, like I, need to learn to embrace the wind. 

Ride safe out there and let’s kick some passes asses!™ Even the windy ones…

Mt. Rose Snowshoe

Well, as our tagline: “Cycling, and more, in the Heart of the Sierra” implies, we don’t just cycle here at “CAC.” There’s so much more to do in the California Alps it would be criminal to focus strictly on cycling.

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share this little missive about an outing I had outside of Reno, in the Mt. Rose Wilderness Area, just last Saturday.

My friends Chris and Shyanne Schull, along with another recruit, Sam (the man, of course) and I took off from the parking lot at the Mt. Rose Summit/Tahoe Rim Trailhead about 10:30 a.m. I now know this was a bit late for the distance we had planned to cover as our leader (Chris) gave us approximately 1.5 minutes to wolf down our lunch before we had to head back.

Chris having lunch with Kona and Java - Mt. Rose
Our fearless leader, Chris, eats his lunch under the watchful eyes of Java and Kona

Okay, I digress…

So, off we go with all of our gear and puppies in tow, and head up the trail a bit to put on our snowshoes. That in itself was a bit dicey for this first-timer, let me tell ya! All those straps and shit…While trying to keep my balance. In snowy ice. Or is that icey snow?

Alrighty, then…Shoes on. Check. Pack hoisted. Check. Poles in hand. Check. Oh, wait, gloves. Okay, gloves. Check. And now I have to pee. Pack off. Check. Up the hill to the trees while my companions wait patiently. Check. Download. Check. Gloves and jacket. Check. Pack back on. Check. Now, off we go. Finally!

 

As a lifelong mountain lover, but a city livver (sorry, “liver” just didn’t feel right) I have had many of those “OMFG this is so beautiful moments” but had never experienced ‘shoein’, or skiing or anything that would take me miles into the wilderness on my own two feet. I was really looking forward to this. I was in great shape and had done a lot of hiking and backpacking so I was prepared for what I knew was going to be a hard day “out of the saddle.” Wrong! Not prepared. Not by a long shot. Showshoeing is hard I learned. Some of that was the trail we chose (I whined to Chris a lot. I mean a lot. Sorry, Chris), some of it was technique (or lack thereof) and some of it was just being a greenhorn. In any case, once I got out of my own way (and the trail got easier) I got into the Zen of it all: the rhythm of my breathing, the crunch of the snow, the outrageous blue sky and the crystalline snow (reminded me of the mirrors of my youth if you get my drift). Ooh, good pun!

img_1821.jpg
One of the benefits of being the lantern rouge – good photos like this. Shyanne, Kona, Java, Chris and Sam ahead of me in the meadow just to the west of Tamarack Peak.

Alright, I’ll put that flashback away and get on with the story. Bullet points:

  • Hard work side-mountaining and cutting trail in showshoes…
  • Harder still when cross-country skiers are swooshing by you at an irritatingly fast clip,
  • and harder still when it goes on for several hours longer than you think.
  • Crap, was that another whine?

What I learned:

  1. Good, waterproof, boots are key.
  2. Snowshoes that are better at shedding snow are better because they don’t form ice-balls under the shoe. When that happens, it makes it really hard to walk.
  3. Snowshoeing takes a lot longer than you think.
  4. You sweat a lot so having good, lightweight, breathable gear makes life a whole lot better when “doin the ‘shoe.”
  5. It’s frickin’ awesome being out (like really far out, man) there, in snow country. It looks so much different.
  6. You’re right, compared to someone like let’s say a snow surveyor, I wasn’t even out there. Still..frickin’ awesome!
  7. Doing something other than cycling, when it’s too cold and icy to be outside so I’d be on the trainer, anyway. Oh, boy!
  8. Did I tell you that it was frickin’ awesome?

Mark snowshoeing in Mt. Rose. Lake Tahoe in the background.
Oh, yeah! What a day! Yours truly heading back to the barn and yup, that’s Lake Tahoe in the background.

Oh, if you want more data that matta, click here and check out my strava activity post.

My lawyer told me I need to tell you this too: Please check to make sure that any trails, roads, hikes etc. that you use are suited to your skill set. CAC is not responsible for any injuries.  Any information provided on this website is subject to change and CAC is not responsible for the accuracy of that information.