“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!!
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!
Wagon Wheel Trail is a fun little piece of trail that descends rapidly from Swall Meadows Rd. until it connects with Lower Rock Creek Rd. As the name suggests, it used to be an old wagon trail that has deteriorated over the years. It can get loose and sandy in sections. There are also extended sections of slickrock and various rock gardens that make this very fun on a full suspension rig. Not many people climb it, but if you’re a climber who likes some technical challenge with a bunch of fun slickrock step-ups, give it a shot both ways. Most people connect it with the Sand Canyon Trail to add a little more descending and mileage. Since it’s only 2 miles, and it’s over pretty quickly, it’s not usually ridden on its own. It’s often gets overlooked by the nearby Lower Rock Creek Trail, but if you’re shuttling LRC, it’s worth it to hit Wagon Wheel either before or after, since you drive right by it.
- Ride Type: Point to Point – as described here
- Difficulty: Intermediate/advanced descending skills required. Some technical rock gardens and sandy sections.
- Time of Year: Late Spring (once snow melts off), Summer and Fall – sometimes rideable during Winter as well, depending on snow pack.
- Terrain/Conditions: Mostly singletrack, with some deteriorated doubletrack.
- Access: Heading south on Lower Rock Creek Road (also called Old Sherwin Grade on some maps), turn right on Swall Meadows Rd. Drive approximately 0.15 miles and there will be a dirt pullout on your left. The trail starts here. It is unsigned.
- Length: 2 miles
- Approx. Time: 10-20 minutes
- Lowest Elevation: 5,274′
- Highest Elevation: 6,192′
- Total Elevation Loss: 879′
- Bike Recommendation: Full-Suspension MTB is best, but hardtail will work as well, or a fat bike
- GPX File: Available by contacting us
Turn By Turn (in miles):
0.0 – No directions for this one. Simply stay on the trail until it ends by merging with Lower Rock Creek Rd. after 2 miles. If your shuttle ride is waiting for you, jump in. Otherwise, ride back up the road, or if your lungs and legs are up for it, ride back up the trail.
This is one tough ride. It takes the Sand Canyon Mountain Bike Trail, which is usually an epic shuttle ride, and massages it into one badass mamma jamma loop. Start at Tom’s Place Resort and make the climb up Rock Creek Rd to access Sand Canyon. After descending Sand Canyon you take Forest Road 4S54 to the left to complete the loop back to your car. You’ll be ready for some post-ride beer and grub at the restaurant. They also have great milkshakes. Another great spot for some mid-ride yummies is Pie In The Sky at the Rock Creek Lake Resort. Grab a slice before turning left at Rock Creek Lake and starting your final push up to the Sand Canyon MTB Trail. From the top, it’s pretty much a bomber 4,000′ descent with great views in every direction before some tough and sometimes sandy climbing back to your car. If you’re in the mood to explore and climb even more, you can take the Wheeler Crest Out and Back about 4 miles after you hit the dirt. You can also include the Swall Canyon Trail, Wagon Wheel Trail, and Lower Rock Creek Trail for a custom loop of epic proportions.
If you have questions about any of this or tailoring a ride to suit you, send us a note.
Note: Much of this ride is very remote. Please be self-sufficient and carry plenty of water and nutrition as well as items to fix your bike in a jam. Weather frequently changes as well, so be ready for anything!!
- Ride Type: Loop (there is also a Point to Point / Shuttle option)
- Difficulty: Advanced descending skills and extra lungs required. Some technical/ rock gardens and steep climbing/ hike-a-bike and sandy sections.
- Time of Year: Late Spring (once snow melts off), Summer and Fall
- Terrain/Conditions: Pavement climb, but mostly doubletrack/ jeep road with some singletrack
- Access: From Mammoth, take Highway 395 south approximately 18 miles and exit at Tom’s Place. Turn right on Crowley Lake Drive and park near Tom’s Place Resort. Save the spots in front for customers that need it.
