“Confronted with the petty concerns of my ordinary life, I feel empty, as if I am wasting a priceless gift, the brief time that is allotted to each human for creativity… Can this longing and restlessness be the price that mortals pay for daring to trespass in the houses of the Gods? Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambitions to achieve. They are cathedrals, grand and pure, the houses of my religion. I approach them as any human goes to worship. On there alters I strive to perfect myself physically and spiritually. In their presence I attempt to understand my life, to exorcise vanity, greed, and fear. From the vantage of their lofty summits, I view my past, dream of my future, and with unusual acuteness I experience the present moment. I celebrate creation, for on each journey, I am reborn.” – Anatoli Boukreev / Above The Clouds
Love that quote. Fitting as the Caldera 250/500 route has now been tested by the first batch of guinea pigs! We’ve been objectively claiming that this would be one of the toughest pound-for-pound routes around (if not the toughest) – and one of the most beautiful. Now that the dust has settled, and the lab rats have chimed in – we are definitely not liars. Below is a brief, informal race journal I kept as I spoke with riders and stalked blue dots (and one pink). If you’re lazy to read past this point, here’s the link to the Race Results and Arthur’s Strava File and the Rigs of the Caldera article in Bikepackers Magazine – those should give you some insight as well. Salute! –ps, sorry for not giving photo credits – thanks to all who contributed!
DAY 1 – 9/18/15
After a nice gathering at Gomez’s for some mexican food the night before, chilly 40 degree temps and uber clear skies greeted the riders at the 7am start in Mammoth. Some last minute Spot Tracker issues were handled, and we sent off the eager bunch at the official start time of 7:14am. The GD’s only singlespeeder, Keith Richards-Dinger, drove up, still in jeans, just as the group was about to depart. Being a veteran, he didn’t worry. He parked the car, changed, and it took him about an hour to get into the fold. The riders quickly sorted themselves out as Blake Bockius, Arthur Kopatsy, and Isaac Chilton found their way to the front of the charge. The first “course hiccup” was a mistake on my part that accidentally took a short jaunt on local photographer, John Dittli’s property. Luckily, he was there, and knew about the riders via Facebook, and helped everyone down the 0.5 mile route change that kept everything kosher and off a hillside that he’s been nurturing.
As night fell, the fastest riders made it into Big Pine before the gas station closed to resupply before climbing the Inyo Mountains. Blake and Arthur set a blistering pace for Day 1. Most others camped somewhere in the Coyote Flats, choosing to wait until sunrise and ambient light to handle the tricky, steep descent to Big Pine. Country Kitchen, and a nice big brekky was the ticket for many 🙂 The climb up Horton Creek to the day’s high point up Coyote tested riders’ grit and was a humbling reminder to all riders that this route is no joke.
Crazy happenings. Isaac Chilton forgot to turn his tracker on, but finally got it back on when he hit Bishop. Tony Symanovich had weird tracker issues as well, showing he was up near Reno. But he contacted us later in the day and confirmed he was still riding with Zak Tourville and was in good spirits.
First place rider pulls out:
Blake Bockius continued his fast pace with Arthur Kopatsy nipping at his heals. Everyone seemed to be settling into a nice groove, when reality struck. Even though he riding fast for “this route” – it was nowhere near as speedy as Blake was anticipating, and he realized he wouldn’t be able to finish the route in time to get back his work on time. From first place, he was officially the first rider to pull out from the race in Bishop at 1:11pm. He debated switching over to the 250 route, but did not have the track loaded. After struggling with the options for a bit, he decided to just pull out and come back and tackle the full 500 when he has more time.
Although unofficial, it appears (according to his blue dot) that George Reynolds left course before the Coyote climb on Day 1, and took the road into Bishop, bypassing a large section of the course.
