The West Coast (CA,NV,WA,OR), Trip Reports » Fall Trip Along The Sierra Crest


This is a trip I took in October. Some details may be intentionally vague…

Day Two on the way to the Buttes

Day One

The day began at 4am with coffee, breakfast and bike tinkering. It was a slow start even by my own standards,  I didn’t get rolling until 5:40am.  The sky was dark as I rode up to Nevada City and the road was quiet. A perfect time to road ride…no cars. This is definitely one of my favorite times to be out on a bike. As I soft pedaled my way up I noticed an “odd” feel in my drivetrain. I chocked it up some sticky-ness which would loosen up.  Wrong. After coasting down into Nevada City I had no drive…literally I would spin and nothing would happen.

I turned around and headed home, thinking dark thoughts. I made it home by 7:30 , ate some cereal and went to bed. At 9:30 I awoke and felt optimistic about my wheel. I had my “domestique” pack up the family for a possible road trip/drop off at Castle Peak (near Donner Summit). Then we headed to the bike shop where they worked some magic on my freehub and sent me on my way…I was back!

An hour later I had regained my lost time and was at Castle Peak thanks to my super domestique/wife, Susan. It was noon, the exact time I would have been there without the wheel mishap. I rode the famed “Hole In The Ground Trail” to Andesite peak and cut over to the XXX trail from there. I spun past the Peter Grub Hut and into the wild. I rode at a fun pace. Fast enough to have fun but easy on the hills, stopping to check the view often. I visited Paradise lake a mile off the XXX trail, a great spot that needs to be renamed paradise lost…since quads have trail-blazed their way there. Still a nice spot. Next I side-tracked to Whiterock Lake, another nice spot. After that the terrain became very rugged and remote. Stellar views were continuous as was the fun trail riding. It was on this section that I had my second wheel issue, an episode I will refer to as the “taquito incident”. The day was full of world class riding and views. I finished with a long fast descent into Jackson meadows, where I camped. Including four miles of bonus trail to the lakes I had covered around thirty miles of this Sierra crest trail.

Kitchen View

Day Two

Day two began at Jackson Meadows. A raspy voice had turned into a cough as I was now fighting a cold. I was on my bike by eight and minutes later I was riding remote trail along the Sierra crest. I would not see anyone on the trail all day long.   The trail here was rugged and overgrown in parts. I had trouble riding because the views were so nice. Both the breath taking vistas and the eye popping rocky lush forest demanded inspection, often. After descending (seemingly forever) into the Wild Plum areas I had the “climb from hell” up the Sierra Buttes. It began as steep switchbacks on rugged trail and evolved into a long skinny pile of rocks. Miles long. I hiked a lot and rode very little. The trail scales the face of the Buttes and wraps around in such a way that I thought I had peaked several times, only to be crushed with the sight of more. Out of water and energy I reached the top and found a spring which was barely flowing. I love water filters! I sat and recovered for a while there. Out of the wind it was warm and nice. This is one section of trail I will avoid next time.

Again riding I followed the Sierra crest past packer saddle where I saw some MTB bikers getting dropped off.  This is the start of the “Downiville Downhill”. They probably didn’t realize I was doing the same sport as them. But gear aside it is MTB riding that I was doing. I simply brought stuff to sleep in. The day ended with a goodbye to the XCX and a technical descent into the Lakes Basin….specifically Silver lake. This riding made the PXX trail look tame. I lowered my seat and loved it. I camped next to the lake with plenty of daylight to spare.  I hate to waste daylight (by not using it to ride) but this was the perfect spot. I had enjoyed  about thirty miles of the XXT.

Day Three

The day began with a stillness and quiet that cannot be easily found. The wind did not blow, birds did not chirp and silence reigned. After drying out in the sun I got rolling by 9am. My cough was a bit worse but not bad.