- Length: 24.6 miles
- Approx. Time: 3-5 hours, maybe more depending on skills and comfort level
- Lowest Elevation: 6,568′
- Highest Elevation: 10,224′
- Total Elevation Gain: 4,339′
- Bike Recommendation: Hard Tail or Full-Suspension MTB is best
- GPX File: Available by contacting us
- More info: Read Alan’s Blog on Sand Canyon
Turn By Turn (in miles):
0.0 – Start heading up Rock Creek Road. It’s pavement, but don’t let that fool you. You’ll be gaining around 4,000′ over 9 miles.
8.6 – Pass Rock Creek Lake Resort / Pie in the Sky on the right.
8.7 – Turn left at Rock Creek Lake. Pass the bathrooms and continue towards the back of the lake.
9.1 – Reach the campground host on the right and some camping spots on the left. You’ll see a green gate to your left. This might be a little confusing, but go past the gate and soon you’ll start heading up a dirt road that’s tame at first, then becomes rocky and steep as it passes by some cabins.
9.3 – go left after a group of cabins when the road splits. Then make another quick left and keep climbing.
9.84 – a trail joins in from the left – stay straight and keep climbing. Breathe!
10.0 – if you clean this section, you’re a champ. most likely you’ll be hiking your bike and looking back to the killer view of Rock Creek Lake
10.4 – you’ve reached the official trail sign/ start of Sand Canyon Mountain Bike Trail. Sip some water and get ready to grin. lot’s of descending ahead. stay on the main trail
11.2 – cross the creek
13.2 – you’ll see the turn-off for the Wheeler Crest 4×4 Road to the right. Keep straight, and get ready to climb a bit.
16.1 – stay on the main trail and rip the descent down the canyon – yahoo!!
17.5 – cross a small creek and then climb for a while10.4 – you’ve reached the official trail sign/ start of Sand Canyon Mountain Bike Trail. Sip some water and get ready to grin. lot’s of descending ahead. stay on the main trail
18.5 – reach an intersection at Witcher Meadow. continue on the main road, veer right and head down steep road towards a creek
19.8 – turn left on 4S54. this is a power line road. don’t miss this turn!
22.1 – continue straight, don’t go left on 4S54D
23.0 – veer right, staying on main road. it then curves to the left, reaching pavement at 23.9 miles
24.6 – arrive back at Tom’s Place Resort
This ride can be a sandy mess. There are a couple of sections that actually look more like sand dunes than a bike trail. With that caveat, it’s still worthwhile… even without a fat bike. Of course, it’s most enjoyable on a fat bike 🙂 There is no singletrack – it’s pretty much all jeep roads and wide graded dirt roads. Ok, so what’s the upside? You do get some nice views and a chance to get up close and personal with Obsidian Dome as you ride all the way around it. Black, volcanic glass is abound on the 300′ high, mile-wide “dome”. It’s worth laying your bike down and hiking to the top of the dome. I wouldn’t necessarily travel to this are just for this ride. There are many other trails within a 5-10 10 minute drive. For example: Yost Meadows Trail, Hartley Springs Loop, and Bald Mountain Ride are all close by. If you are making the journey out to the area, you might wanna give one or more of those a try as well.
- Ride Type: Loop
- Difficulty: Easy technically, with a couple tough climbs in sandy terrain (dependant on OHV use)
- Time of Year: Summer and Fall (possibly late spring depending on snowfall)
- Terrain/Conditions: Mostly doubletrack/ jeep roads with some very sandy sections
- Access: From Mammoth, go north on Highway 395 for 11 miles. Turn left on Obsidian Dome Rd (across from Bald Mountain Rd). Park in the dirt area near the kiosk.
- Length: 7.2 miles
- Approx. Time: 1-2 hours
- Lowest Elevation: 7,856′
- Highest Elevation: 8,352′
- Total Elevation Gain: 776′
- Bike Recommendation: Fat Bike is best and makes the sandy terrain fun, but any mountain bike will do.
- GPX File: Available by contacting us
Turn By Turn (in miles):
0.0 – Ride start. Go straight, heading west on 2s10 (Obsidian Dome Rd.)
0.7 – Head left on 2s107. Enjoy a short, fun descent before it flattens out and gets sandy. Fat bikes eat it up, mountain bikes suffer.
Sandy crap fat bike style
2.0 – Reach a USFS kiosk with a map. Go straight on 2s11 and start climbing.