The next to withdraw, was Kevin Hinton. He had an unfortunate mechanical while navigating some techy singletrack during the Inyo Traverse. He broke his derailleur in no mans land and was forced to abandon. Shortly thereafter, I got a call from Forest Baker, who was riding at a solid pace and had just arrived in Bishop. The hike a bikes had gotten to him, and he pulled out as well. Keith Richards-Dinger, the lone singlespeeder also notified me that he was abandoning the 500 and would continue on the 250. The Caldera route is breathing fire and showing it’s true colors. By the end of Day 2, Arthur was leading the charge, getting up towards the Glass Mountains, while Keith, Zak, Tony and Isaac were readying for the Volcanic Tablelands. Matt Reynolds made it to Bishop. Art de Goede, Danny Kaukola, Meade Plum, Jeremy Plum and Jeff Brooks stayed at various spots in the White Mountains for the night. 15 year-old Meade Plum continued plugging away with her dad Jeremy, making it to route mile 133 before bedding down for the night.
With renewed vigor, many were up and riding by 4-5am after just a few short hours of sleep. Arthur Kopatsy made his way into the Glass Mountains before the crack of dawn, while Keith, Zak, Tonny, Isaac, and Art de Goede grabbed some shuteye in various areas of the Volcanic Tablelands, or what Keith called the “sandpit from hell” when I cheered him on as he exited that section. Arthur continued past the turnoff for the 250 in the Glass Mountains and rode strong all the way to the steep climb into Bodie where he took a break and waited for the heat to subside before tackling it. He would up making it to Bridgeport just before sunset. What a blistering pace he’s been keeping!! As of Day 3, he’s the only 500 rider that’s passed the 250 turnoff.
Zak Tourville was riding strong but withdrew before the Glass Mountains climb, and rode Benton Crossing Rd and Highway 203 back to Mammoth – he needed to be ready for work the next day.
First 250 Finishers:
- Keith Richards-Dinger came in at 9:18pm on Sunday night 9/20/15 – giving him first place and the inaugural course record on the Caldera 250 with: 2 days, 14 hours, and 4 minutes – and he started the race late as he couldn’t get to the start line in time to begin with the rest of the riders. I was at the finish line waiting for him, and we took him to my house for a warm shower and bed. His only request, milk. He drank a lot of milk.
- Isaac Chilton and Tony Symanovich rode most of the last 25 miles with each other, and came through the finish line together at 11:26pm with official time of: 2 days, 16 hours, and 12 minutes. Unfortunately, both were having tracker issues, and I had no idea they were gonna finish that quickly – so I missed them at the finish line 😦
Jeremy and Meade Plum, Jeff Roberts, Matt Reynolds, and Danny Kaukola spent the night in Bishop, with hopes of getting an early start to the beat the heat. Danny broke his seat post clamp and has been trying to fix it with hose clamps, as the bike shop in Bishop is closed on Sunday. Arthur Kopatsy rode into Bridgeport to bed down for the night- smoking fast. Looking forward to tomorrow!!
Sadly, we got the announcement that Meade Plum and her dad, Jeremy are withdrawing. The hike-a-bike took a toll on her, and her achilles are very swolen. What a trooper. She made it to approximately route mile 161 and over 16,000′ of climbing. WOW!! Kudos to Meade!!!
Art de Goede was off to an early start, making his way up through the Glass, looking strong. Matt Reynolds and Jeff Roberts left Bishop nice and early to hit the Volcanic Tablelands. Danny Kaukola couldn’t get the hose clamps to work, so he’s off to the bike shop to get it repaired, and should be off and running soon. He’s also been having spot trouble, but is keeping in touch via texts.
Arthur Kopatsy left Bridgeport very early and is continuing to ride strong!! By 10:30am (as I write this), he reached the town of Belfort at 10,200′ on his way up to Mt. Patterson (the high point for the whole route). He’s currently at route mile 313 and still the only rider past the 250 turn off!!
10:30pm – update: Danny Kaukola officially scratched earlier today from Bishop, citing losing too much time trying to fix his broken seat post clamp. Only 4 remaining riders on course. Arthur Kopatsy has pushed past Walker and is now heading south with around 120 miles to go. Art de Goede is resting up in a motel in Bridgeport, getting ready for the Sweetwaters tomorrow! Jeff Brooks and Matt Reynolds are camping in the Glass Mountains around route mile 208. Might see some finishers tomorrow!
