Thursday, January 21, 2016

Epic Rides; Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite via Tioga Pass

I thought I would start an occasional post series called Epic Rides. I am lucky enough to live in a State that offers a fair share of amazing routes that can be ridden. I am not sure how many I will ever get to do but here goes!

At the tail end of summer last year Becca and I headed out to Mammoth Mountain to get an extended training weekend. I was able with her support to ride one of the most memorable centuries rides I have ever done. After some research on Strava I came across a ride that would take me from Mammoth Village, where we were staying, to Yosemite Valley floor. It was to be a 113 mile ride and it would accumulate over 7000’ of elevation gain and with a high point of just under 10,000’.

I downloaded the route from Strava and upload it into my Garmin 810 so there would be no need to stop and a check my phone or a map along the way. I left Mammoth reasonably early knowing that it was not going to be a quick ride and as it was a point to point we would have a 100 mile drive home at the end!


The climb out of Mammoth Village was uneventful, a bit chilly but nothing not that a Vest and arm-warmers couldn’t cope with. I rode north east along the Mammoth Scenic Loop which lived up to its name. After a short climb,, during which I stripped off my arm warmers and vest, I was treated to 4 miles of downhill with broad sweeping corners and a nice wide bike lane. As I bottomed out I turn north on the 395 towards June Lake. The 395 was just a four lane highway and it rolled along without any issues. I had the mountains to my left and then the scenery just flattened out into high dessert  to the right. I crested Deadman Summit and hoped it was just a road sign and not one of things to come.

I have been to Mammoth a few times and had never been to June Lake, I was in for a treat. It’s a quaint little holiday village nestled at the bottom of June Mountain and Carson Peak. I would assume that the lake and the mountain are the main sources of tourism and revenue as you can boat and fish on the lake in the summer and ski June Mountain and Mammoth in the winter. All around were the colors of fall with the trees a mix of red and gold. It really was stunning. The ride around the lake was nice and rolling and I passed several more smaller lakes as I accumulated the miles.


At Grant Lake I got a good reminder of the drought the California has been experiencing, you can
really see it in this photo!


The road looped around and I finally popped back out onto the 395. At this point Becca caught up with me in the Van. She had been doing her own workout back in Mammoth and was about two hours behind me. I refilled my bottles with Skratch and stuffed my pockets with some Portables goodies that we had baked during the week. Five miles further on I made the left turn onto Tioga Road and steeled myself for the climb.

Tioga Pass serves as the eastern entry point for Yosemite National Park, at the Tioga Pass Entrance Station. It is the highest highway pass in California and in the Sierra Nevada. From the 395 to the high point and the Park’s entrance it is a 12 mile climb. The starting elevation is 6845’ and the finish is 9949’ at the Ranger Cabins. The climb itself it not overly steep it averages 4.9% but there are some sections that ramp up over 16%. There are three distinct section; the first three miles is a nice steady leg warmer, the next six miles are the meat of the effort with 2000’ of gain and the last three miles allow you to catch your breath and get your legs back under you. Of course it never looks like that when you riding up it! It just looks like a never ending climb. In the photo below the pass I am pointing to is where I am heading. 


Not surprisingly it’s a slog however you look at it and while the view is stunning there were a couple of times when I had to pullover to re-gather myself…and grab a selfie. You can see the where the road is over my left shoulder, it’s the light tan band heading down the hill.


At the top there was noticeably drop in temperature and also a back log of traffic paying to get into the Park. I caught up with Becca and stocked up again on fluids and food as well as putting my vest back on knowing that the descent would get cooler as the day was running out. The drop into Yosemite was a joy. Freshly resurfaced road and on the whole courteous drivers meant I could roll along at a good clip and enjoy digging the bike into the corners as I went. As the first climb leveled out around Tuolumne Meadows I had covered another 10 miles or so and barely pedaled a stroke and was at the 60 mile mark. Another quick pit stop with Becca and I was back on the road.

In contrast the first 50 miles of the ride the park was bustling with people. Cars on the side of the road by trail heads. People bouldering just off the side or the road. Motorcycle-Tourers, RVs and day visitors. Despite all these folks there was a nice bike lane and everyone was generous when overtaking me.

As you would expect the scenery was breathtaking, every corner you rounded there was a lake or a valley or a mountain. At times I had to concentrate to keep my eyes on the road.

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Much of the road been resurfaced and was a pleasure to ride. Overall I was losing elevation as I headed to the Valley floor which was another 50 miles away but there were some short sharp climbs along the way and few that took the wind out of my sails too. Around Mile 75 I had a 5 mile climb from Yosemite Creek campground up and past White Wolf Road but from there I was rewarded with another 10 mile descent to Big Oak Flat Road which would take me the Valley floor and eventually Curry Village where I would end the ride.

At this point the road narrowed considerably and there was an increase in traffic. I had merged with the traffic that had entered the Park from the west. The Valley floor is essentially a dead end with a loop so there was plenty of traffic going both ways. Combined with a narrower road I had a couple of close shave with drivers passing me.  In addition the nice smooth tarmac ran out. This final descent into Yosemite Valley was brutal. There were frost cracks in the road every 10 yards. After 100 or so miles this was making my hands numb my feet numb and I had to shut my mouth to stop my teeth falling out my head! I found a safe place to stop and called it with just over 102 miles on the clock!
Becca caught up with me. We loaded the bike in the Van and headed back to Mammoth to get cleaned up and have a nice steak and beer!


All in all it was a great day and quite the adventure! I would definitely call this a bucket list ride. I was lucky to get this ride in when I did as a couple of weeks later the pass closed for the winter.

In terms of logistics I would say that’s it’s a doable ride if you want to solo it. There are several places to stop to refill bottles and grab food. Of course if you ride it point to point you will need someone to come and pick you up otherwise you’ve got a big ride to get back to Mammoth. As with all my crazy adventures I was lucky to have Becca providing SAG for me throughout the day!

Here is the Strava file and the Veloviewer file.

Some useful resources:
Go any questions, leave a comment and I will do my best to answer them.

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