2.5 – Veer right at the intersection. You’ll start to get some nice views here as you ride towards Obsidian Dome.
4.2 – Hardest sandy climb of the ride
4.7 – Turns into 2s79. Climb for a bit, then pass the Obsidian Dome Parking Area and the road widens and becomes well graded. Descend back to your car.
7.2 – End of ride.
Yost Meadows Trail is one of the most under-rated and overlooked trails around. It’s super easy to access, with parking right off the June Lake Loop. The first mile or so is brutal climbing, with no warmup, that usually involves serious granny-gear pounding or hike-a-bike if you’re on a singlespeed (like me). But the views you get of June Lake and Gull Lake make you forget that you’re wheezing and gasping for dear life. Take a moment to soak it in. The climbing mellows a bit after this point as you spin through alpine meadows and aspen groves. By this point, you’re probably imagining how much bliss this singletrack will be on the way back down! Eventually you enter the ski area- and the trail descends a little before crossing under the lift and climbing some more. The trail is usually pretty easy to follow, but it might be good to load the gpx file (contact us to request the file) especially if any snow has fallen. Also, you must be aware that you have to stop at 3.6 miles and turn around. There is a boundary here for the Owens Headwaters Wilderness Area and bikes are strictly prohibited past this point. Last time we rode it, there was no visible “Wilderness Boundary Sign” so it’s on you to be responsible. You MUST NOT RIDE YOUR BIKE IN THE WILDERNESS AREA. We recommend using an app on your phone or carry a GPS device so that you can track your mileage. Feel free to park the bike and continue hiking past this point. By foot, you can get to Yost Lake and Fern Lake – both great spots to eat some grub and relax. Anyhoo, once you turn around, it’s pretty much rip-roaring downhill fun all the way back to the car. There are hikers once in a while, so be wary – and remember to stay in control in the exposed areas and steep switchbacks. Now go ride!
Note: The best part of the trail (arguably) is the 2.2 miles from the parking area to the ski area – so that’s a good turnaround point as well, if you want to cut the ride a little short or don’t want to mess with getting near the Wilderness Boundary
- Ride Type: Out and Back
- Difficulty: Advanced climbing and descending skills required. This is a lung-buster climb with exposed descents.
- Time of Year: Summer and Fall (possibly early Winter/ late Spring depending on snowfall)
- Terrain/Conditions: Singletrack, with some loose/sandy sections
- Access: From Mammoth, take Highway 395 north for 20 miles to the southern turnoff for the June Lake Loop (Hwy 158). Drive for about 2 miles. You’ll reach the Fire Station and the Balancing Boulder on the right side of the road. The dirt parking lot is on the left, directly across from the fire station. You’ll see the trail sign.
- Length: 7.2 miles total (3.6 to the Owens Headwaters Wilderness Boundary)
- Approx. Time: 1.5 – 3 hours, depending on skills and comfort level
- Lowest Elevation: 7,718′
- Highest Elevation: 9,250′
- Total Elevation Gain: 1,678′ (with around 1,500′ coming in the first 3.6 miles – ouch!)
- Bike Recommendation: Lightweight XC mountain bike is best. Full suspension or hardtail. If riding after snow has fallen, a fat bike might be best 🙂
- GPX File: Available by contacting us
- More Info: Check out the Mountain Biking Mammoth Book
Turn by Turn (in miles):
0.0 – Start heading up from the trailhead sign (see photo). You’ll quickly pass by a large kiosk with a map. The trail is wide at first, but narrows soon. The climbing is relentless.
.75 – The climbing starts to ease up, but is still tough. You leave the exposed mountainside and head inward a bit. The riding gets a little easier, but the views are diminished.
2.2 – Reach the Ski Area. Here you merge with a wide ski run and descend for a short bit. Look to your left and find the singletrack. Jump on this and start climbing again. This area of the trail is sometimes faint, but more recently has been defined well by rocks, etc.
2.9 – Cross a small creek
3.6 – Reach the Wilderness Boundary. Turn around here and retrace your ride back to the car. Enjoy the sweet trip back – you earned these turns!!