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Bear Valley to Markleeville (sort of)
and back!
September 20, 1998

Want to find a way to get in lots of climbing without putting in a whole lot of miles?   Want to find out which is stronger...your knees or your frame?  Want to emulate that feeling of "free fall" that's typically left to downhill mountain bike racers?  Then this is the ticket!

This is a 60-mile out-and-back that takes you through some of the most interesting and breathtaking areas you've ever seen.  Highway 4 is a crazy, one and a half lane road that meanders past many lakes, streams, a couple waterfalls, and some of the most spectacular vistas anywhere.
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room view.jpg (21920 bytes) start of ride
The left picture is the one of the beautiful rooms at the Red Dog Lodge in Bear Valley (209) 753-2344.  Actually, it's a pretty decent & inexpensive place to stay...$39/night for 1 or 2 people (2 beds), $49 for 3 (3 beds) [1998 dollars...a bit more expensive now, call for current rates].  Shower and bathroom facilities are down the hall.  One word of warning...all rooms sit above a bar which, fortunately, closes at midnight (or at least it did the night we were there).  Note: 10/25/09 The Red Dog Lodge no longer exists!  Lodging is also available at Alpine Lake Lodge, shown below on the right...don't have the rates, but the best thing about the place is that you can get a hot shower there after the ride for just $1.50.  At that end of your ride, this will seem like the bargain of the century!
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It doesn't take long to see what you're in for...within the first mile after leaving Bear Valley, you're climbing an easy grade, the weather's near-perfect, and then you see the sign.  Not just any "trucks use low gears" type of sign.  No, this sign is telling people with anything longer than a Toyota Celica or with brakes less powerful than a locomotive that they should turn back now, because there's a 24% grade coming up. 
This, as they say, is the start of something big.  8050 feet here (you've started at around 7100 feet in Bear Valley), and you've just passed Mosquito Lake, one of many small, beautiful spots of sparkling blue water that you just won't find in the bay area.  From here you descend almost exactly 1000 feet into Hermit Valley.   No biggie...except that this all happens in just a mile and a half.  1,000 feet in a mile and a half.  If you need to put this into perspective, consider that Old La Honda climbs about that much in almost four miles.

The riders in the picture are Dick Kiser, our resident former steel-is-real now carbon-fiber convert salesperson, and on the right, Bruno Colchen, our service manager, both from our Redwood City store.  At this point, both were favorably impressed with the beautiful scenary, fresh air and perhaps even the route I chose...even though I had warned them repeatedly beforehand of what we were about to get into.
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For about half a mile past this point, the road drops off at a relatively easy 8-10%.   And then comes something more commonly found on a mad-dog downhill mountain bike course...one moment, you're looking forward and there's a road there...the next, it's gone.  Trust me, you will never forget that first hard right-hand turn where the road suddenly disappears underneath you.  You will wonder how it's possible to even pave something this steep!  Dick might have said something like "Oh my God!" but I remember Bruno's reaction much more vividly...he laughed.  The absurdity of something so steep, and knowing that we were going to be coming back up that same grade just a few hours later...well, his reaction, while it caught me off-guard, made perfect sense!
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Hermit Valley is a beautiful, quiet place.  But that's not the reason you don't want to leave it- Hermit Valley is the ultimate soup-bowl.  Maybe two miles long, with a big wall on either side.  Actually, the climb up to Ebbett's Pass isn't nearly as bad as you would think...it's one of the easier 1700-foot climbs you'll come across.  We should note here, by the way, that reliable water supplies are always in question...bring everything you need!
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The descent and subsequent climb back up Ebbett's Pass is stunningly beautiful!
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Is this spectacular or what?  We're about half-way down the eastern side of Ebbett's Pass. OK, we just skipped forward...way forward, to the turn-around point at the Centerville Campground, just prior to joining highway 89 (near Markleeville and Monitor Pass).
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This is along the bottom of the grade, a couple miles back from the turn-point.   And yes, that's a cyclist heading in the opposite direction. On the east side of the pass, you're going to climb, and climb, and climb, and climb...it's definitely the longest climb of the ride.  But also the most beautiful, as you can see here.
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Way off in the distance there you can see Dick or Bruno, not sure which.  This is one of the more open sections of the climb, and one of the places where you might begin to reflect on the folly of your endeavor. This is the lake you come to just prior to the top of Ebbett's Pass, just one more example of how pretty it is up at 8000 feet!  Of course, the best thing about this particular lake is that it means you only have about 700 feet of climbing to go!
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On the left you see the road as you climb past the lake, and on the right we're looking back at it and the rather awesome clouds that have begun to appear.  On my first ride up this pass, some 25 years ago, I remember leaving Markleeville and looking up...way up...towards the peak of Ebbett's Pass...where a wild thunderstorm was raging away.  Hey, we were young, stupid and had no future, and didn't give it a second's thought.  Today's weather was, however, a whole lot nicer!
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Last photo of the day.  We've manage to survive the incredible climb up Pacific Grade which was, in the end, not nearly as bad as we'd imagined it to be.   Now we're descending in the area of Lake Alpine, and really looking forward to those showers!   Just under 60 miles, around 7-8,000 feet of climbing...it was a wonderful ride.  --Mike--