DAY 5 (7am)
still on course:
5pm update: Jeff Brooks and Matt Reynolds have finished the 250. They came in together at 4:13pm for an official time of 4 days, 8 hours, 59 minutes. Sweet!! There are no remaining 250 riders on course, and there are now officially 5 finishers of the 250.
That leaves one rider on course. Art de Goede. He crossed the Sonora Pass, and 250 finishers Matt and Jeff greeted him with cheers and encouragement at Leavitt Meadows campground, where they said he was in good spirits and just charging along. He made it to Obsidian Dome campground, where it appears he’s bedding down for the night before heading out to Molybdenite Creek tomorrow. Good luck, Art!! We’re all pulling for ya!!
He’s all done. Art de Goede crossed the finish line at 5:35pm. Only the 2nd person to complete the full 500. His official time is 7 days 10 hours 21 minutes. That makes 7 finishers out of 16 starters. That’s a wrap for the inaugural running of the Caldera 250/500 – hope to see y’all next year!!
It is true. After consideration, mucho feedback and input, we’ve decided to make a ~250 mile route that’s basically the southern half of the Caldera 500. Guess what we’re calling it? Yup. The Caldera 250. The Grand Depart will be the same for 250 and 500 riders. The routes are identical through the Glass Mountain Traverse, at which point 500 riders continue north, and 250 riders head west and back to Mammoth.
Our hope is this will be a viable option for riders with time constraints or who might not want to commit to the full 500 for whatever reason. Spread the word!!
More riding. Less couching.
This loop is an oldie but goodie that we originally came across in the guidebook – “Mountain Biking the Eastern Sierra’s 100 Best Trails”. The tread is 4×4 doubletrack and dirt roads (with a short bit of pavement at the end) and tends to be soft and sandy in spots. Although it can be frustrating at times on a mountain bike, it is very enjoyable on a fat bike. It’s hard for me to imagine mountain bike pioneers doing rides like this in the early 90’s. But it’s definitely motivating, imagining them slogging through some of the beachy bits as my fattie floats over everything 🙂
From Highway 120, you climb steadily towards Sagehen Peak, and roll through a beautiful aspen grove (stunning when the fall colors are turning). There are marvelous views of Adobe Valley and the Glass Mountain Ridge and you can see all the way to the White Mountains as you start curving eastbound. When you turn north and descend into the valley, the views are again outstanding as you make your way across North Canyon Creek towards the last pavement climb back to your car. If you are seeking some stellar, buff singletrack, you will not get that on this ride. However, if you are in search of solitude and some of the amazing views that define Eastern Sierra adventure riding, this ride will please you and then some.
- Ride Type: Loop
- Difficulty: Non-technical, moderately strenuous climbing
- Time of Year: Spring, Summer, Fall (possible in late Winter/depending on snow pack)
- Terrain/Conditions: 4×4 roads and dirt roads (soft/sandy in sections) with the last 2.6 miles on pavement.
- Access: From Lee Vining, head 5 miles south on Highway 395 to the Junction with Hwy 120 towards Benton. Drive past the Mono Mills historic site and continue all the way to the top of Sagehen Summit (there is a sign). Park off on the dirt at the junction with froad 1N02. The ride starts here.
- Length: 17.2 miles
- Approx. Time: 2 – 3 hours
- Lowest Elevation: 7,283′
- Highest Elevation: 9,031′
- Total Elevation Gain: 1,896′
- Bike Recommendation: Fat Bike or Plus Bike (29er or 27.5 with 3″ tires). You can do it on a traditional mountain bike as well, but it’s not as enjoyable through the sandy sections, and you might be hiking your bike at times.
- GPX file: Available by contacting us
Turn by Turn (in miles):
0.0 – Start heading south on the wide dirt road 1N02 towards Sagehen Meadows. You’ll have a gradual climb with some steeper bits mixed in.
4.0 – Reach the high point of the ride. Yahoo. Get some rest on the peaceful descent towards Wild Horse Meadow.
