Cycling South Lake, Owens Valley
#26 Top US Bike Climb
19 miles, 5,625’ gained to elevation 9,840’ at 5.4% average grade
The South Lake bike climb is one of the Top 100 most difficult climbs in the U.S. that begin in the Owens Valley (PJAMM Owens Valley Climb Area Page) on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the central/eastern portion of California. Other Top 100s in the area: #6 Onion Valley, #7 Horseshoe Meadow, #9 White Mountain, #13 Whitney Portal, #28 Rock Creek, #29 Lake Sabrina, and # 65 Pine Creek.
The first 11.7 miles of the climb are along Highway 168, which is a bit disconcerting at times with cars whizzing by at highway speeds. The 11.7 miles to the turnoff to South Lake is a 5.6% grade with an elevation gain of 3,500'.
Start of climb - just west of Bishop and Hwy 395.
Ride is along Hwy 168 for the first 11.7 miles.
The final 7.2 miles along South Lake Road up to South Lake itself are quiet, wooded and scenic, with minimal traffic.
South Lake - Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in background.
The climb along the 7.2 miles of South Lake Road are at 5.5% average grade gaining 2,000', although there are some healthy pitches along the way, including the last .7 miles at 8.7%. This climb shares the first 11.7 miles with the Lake Sabrina climb which continues past the South Lake turn off another 3 miles on Hwy 168 to its summit.
Steepest ½ mile is at the very end of the climb - 9.4%
Traffic and Roadway report: The roadway surface is excellent and there is a good bike lane most of the way along Hwy 168. Traffic, as can be seen in the YouTube video, travels by very fast along the 11.7 miles of highway and this is not a stretch of road for the faint of heart. The last 7.2 miles are much calmer and very scenic.