The Eastern Sierra Fall Adventure: Part 2 - The Queen Stage
by Chris Hobbs on October 25, 2011
When we last left our heroes, they were 15k of vert into a gravity slugfest. Let's continue...
This was to be the Queen Stage of the trip. Horseshoe Meadows, Whitney Portal and Onion Valley. 3 of the toughest climbs in California.
We started in Lone Pine, which claims to be the movie capital of California. Maybe they have not heard of Hollywood this far north.
We had this guy to guard the trailer.
Just looking at Horseshoe from a distance makes the quads tremble, and this is just the opening section. The full climb is 6,234 vertical feet, tackled over 19 miles. You can't get more vert in a single climb in California.
The stretches between the first switchbacks are 2 miles long. It is like a classic alpine road blown up 10x by some insane surveyor. That surveyor is pretty talented, though, because the grade through the main part of the climb is a very steady 7-8%.
Fortunately, we had a long, flat run in to the fun, and as usual, we enjoyed a social prelude to the real work of the day.
Brian had snuck up the road early, and Rann attacked before the first switchback.
I spent most of the climb by myself. The Pain Cave is quite comfortable for long, lonely efforts, though, and the scenery was always interesting.
Amazing colors on the desert floor.
How did that tree get there?
We are not the only nutcases on the mountain.
Luke conquers the monster.
As usual, it was a bit chilly up top.
A fast but bumpy trip down....
Mental note...cut it wide on the way down.
and then lunch.
Mike takes a nap. Bill says, "Soft!"
We then tackled Whitney Portal, which, conveniently, is right next door to Horseshoe. Whitney is a shorter climb at only 10 miles, but it starts with a 2 mile long section of double digit gradient that is tough on the mind and body. And, it has bears. So, no chatty intro to this beast. It was On from the start.
At the bottom of Whitney Portal.
Gun Show! Not very useful around here.
The views of the towering peaks as you snake between them are spectacular.
Scott attacked early, hoping the bears would take care of his pursuers. I hung on to Brian's wheel for dear life. I was careful to suffer silently, lest he realize I was there and accelerate.
Scott takes the Whitney Portal KOM.
Of course, with 20 meters to go, I sprinted by...what a prick. But, Brian really deserved it for making me suffer for an hour without ever breathing hard himself.
10k of vert is just a snack for Bill.
The others arrived at varying intervals, but consistent states of distress.
Mike looks like he is doing his laundry.
Colin hits the top
Rann had melted his carbon wheel on the long descent off of Horseshoe, and had to switch to his backup wheels, which had flat racing gears on them. Ask him how that worked out for him on Whitney Portal ;) .
Rann looks a bit spent.
Then of course, we had to bundle up for the ride down.
I think that is Bill under all that.
The ride down.......
We ended up too short on daylight to attempt Onion Valley, the toughest climb of them all according to the guidebook (though Colin and Scott think White Mountain is tougher, and I am going to agree so I can claim having done the toughest). The full climb is 17 miles long and climbs over 5,000 feet. I look forward to slaying that dragon on a future trip. Here is an interesting report on doing the triple.
We had tacos at the sketchiest "restaurant" in Lone Pine. A roach coach, set up in a dirt lot with a couple of picnic tables under a tarp. It was delicious.
At least the wall furnishings were classy.
After we got back to Bishop, Ritchie whipped together another incredible dinner, and we celebrated his birthday (which he spent diligently attending to our needs--we're worth it).
No, we did not make the cake in the coffee maker.
And how to finish off such a trip. How about climbing the highest paved road in California? Why not. We rode out from Bishop to tackle Rock Creek. This is technically accomplished via three separate climbs, separated by a few hundred meters of rest. But, basically, you are climbing over 6,000 feet in a more or less steady go, finishing at 10,200 feet (a bit higher than White Mountain).
As usual, we rolled out as a group and enjoyed a chatty prelude to the day's dénouement.
Performance enhancing donut
As it was the last day, things were sure to get frisky. Brian dropped a big Soy Hammer on the first climb with a subtle but devastating attack that put Scott and I on the back foot. Since he nevers breathes hard, it is really hard to tell whether Brian is attacking, or just accidentally upped the power by 100 watts. Maddening.
On the second climb, he did it again, only this time, Scott mysteriously disappeared.
Scott hit the top a few minutes later, claiming to have been delayed by helping to fix a flat. Of course, his hands looked pretty clean, and we all know he was just resting up for the final climb--Scott is sneaky like that.
Brian, Scott and I headed up Rock Creek together after a snack stop. We left Mike, Rann and Colin behind, dealing with mechanical (tire change) and biological (chamois creme application) issues. Call it a feed zone attack.
We climbed together for a few miles, gently increasing the pace from dawdling to highly uncomfortable.
Yes, Scott, we know.
Scott considers the comforts of the broom wagon.
Bill had put in an even better feed zone attack to go up the road, and it took us a while to reel him in.
As we passed the halfway point, I put in an attack to win the sprint to the county line sign….yeah! It does not matter that no one else saw the sign…they should pay more attention. Upon reaching the sign, I saw that I had a decent gap, and thought, what the hell, I'll just keep going. A few minutes of intense suffering later, I was disappointed to find Scott back on my wheel.
Near the top, right as we got into the snow, we passed Pie in the Sky, our post climb refueling stop. I was more focused on Scott's rear wheel than pumpkin versus banana creme.
Scott attacked on a steep section and gapped me a bit as we came into the snow. I saw a piece of wood a few hundred meters ahead that looked like it marked the end of the road. Big Ring time. Out of the saddle and I closed most of the gap before realizing that the piece of wood was just the railing of a bridge, and not the finish line. And that was the end of my challenge. With over 30,000 feet in the legs, I had no matches left, and the Dancing Hippo had to settle for 2nd place.
Brian at the top
A cold but quick run down to Pie in the Sky for some deliciousness. I had a hot chocolate, more to warm my fingers than to drink.
Rann, Mike and I played tag on the way down.
Phew! Over 30,000 feet of climbing in the books (well, on the Internet). Spirits were still high but legs were toast. We headed off to "Hot Creek" for a soak. When we got there, the signs were slightly discouraging.
And, nature's hot tub resembled a chemical dip.
The creek was closed for swimming, so we bundled back into the van and headed back to the Lee Vining Mobil for dinner.
typical gas station menu
The ride home was subdued, with tired bodies but satiated minds. We rode well. We ate well. We had fun. The riding was basically outstanding. Great terrain and great company.
For me, the magic of the trip that was everyone was able to challenge themselves, without having to push harder than they felt comfortable with. Ritchie was always nearby to offer up food--sorry, "nutritionals"-- or give exhausted legs a break. No judgment was passed, except for the occasional jealous thought that sipping beers in the van might have been the better option to get to the top.
The experience of the climbs is seared into my memory. One week later, my legs certainly still remember. These are climbs that are at a scale (actually bigger) with the cathedrals of cycling--the Tourmalet, La Madeleine, Galibier, Alpe d'Huez. It gives new context on the difficulties of a grand tour.
While the legs certainly benefited from all the climbing, the real strength gained is mental. There are not any harder climbs to be faced. When you hit the bottom of Bofax, you know that it is but a mere mortal in the Pantheon of climbs. Of course, don't get too excited, because Ritchie is not going to come rescue you if you blow halfway up Bofax.
There were so many great moments and great vistas. Below are links to all of the photos, in case you care. It was hard to select just a few to represent the trip. And, as usual, the Strava files to prove it all happened.