4.5 – Stay on 1N02 towards Johnny Meadows. You’ll stay on 1N02, continuing past the junction with Johnny Meadows Rd
7.9 – Left on 1N02T
8.1 – After a short descent, go left at the T. You are now on 29E104 (called 29E03 on older maps).
10.0 – Continue straight, the road turns into 1S15A
11.8 – Creek crossing
13.3 – Continue straight
13.9 – Another creek crossing, then continue straight passed the old corral
14.6 – Go left on Hwy 120, and enjoy the final pavement climb back to Sagenhen Summit.
17.2 – Ride ends. Drink beer.
In the mood to pedal hard and be rewarded with stellar views? If so, this ride is for you. If building lactic acid up in your legs isn’t in the cards, don’t bother. Tobacco Flats is a beautiful area accessed off of Mt. Morrison Rd. As you ride up the canyon, you’re confronted with Mt. Morrison straight ahead, McGee Mountain to your left (you can see portions of the road that switchbacks its way to the top) and Laurel Mountain to your right. We call this ride a “Tootsie Roll Loop” because you have out-and-backs at both ends, and a loop in the middle. Towards the end of the strenuous upper out-and-back portion of the ride, you are rewarded with a rare perspective of Convict Lake at an overlook point. Take a moment to soak it in. Then it’s just a short burst to the top of the climb before turning around beginning the invigorating descent. Before you know it, you’ve dropped 1,600′ and are back at your car. Fantastic!
- Ride Type: Tootsie Roll Loop (Loop with out and back at each end)
- Aerobic Difficulty: Steep climbing is strenuous, strong legs and lungs a must
- Technical Difficulty: Non- technical
- Time of Year: Summer and Fall (sometimes late spring – depending on snow pack)
- Terrain/Conditions: Mostly doubletrack – gorgeous scenery.
- Access: From the junction of Highway 395 and the 203 at Mammoth Lakes, drive south on the 395 for 5.2 miles and exit at Mt. Morrison Rd. Drive 0.2 miles and turn left at the cemetery. Drive another 0.1 miles and park near the Snowmobile Information Kiosk next to the green building. The ride starts here.
- Length: 8.5 miles
- Approx. Time: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
- Lowest Elevation: 7,026′
- Highest Elevation: 8,417′
- Total Elevation Gain: 1,647′
- Bike Recommendation: This can be ridden with pretty much any off-road bike, although fat bikes and plus bikes seem to enjoy the potentially soft conditions the best.
- GPX File: Available by contacting us
Turn by Turn (in miles):
0.8 – At the junction, continue straight/right and start climbing towards the west.
2.4 – Continue straight.
2.6 – Continue straight. Shortly after, reach a 4-way intersection. Go right, continue climbing
2.8 – Veer right at the Y. Continue climbing.
3.3 – It flattens for a brief moment. Enjoy the break, continue straight, and climb some more.
3.8 – You reach a flat open area. The best viewpoint for the Convict Lake is here.
4.0 – Reach the end of the trail. Time to start the descent, back the way you came.
4.2 – Pass the Convict Lake Lookout again – make sure to take a photo if you haven’t already!
5.4 – You reach the 4-way intersection where you started the “out-and-back” at mile 2.6. Continue straight to finish off the loop. Buckle up for a fast and beautiful descent!! Stay on this road as it loops around to the north right above Highway 395.
7.7 – You reach the junction from mile 0.8. You’ve finished the loop, now turn right to start backtracking to your car. One short, steep climb and then the final descent to the finish.
8.5 – Ride ends at the Snowmobile Information Kiosk. Pat yourself on the back. Great ride!
This is a fairly strenuous 10-mile loop that is just across the highway from Mammoth Lakes. It starts with a nice climb behind the geothermal plant, giving you an interesting perspective of the area. Long before the geothermal plant was built, this area was called Casa Diablo. At one time, there were hot springs and an active geyser here. It was a stagecoach stop around 1880, and tourist attraction in the 1920’s. Even earlier than that, Native Americans had an obsidian mine here. As you’re riding, look around at all the whitish areas on the slopes, created from geothermal activity of the Long Valley Caldera.
