Saturday, April 19, 2014

Keeler - Cerro Gordo - Swansea Mountain Bike

Thursday I joined a new riding partner, Adrian, for a spectacular ride in the Inyo Mountains. We parked in Swansea, which was a town built around 1870, but is now just a residence and a few old shacks & foundations.

We rode down Highway 136 for about twenty minutes to Keeler and the beginning of the climb to Cerro Gordo. The road is graded by the county, although there's quite a bit of washboard which is usually avoidable, but not always.

About half way up we came upon this tram tower/hopper. Silver ore was mined at the top of the mountain and transported to Keeler for smelting via this tram beginning around 1906. 

Here the road leaves a wash and switchbacks up an open slope for our first big views of the Sierra.

Shortly thereafter we were greeted by this grumpy local.

And after about two hours of climbing we arrived in Cerro Gordo (more fascinating info here).

Where we were greeted by the friendly caretaker who gave us a quick tour of the museum and the hotel.

The bar/dining area inside the hotel.

The fine cook stove circa 1870.

And the beautiful "National" wood stove.

Cerro Gordo is well worth a visit. We wished we could have stayed longer to soak up the ambiance and history, but the road was calling. The caretaker kindly provided water to top us off and away we went.

Now we were on the 4x4 road to Swansea which is quite rough and/or steep in spots. It generally follows the crest of the Inyo Range, but just outside Cerro Gordo the ridge is quite rugged, so the road dives into a deep basin,  and then promptly climbs out.

Several sections were so steep we had to push.

Here's the view back down into the basin (right).

Arriving back onto the crest felt great.

Where we were rewarded with our first big views of Saline Valley roughly 8,000' below.

Riding along the ridge was an incredible experience.

A couple of happy riders!

The Owens Valley and the Sierra to the left.

Saline Valley and Death Valley National Park to the right!

Eventually we arrived at the Saline Valley Tram crossover. Especially pure salt was mined in Saline Valley and shipped up and over the Inyo Range off and on between about 1913 and the mid 1930s. More info here.

Volunteers have shored up the structure with new planks and beams. A restored beam is shown here running diagonally on the right.

There is a nearby caretaker's cabin which is also being kept up by volunteers. It would provide decent shelter in a pinch and we found a small water cache there too.

After the tramway we enjoyed several more miles of riding along the crest.

 Alas the descent route came into view. Mt Whitney is on the skyline right of center.

Before the descent we admired this view down to Keeler and the southeast corner of Owens Lake.

The descent begins. We had basically traversed the entire ridge in this pic!

After a short moderate stretch the road plunges steeply into a fine Pinyon forest where the grade eases off a bit and the riding becomes more fun.

Below the forest the road primarily descends washes with two sections of climbing & traversing to jump from one wash to the next. They were welcome respites for the hands and arms during the long plunge.

Hard to tell, but the wildflowers were very nice in the lower third or so.

All too quickly the descent was over and we were standing next to our car. I think we were both a little stunned over just how amazing the ride turned out. Unbelievable.

Thanks Adrian!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Alabama Hill for Mary's Birthday

Wednesday Mary and I celebrated her 55th with an overnight camp down in the Alabama Hills.

We took a couple of nice hikes to admire the rock formations,

the mountain views,

and the flowers.

Nice and relaxing.
Happy Birthday Buntry!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Just Riding

I have the Whiskey 50 Mountain Bike Race coming up on 4/26, so I figured I ought to get a solid block of riding in to prepare. Plus, warm temps were creating "transitional" snow conditions with high freezing levels, so I wasn't as excited as I should be about skiing. 

Rode from the house down to McMurray Meadows. Lots of nice flowers.

Mts Tinnemaha and Birch would usually be premier ski destinations right about now. Ugh.

At the meadows proper.

Over towards the Birch Cr TH. Real nice descent from here.

 The view back on the way home.

Then a nice road ride with Mary.

Got excessively motivated watching Paris Roubaix and rode the road bike on a bunch of gravel real fast. Happy to be unhappy on the washboard and sand!

My personal Arenberg Forest!

Then some sweet semi-secret singletrack near the house. A couple of oh sh** moments are good now and then as long as you keep the rubber side down!

Feelin' good on the bike for this time of year. The silver lining on the drought/lack of snow black cloud.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Emerson II. 0 for 2, but Not Winless

On Saturday Steve and I headed back up to the north face of Mt Emerson to give the couloir a go. We were real optimistic since we had a great storm cycle which had put down up to two feet of nice cold snow with little wind. The weather forecast was for clearing skies, no wind, and crisp temps.

The gorgeous morning only added to our positivity!

But the weather turned fickle on us. The snowfall increased, the clouds descended.

The view up the Zebra Couloir was for foreboding.

The snow on the huge face was frequently sluffing into both chutes where it would chug down shallow troughs. They were just large enough to perhaps knock a skier down.

After much consternation we decided to bale out and explore up canyon. The chutes are steep and narrow, so there's no where to hide if something bigger were to come down.

Of course the weather cleared, the snowfall diminished, and the sluffs began to subside once we made the decision. This was our original objective.

So we were 0 for 2 on the Emerson Couloir. After all our optimism we were somewhat deflated, but to our delight, this gem came into view.

Which easily went straight to the Sierra Crest where we were truly stunned by the enormous views of Humphreys Basin.  Steve on the Col.

Me on the Col.

Steve taking it all in.

I was all smiles.

The skiing was fantastic. Steve disappears in a cloud of powder.

The view back to our line.

The scenery was great all day with soft light, snowflakes in the air, and occasional vivid sunlight.

I shot this little video at a particularly pretty juncture.

What a day!