It was dessert for breakfast. I was atop miles of sweet technical single track and I hadn’t even broken a sweat. An hour later I was back to reality and roads. The next four hours were spent on logging roads taking me back to Jackson Meadows. On this section I saw lots of fresh huge bear scat making me feel foolish for not doing a bear hang with my food the night before. The first night I had used a storage box at the campground. Although the ease of riding was nice I got thirsty and hungry due to some poor logistical planning. At Jackson Meadows I had yet another little break and then set off determinedly to Sawmill Lake and beyond. At Sawmill I visited Mona and was taken by what a nice grave we had made her (Mona was a dog).  Two years had taken no toll, I added a few rocks per Jewish tradition and moved on. Some campers watched quizzically. The climb to Grouse Ridge begins by crossing the dam. My first time here I had water flowing over my feet as I carried my bike across. This day I walked on the lakebed. After that it is hike-a-bike and tree hopping for over a mile of climbing.  Not so fun but necessary. Then there is riding again and less-walking. Overall it is a grunt to go six miles up the ridge to the look out, yet it still manages to be a fun time.(At this time I also finally had phone contact with Susan, who had expected daily calls. Cell phones are false security, not a thing to rely on in any way.) I arrived at the peak just at sunset and had a beautiful finish to the day. Unfortunately I arrived at the same time as a cloud. The very peak was in a cloud, so I retreated to the campground below for my final dinner. I was down to one cup of granola, one Cliff Bar and one small bag of trail mix. Although I had enough food due to rationing, it was close and feeling hungry as I had, was undesirable. I figure I rode total of fifty miles this day but some was grueling and some was not. One tough trail mile equals five dirt road miles which equals ten paved miles…or something like that.

Silent a good way (Silver Lake in the Lakes Basin Area)

Day Four

Yet again the day started with amazing downhill singletrack, this time the Grouse Ridge Trail, which is rather wild and unused. Too quickly I connected with the Blue Lake trail and then onto dirt and even a mile of asphalt. At Fuller Lake I started the Pioneer Trail at its uphill terminus. From there I was 30 or so miles of single track to Nevada City where it starts. Although it is a net loss of elevation the trail rolls quite a bit and has one bona-fide climb out of Bear Valley. Before descending the final miles of Miners Trail to town, I stopped at the Harmony Ridge Market for a tri-tip sandwich and a big Budlight. Then with a full belly, I cruised the final miles home.

The view back at the Buttes

The Taquito Incident

A few hours into the first day I was descending through a lush forest and hopping fallen logs. As I hopped a small log , my front wheel sunk into a soft spot and the wheel was yanked sideways. As a result I did a slow speed endo and went over the bars, landing on my side in some nice soft dirt. When I picked the bike up I noticed the wheel was bent into a U shape and was rubbing the sides of the fork when spun. After an anguished primal scream I analyzed the wheel. I scrutinized the bend and made some mental calculations. I determined the exact torque and vector needed to repair the wheel. Then  I carefully and scientifically held the wheel above my head and  WHAM WHAM WHAM smacked it on the ground three times. Viola it was nearly perfect. No tools needed. The wheel was true again and stayed true for the rest of the trip.

My set-up plus or minus a few things:

One really good gear

My bike had one gear. This is partly because I love singlespeeding and partly because it is has advantages on this sort of trip. For one thing it makes you constantly change your type of exertion. Sometimes you hammer, other times you spin, the variation is good. I did walk a lot but rarely was it due to a lack of gears. Most sections I walked would have been walked regardless of how many gears I had. The other advantage is that there is no derailure to snap off. I can ride through rocky gaps, loose branches and sticks with near impunity. On the PCT there were many, many places like this.

My Gear List

Bike: Vassago Jaberwocky 29er

Tools: multi-tool, mini-pump, flat kit, tire boot, two tubes.

Bags: Carousel Designs handle bar bag, seat bag and frame pack, Camelpack Mule NV.

Camp gear: Northface down bag (20)REI minimalist bivvy, big Agnes pad

Cookware: Heiniken penny stove and  Heiniken pot

Water: filter

Food: Mojo bars, Cliff bars, trail mix freeze dried dinners and noodle soup packs

Reflecting back I brought too little lunch food and too heavy of dinner food for one of the nights. I loved the water filter even though it is kinda heavy.  I could get water from any source and it looked and tasted good. My stove worked great but I brought too little fuel for enjoying hot drinks, next time I’ll bring way more fuel.