Eventually you reach Antelope Springs Road and continue climbing this graded road before making a a right for a gorgeous descent down into the valley below. The views of Mt. Morrison and the Sierra Crest are magnificent. Before long, you turn right again, and start the climb to the Casa Diablo Overlook. As you get near the top, you’ll be riding over lots of beautiful obsidian. From the top, you can look west to Mammoth Mountain and see the geothermal plant below. You can look to the south to see Crowley Lake and Doe Ridge, while to the east Hot Creek and the Long Valley Caldera are visible. It’s a magnificent viewpoint and well worth the effort. Afterwards, you complete the loop with fun descent including some rarely ridden singletrack (super fun, with a couple bits of hike-a-bike).
A very similar route, that is longer and has some more climbing, is the Little Antelope Valley Loop. Big Smokey Loop and Little Smokey Loop are also related to this ride, and can be combined for an epic day in the saddle. Confused? Contact us and we’ll dial in a ride to suit you.
Overall, the terrain can tend to be on the sandy side in sections (especially in the summer), so this is a great ride for fat bikes or 29+ bikes. You can do it on a regular mountain bike, but be prepared for some sandy hike-a-bike sections.
- Ride Type: Loop
- Difficulty: Non-Technical, moderate to strenuous climbing with a couple short, steep spots
- Time of Year: Spring, Summer, Fall (possible in Winter/depending on snow pack)
- Terrain/Conditions: Mostly smooth double-track and fire road with some soft & sandy sections.
- Access: From the junction of Highway 203 and Highway 395, go east on the 203 (away from Mammoth) towards the geothermal plant. Make a right turn on Old Highway 395. After approximately 0.2 miles look for a dirt parking lot on your left. Park here, this is where the ride starts.
- Length: 10.0 miles
- Approx. Time: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
- Lowest Elevation: 7,106′
- Highest Elevation: 7,924′
- Total Elevation Gain: 1,449′
- Bike Recommendation: Fat Bike or 29+ because of the sandy sections, but any mountain bike will suffice.
- GPX file: Available by contacting us
Turn by Turn (in miles):
Since this route isn’t signed, and it makes its way through a spaghetti network of OHV trails, we’re not going to post turn by turn directions. We’d prefer you contact us for the gpx track/ map, which will set you up for success.
Come Winter time, Rock Creek Rd. is plowed so you can drive up 6 miles past Tom’s Place to the East Fork / Sno-Park area. This plowing is paid for by the fees collected at the Sno-Park. It costs $5/day to park or you can get a season pass for $25. It’s well worth it. Don’t even consider poaching unless you want bad karma and a $94.50 ticket. Beyond the Sno-Park, Rock Creek Rd. is gated shut and it’s open to nordic skiers, snowshoers, and other non-motorized Winter users looking to access backcountry skiing, etc. Rock Creek Lodge remains open with limited hours during the Winter, and often shuttles people to/from the lodge via snowmobile. Note: Snowmobiling is NOT allowed other than in conjunction with the lodge’s operations. Once there’s enough snow, they also groom the road and a small network of nordic trails with fresh corduroy under permit from the Forest Service. They offer great dinners and xc skiing – you should check it out.
So how does all this relate to fat bikes?? In two ways:
First, there is a summer trail that travels along the creek, all the way to Rock Creek Lake. In the Winter, it gets packed by snowshoers and hikers. When conditions are right, it’s one of the best snow singletrack trails you’ll encounter in the whole region. Lots of small bridges, some technical sections, but mostly smooth, flowing goodness with a remote feeling you don’t get here in the busy season (the campgrounds that the trail passes through are bustling all Summer long). Because it’s never groomed, it remains legal to fat bikes all Winter.
Second, there’s a window every Winter (in recent years, a fairly large window) where Rock Creek Rd has enough snow to ski, snowshoe, fat bike, etc – but not enough to groom. During this time frame, when the road is packed via human and snowmobile power, it is legal to fat bike. Just like everywhere else in the Inyo NF, once grooming has commenced for the season, fat biking is explicitly prohibited.
