Cycling Cerro Gordo (Owens Valley)
This climb summary is contributed exclusively and with the permission of Dennis M (DennisRides.com).
Day 1 is a full dirt climb up to an old mining site, Cerro Gordo. Notably, by FIETS score (16.98 FIETS, Pike’s Peak is 17.8) so this would be a solid Top 10 in the USA if it was paved – it climbs 4600 feet in a little less than 8 miles. It starts about 15 miles south of Lone Pine toward the Panamint Valley and then onto Death Valley.
There’s a whole bunch of interesting history in this area related to the Water Wars where LA diverted their river – it’s still going on to this day over toxic dust clouds caused by the dry lake.
Park and start in Keeler, where a few hardy souls still hang on, and a lone US Post Office outpost.
Used this gravel bike with 33 mm tires for the climb.
Start climb by riding up the gravel Cerro Gordo Road from its T intersection with Hwy 136.
Looking back down the “easy” part . . .
. . . it’s going to get a LOT harder 😅
Once you roll out, it takes you onto a pretty well maintained dirt road (and in fact I passed a grader on the way back down) – the washboard was not too bad on the lower slopes and the first 5 miles is a pretty gradual (heh) 8-10% grade.
After you make this turn, the grade goes up . . .
It kicks up in a few spots, but nothing egregious. At this point I was wondering what the fuss was about and figured it was cake.
. . . and up and up and UP!!
This is really steep.
Final push to the very cool ghost town.
Nearly fell over taking this picture 😧
Then you get to about mile 4.8 and take a small downhill, and the rest is pretty brutal. Solid 15-20%, and I saw upper 20s a few times. The road surface becomes a lot more challenging – much looser and more washboard. I don’t advise trying to stop: You may fall over or may not be able to get going again!
Summit - looking back to the southwest and the southern end of Owens Valley.
The summit gives you a peek over into the Panamint Valley and you can check out the old buildings and random artifacts related to the old mining history. I didn’t hang around for a tour and headed on down.
The upper descent was definitely sketchy on skinny gravel tires. You don’t want to get too much speed going on the loose wash board, or you may run out of traction. Being solo, I took it easy.
Once onto the lower slopes, I met up with the grading tractor knocking down all the washboard (what luck!) and it was smooth sailing.
As usual in this part of California, epic scenery abounds!
Photo of Owens Lake (being reclaimed since LA drained it by diverting Owens River in 1913.
Thank you Dennis!