PS:  Bruno's bike is a 1997 LeMond Chambery OCLV with 39-53 front and 13-26 rear gearing.  Dick rode a 1998 TREK 5000, and had intentions of riding with its stock 12-23 rear cassette; finally, the day before the ride, he relented (under considerable pressure) and installed a 13-26 as well.  My bike, a TREK 1998 Y-Foil 66, was set up with a 39-53 front and 12-25 rear.  I would definitely be willing to admit that a 12-27 would have been a wiser choice!

Bruno & Dick each carried two water bottles; I used the single main bottle the Y-Foil allows plus a Camelbak Bandito 50-oz fanny-pack.  I would not under any circumstance attempt this ride with less than two FULL 26oz water bottles and a handful of powerbars (or equivalent). 
Organized Ride Options
Hi Mike,  I read your story and photos of the Bear Valley to Markleeville ride you did back in June 01. You did a great job telling the story and the photos (fantastic, by they way) can only begin to tell the true beauty of this ride.

This past weekend the Mountain Adventures Seminars Company (www.mtadventure.com/) out of the "Base Camp" at Bear Valley hosted the 1st annual Bear Valley BikeFest. Kimi Johnson of M.A.S. did a great job of organizing the event. This was a weekend long gathering of biking enthusiasts of all kinds. Saturday offered seminars for beginning and intermediate mtb riders, trials exhibitions, and an Advanced group ride for mtb'rs. I was going to do the mtb ride but the consensus at sign-ups was that more folks were opting for the 77 mile road ride to Markleeville - so I did it! What an excellent ride! Like you describe in your recount, this is an excellent road ride for the scenery and for those that want to get in some vertical. The Pacific Grade is, well..., humbling to say the least. Sunday was followed up with the advanced mtb ride up to Bear Valley Ski area and back down through some very nice singletrack (Elusive Trail) back down to town. Everyone had a great time with tacos and cervesas rounding out the day at Miguel's afterwards.

I mention this Bike Fest to you as it is was the first annual of what could be a very good thing. Though the attendance was light, I'm sure everyone - myself included - will return next year. Perhaps you could spread the word with your contacts in the biking community. This seems like a great fit for the third weekend of Sept. in that it is typically a "slow season" period and it really injects some revenue into the local businesses. Besides, why not get together with biking buddies for a great weekend in the Sierras!

Sincerely,

Bob Rynd
Biking and outdoor enthusiast from Fremont
 

Check these links for lodging at Bear Valley and Lake Alpine.

Ebbetts Pass and Pacific Grade were revisited in June 2001, with even more photos!

And if this ride isn't enough for you, check out our trip over Sonora Pass!

We also have info from CalTrans showing when this, and several other Trans-Sierra passes, have closed and re-opened each year.

Overview of the various rides on this site-

Last updated 01/24/14 since 05/06/05