In some parts of the Inyo, there are online grooming reports, like this one – which helps keep track of legal fat biking opportunities. There is no online grooming report for Rock Creek Rd. We recommend riding the snow singletrack, but if you intend to ride on the road, please call Rock Creek Lodge to confirm whether or not grooming has begun for the season. . They are super friendly and well-versed in fat biking. They’ll let you know the grooming status and if conditions are welcoming to fat bikes. There might be times when it is “legal” to ride, but they’d prefer we don’t based on conditions – PLEASE RESPECT their requests. We want to foster a good relationship with the lodge and all user groups – so please ride RESPONSIBLY and LEGALLY.
In addition, if you do ride the road, make sure to extend courtesy to all other user groups, stay to the right, and in snowmobile tracks when possible. Stay in control, and use proper etiquette when passing other users on the descent. Basically, use common sense!!
Ok. So now that all that jazz has been discussed, get up there. It is stellar. Definitely worth the half hour drive from Mammoth and $5.
- Ride Type: Out and Back
- Difficulty: Mostly non-technical (some rock gardens and many bridges keep you on your toes), moderate to heavy exertion based on conditions
- Time of Year: Anytime after it’s snowed and been human-packed for the singletrack portions, and before snow grooming has begun on the Rock Creek Rd. portions
- Terrain/Conditions: Singletrack / Wide road
- Access: From Mammoth, take Highway 395 south approximately 19 miles, and exit at Tom’s Place. Drive up Rock Creek road approximately 6 miles to the Sno-Park at the winter road closure. Park here, put $5 in the envelope at the kiosk, and put the stub on your dashboard.
- Length: 9.8 miles
- Approx. Time: 1.5 – 2.5 hours
- Lowest Elevation: 8,865′
- Highest Elevation: 9,743′
- Total Elevation Gain: 927’′
- Bike Recommendation: Fat Bike only with 10psi or less tire pressure
- GPX File: Available by contacting us
Turn By Turn Directions: – We are not listing directions for this one. We’d prefer you get the GPX file from us so we can discuss the route and current conditions. We are privileged to ride in this area, and need to make sure it’s ridden responsibly and legally.
Cruising around the Laurel Settling Ponds is a peaceful ride to do pretty much year round. It’s nice in the Summer on dirt, and it’s usually rideable in the Winter on snow with a fat bike (trucks and snowmobiles tend to pack this area out nicely). The views are spectacular in every direction – Mammoth, The Sherwins, Crowley Lake, The Glass Mountains, etc. and the settling ponds themselves are very scenic. It’s pretty mellow cruising, with hardly any elevation gain. Great to take the dog on a leisurely outing. If you’re looking for more, you can link this the Sherwin Creek/Mammoth Creek Rd. ride. There’s also ample opportunity to explore the many forest service roads in this area, and you can head all the way to Convict Lake. Contact us with any questions about putting a great ride together.
- Ride Type: Lollipop (as described here – many variations exist)
- Difficulty: Non-technical, mild exertion
- Time of Year: All year (as long as trucks and OSV’s have packed the snow in the winter, you can ride with a Fat Bike)
- Terrain/Conditions: 4×4 roads and doubletrack
- Access: From the town of Mammoth Lakes, drive down Highway 203 towards Highway 395. Just before getting on the 395 south, there’s a turnoff on Mammoth Creek Rd. There’s a small parking area here, and oftentimes a Winter closure gate once the snow flies. Park here and start riding south.
- Length: 9.1 miles
- Approx. Time: 1-2 hours
- Lowest Elevation: 7,115′
- Highest Elevation: 7,258′
- Total Elevation Gain: 305′
- Bike Recommendation: XC Mountain Bike during Summer/Fall or Fat Bike at low psi during Winter / snow
- GPX File: Available by contacting us
Turn By Turn Directions (coming soon): – For now, just go out and explore. It’s hard to get lost, as you can always see landmarks and you’re never far from Sherwin Creek Road or Highway 395.