While the XXX is designated as a hiking trail it is also very appropriate for expert MTB riding. The gradients are mostly gentle and large obstacles are rare. I saw only 3 hikers on the 60 miles of trail I rode. We had pleasant interactions. The trail had well built areas and poorly built areas. Bikes are not damaging it. Poor design is the culprit.

Some of many



Comments (9)

MattySFJune 27th, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Nice write up. Thanks for posting.

C. AbbeyJune 27th, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Great story, fantastic pics. Could we get a little more on the bike set up? Forks, tires, handle bars. Thanks.

JReevesJune 28th, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Awesome trip report! Just got home last night from a 4 day trip in the Sierras myself(trip report coming soon). I have a very similar setup as your’s, and from the looks of it, we explore a lot of the same country! I get a kick outta’ seeing what others are doing! Also stoked to hear about your riding of the PXX… I too find it unfortunate that we don’t get to enjoy a lot of the trails that others do, horses included. I’m planning on riding a leg of it myself in August, in a loop of Lake Tahoe.
-Keep up the reports and riding!!!

rveJune 29th, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Nice story! What gear were you using?

rveJune 30th, 2011 at 2:45 am

I mean gear ratio

tubeSSnapperJune 30th, 2011 at 4:33 am

My bike is set up with On-One Mary bars, double-wrapped with bar tape. My Vassago has a Reba fork set 80mm of travel. My tires were specialized Captain 2.0 on WTB trail29 rims laced to WTB laser hubs, set up with Stans. I rode the same gear I always do, which is 32 X 19.
At this moment (4:20am) Im off (by bike) to lake Tahoe, just call me lucky.

CraigJune 30th, 2011 at 4:37 pm

I’m going to be that guy, just letting you know up front. If you’re going to poach as least man up and just say you were riding on the PCT. I’ve been riding/racing for 20+ years. I also have thru-hiked the AT, LT, and the PCT. I’m no tree hugger either. I just know poaching does nothing to help cycling. That said I’d love to ride sections of all three of those trails and it sucks I can’t because of the current laws.
Respect the rest of us and those who fight for your/our rights for the trails we do have and those their trying to gain access to. Don’t think that because you don’t think you’re doing any physical damage you’re not doing any harm. You got lucky that the 3 people you met were cool with you being there. Most hikers are not so laid back about bikes on “their” trails.
Poaching trails does nothing but force us as cyclist to take a step back in the progress we are making to gain access to areas currently closed to us. Even though there’s more places closed than open to us mtbers you can always find incredible places to ride that are legal.

tubeSSnapperJuly 3rd, 2011 at 4:57 am

Man Up?…
Or maybe I just want to stay off the google radar by not using the real name….uh…duh…like you just did. duh duh duh.
I have no shame about my journey.
“Let he who has not sinned, cast the first stone”-a quote from another person who didn’t follow all the rules exactly as they were written.
I’ll choose my misdemeanors, you choose yours.
And “Saint Craig”, some day I encourage you to do 56 MPH in a 55 MPH zone…even though the law says you can’t.
Did throwing in your AT LT B.S. add to your point or just buff your ego ? maybe throw in pic of your flexed quad next time…same effect.

CraigJuly 7th, 2011 at 1:57 pm

My quads are tiny like my ego. My throwing in the AT/LT was to point out I look at the situation from both sides of the fence and not just one. My point was not to start a pissing match but make you realize that it’s not always okay even if you get away with it. I speed all the time, doesn’t mean it’s right. I take my chances as you did. My point was the following: I just hope you realize that others work hard to ensure you do have legal trails to ride on and that by riding ones that are not legal you’re only working against the work they have done on your/others behalf.
Enjoy where ever you ride, legal or not but just be aware of the full effects. I know you meant no harm riding where you did but others might not see it that way. “just Craig” I’m not saint. Happy Trails.

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