Page Contributor(s): Ron Hawks, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
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Cycling the remote (and a bit eerie) Pine Creek Road, California.
Ride 8.8 miles gaining 3,260’ to elevation 7,880 at 7% average grade.
Pine Creek Road is one of our favorite climbs in California and the US. The first two miles are in high desert-like conditions, but at about three miles we enter a true canyon that surrounds us for the remainder of the climb. This is a slot canyon which deadends at a gate that can be passed by bike, with the climb finishing at a long-abandoned (but maintained for potential future use) Pine Creek Tungsten Mine. By mile six we are passing some very distinct rock formations, but on our trip up the canyon we fought brutal westerly winds which is common throughout the Owens Valley. At seven miles we pass through a stretch with more trees, nearing the end of this slot canyon.
SCENIC APPROACH TO THE BEGINNING OF THE CLIMB
This extraordinary bike climb is easily accessible from Bishop and can be done in combination with the Rock Creek Road climb. The Pine Creek Road climb begins about 12 miles northeast of Bishop and just a couple miles from the start of the Rock Creek Road climb. The Pine Creek + Rock Creek one-two punch is 94 miles gaining 10,220’ of elevation.
Clip #1: Iconic abandoned farmhouse on Pine Creek Road a mile east of the start.
#2: Pine Creek Road just west of its intersection with Old Sherwin Grade Road (aka Lower Rock Creek Road).
1-2 miles before the start.
First few miles of the climb
Photo looking east about two miles from the start.
While the approach to the climb, as well as its first three miles, are through typical wide open Owens Valley surroundings
(as seen below), the prairie quickly gives way...
...to a very steep and narrow canyon the final two-thirds of the climb.
Aerial view west towards the end of the road.
Climb ends in a slot canyon at an abandoned mine.
US #81 Pine Creek Road is one of the nine Top 100 most difficult climbs in the U.S that begins in the Owens Valley, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the central/eastern portion of California. Visit our PJAMM Owens Valley Climb Page for more information on rides in the area.
Our Caveat: At mile 7.85 we are greeted by a closed swinging yellow gate with three signs: a stop sign, another sign (below) "Pine Creek Mine, Avocet Tungsten, LLC Do Not Block Gate,” and a sign that says "Authorized Vehicles Only - hiking access to Morgan Pass Only - Not for Pine Lakes." So, the sign doesn't specifically say "no trespassing" and suggests use of the road is authorized, at least for hiking. We have done this climb twice and, although we encountered no cyclists on our trip up the canyon and saw no sign of life either time at the mine, it appears acceptable to go the extra mile (well, 0.8 mile) to the true finish of this one.
Pine Creek Pass Trailhead Parking Lot and end of the line -- for cars!
Several hiking trails stage here. The area is surrounded by 13,000’ peaks.
0.8 miles at 10.5% to the finish.
Fun descent on a decent road.
An extremely insightful and entertaining blog post for Pine Creek is found at geotripper.blogspot.com:
“Imagine a canyon one or two thousand feet deeper than the Grand Canyon, twice as deep as Yosemite Valley, a glacially carved trough surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks reaching almost 14,000 feet into the sky. A canyon filled with remarkable exposures of granitic and metamorphic rocks that serve as a microcosm of the geology of the entire Sierra Nevada. Such a canyon would be Pine Creek, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada a few miles northwest of the town of Bishop. It's a spectacular place to visit and appreciate geology. . . .
The Pine Creek Tungsten Mine was an extraordinary operation. Begun in 1918, the mine operated until 2001, producing (along with the Climax mine in Colorado) 93% of the tungsten produced in the United States as of 1977. Low cost imports led to the mothballing of the mine in 2001 although the operation remains in place should prices rise, or strategic concerns cause an increase in demand for domestic sources of tungsten (China provides most of our tungsten at this time).” More
You will get a very good sense of the climb viewing our YouTube videos.
Roadway Surface and Traffic Report: The road is lightly traveled and in good condition except for the final 0.8 miles from the yellow gate to the tungsten mine which is pretty rough.
That’s a wrap!