Monster Climbs III

by Arlyn on May 5, 2009

Three days of road bike Monster climbs along Highway 395 of the Eastern Sierras between Big Pine and Mammoth Lakes. This trip is designed for over-the-hill polka dot wanna-bees looking for good company, no cars, and upward tilting pavement. 20,000 feet of climbing on 4 goliaths in under 140 miles jammed into just 3 days.

“Monster Climbs”… Let that sink in for a minute. These are no ordinary hills; we’re talking massive Goliaths, rising up to the heavens thanks to the miracle to continental drift and plate tectonics. The 3rd Annual Descenders Monster Climbs trip is only a month away – Here’s a course preview.

Day 1 – Big Pine Canyon to Glacier Lodge

This is our warm up climb, ridden after driving 5 hours up Hwy 395 to Big Pine, California. John Summerson ranked this climb #30 in his authoritative The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike). With a profile similar to Alpe d’Huez (10 miles and 3,750 feet of climbing) it should do well as the weekend’s appetizer.


Wow, that’s a lot of time in the red zone!

Heading into the hills

Quiet roads along peaceful pasture. Photo courtesy

Glacier Lodge

A peek at the Monster. Photo courtesy Tour of California Cycling Blog

Morning of Day 2 – Pine Creek to the old Tungsten Mine

Now for the main course. The first of two Monsters for the day, Pine Creek is a favorite of locals in the Mammoth cycling club and climbs from 4,500’ to almost 8,000’ in just 10 miles.

Round Valley

The flats through Round Valley. Photo courtesy

Climbing Pine Creek Road

Into the mouth of the Beast. Photo courtesy Tour of California Cycling Blog

Pine Creek Summit

Pine Creek Summit on a stormy day. Photo courtesy

Afternoon of Day 2 – Lower and Upper Rock Creek up Sherwin Grade

Now that our legs are warm from Pine Creek, it’s time to tackle Sherwin Grade, the first serious incline to be conquered when venturing into the Eastern Sierra. We will attack this 22-mile beast via Lower and Upper Rock Creek Road which becomes the highest paved road in California at 10,250’. After a short rest in the thin air, we’ll enjoy the 20-mile descent back to our motel in Bishop.


Pine Creek is really just a warm up for Rock Creek – and 90+ miles! It’s going to be a tough day.

Lower Rock Creek Road

Lower Rock Creek Road. Photo courtesy

Mosquito Flat

Mosquito Flat. Photo courtesy Tour of California Cycling Blog

Mosquito Flat

13,000 ft glaciers in the distance. Photo courtesy

Lower Rock Creek

Lower Rock Creek. Photo courtesy

Upper Rock Creek Climb

Upper Rock Creek. Photo courtesy

Sherwin Grade

Climbing Sherwin Grade. Photo courtesy

Day 3 – South and Sabrina Lakes

If our legs are not completely cranked off by the morning of Day 3, we’ll head out for more. It’s over 20 miles of climbing to get to South Lake, with road gradient ranging from 4-11%. Luckily, we won’t descend all the way back down before taking on the final climb to Lake Sabrina, a beautiful alpine lake. It’s all downhill from there.


Those early sections of 11% are going to be tough on sore legs.

South Lake

Climbing to South Lake. Photo courtesy

South Lake 2

The road to South Lake. Photo courtesy

South Lake 3

Are we there yet? Photo courtesy

South Lake Summit

South Lake Summit. Photo courtesy

South Lake

Beautiful South Lake. Photo courtesy Tour of California Cycling Blog


The finish area – it’s all downhill from here. Photo courtesy Steve’s Birthday Challenge

Cheers, can’t wait.

I’ve obviously borrowed some images from around the Internet. I am very grateful to the respective owners of these images and have done my best to provide proper attribution. If I’ve screwed something up, just contact me and I’ll fix it. Thanks!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mikeonhisbike May 5, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Holy Cow, that sounds insane but quite fun. I’m thinking your legs and lungs are going to be screaming at you by the end.

will May 19, 2009 at 3:40 pm


Fantastic climbs and some really great photos. These are file away in the event I am ever remotely nearby (and I file things well)

thx and well done

Arlyn May 21, 2009 at 10:36 am

@Mikeonhisbike – yes, insane is a good word. And fun!

@will: thanks! Hope to see you in our american mountains someday.

RandySFO May 25, 2009 at 6:05 am

I’m with you. Horses and bikes should share. But, there’s one ride where horses are NOT allowed – across the Golden Gate Bridge.

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