The Eastern Sierra Obliged, Day Three

Poor Lake Passage


A gift given to those who sleep between mountain peaks is the sunrise. Were you on top of one of these mountains, you'd see the sun's rays leaping past the horizon, racing to meet you. First light is bright, staggering, and immediate. But below those mountains, here in the valley, first light is an aura of pastels- filling the sky for what feels like hours. This morning it's above me, and as I pack up my sleeping arrangement the light and color swirl down into the valley to meet me. The campsite closes today for the season, and lacking any other campers I feel like I'm in my own, private James Turrell exhibit.

Breakfast is dry food, coupled with enough water that I'm fairly confident I'll spend the morning stopping every five minutes to pee. Somehow I never got into coffee, which as a result means I never got into elaborate doodads to make coffee, so starting my day is at best a ten minute deal.

There's no ceremony to my goodbye. The camp stuart, who was kind enough to let me stay for free, looks to be still asleep in his RV and I don't have any paper to leave a thank you note. I savor the morning on the trail.


This is fine.


This morning I'm riding through West Walker River Valley. The day before I stopped in the middle of a perfect, high-speed descent down highway 108 after seeing this valley and thinking "Oh, that looks cool." That, by the way, is about how eloquent I get while taking photos. I see something, think "Aw neat!" then press a few buttons. Sometimes there's not a lot that separates my thought processes form those of a five year old.


If I'm being honest, I'm really just out here to take photos of trees.




In researching West Walker River, I learned a bit about the ranching industry for whom the river is heavily irrigated. Out here, there are cowboys- not marlboro men. The actual, rugged/ragged cowboys whose affection for the animals they raise rivals that of parents for their children. Today is not a day on the trails for them it seems, but hoof prints and the occasional trail apple (lacking a "road," I think this term works) give the impression of who uses these trails most. If you ever want to know how well Maxxis Chronicles hook up on boulders covered in horse shit, buy me a drink some time.

The trail to Poor Lake isn't all flat valley. Some ridges need climbing, then descending, then it disappears on ya a couple times, but arriving at Poor Lake it was nearly impossible to resist stripping down (hell, my bibs were already down as it was) and spend the rest of the day swimming in its deep, clear water.

I never did find the diving board.


If You Go Into Ranch Country,
Remember To Close The Gate.


Cattle gates and bikepacking go hand in hand. The wild expanses of the west have been thoroughly claimed, quartered, and fenced to hell in back. There's one simple way to stay on a rancher's good side: close the gate. No matter what, close the gate. Unfortunately on this route one of the many gates was chained and padlocked- a private property sign held on with bailing twine and not looking like a terribly new addition. The trail from this gate would take one within, let's say, shooting distance of the homestead responsible for all the cattle one came across earlier. This on GPS track provided by other mountain bikers.

It's left to your interpretation if I hopped the gate and snuck around the edge of the property, or if I spent my lunch walking the fence line hoping to find another unlocked gate.


#RoadsLikeThese


On the other side of that choose-your-own-risk, Little Walker Road returns with a stop, if necessary, at Obsidian Campground and the border of Hoover Wilderness. There's a trail, kinda. The trail takes you along the border of Hoover Wilderness. Don't ever ride your bike in protected wilderness. There's large sections, uphill of course, where thicket has taken the trail back over but a few washouts with deep horseshoe prints in between boulder fields point me in the direction of Long Valley Trail. Downhill, this could be an amazing, technical trail. Going up, however, I'm back to hike-a-bike. I am a little tired of hike-a-bike at this point.

I'm at the point where I've seen one person in three days. Long Valley Trail takes you up Huntoon Canyon, a creek staying to the left to mock me for doing this trail on anything other than a horse. Mt Emma sits above the canyon, where in a section particularly heavy in sage bush I hear dogs barking. Behind them are a group of folks on horseback. Dismounting, moving off trail, and waiving them through I actually got panicked by the idea of remembering how to have a conversation. 

I'm at the point where I've seen one person in three days. Long Valley Trail takes you up Huntoon Canyon, a creek staying to the left to mock me for doing this trail on anything other than a horse. Mt Emma sits above the canyon, where in a section particularly heavy in sage bush I hear dogs barking. Behind them are a group of folks on horseback. Dismounting, moving off trail, and waiving them through I actually got panicked by the idea of remembering how to have a conversation.

Indeed, the trail is gone. My gizmo's purple line remains and these big tires that get everyone so chatty are letting me bushwhack my way through until a cattle trail appears, sending me through random periods of forest followed by long stretches of sand and scrub.

This is the trail.

This is still that trail.

This is still somehow that trail.


The endless chiming of sagebrush whacking against my shoes and rims on this cattle trail is a sound I'll remember for the rest of my life.


Gravity takes back over. While evening arrives with Yaney Canyon, so does a the canyon's defined trail with seemingly accidental berms and step ups. What feels like a day full of just plodding along pedaling up and across stuff is ending, again, with a righteous descent. It's my first chance to really open up Chumba's bike and see how well it can shred, and with the last bits of light left in the sky I don't hold back.

This blessing of a trail opens back up to dirt road, still pointed straight down, and dumps out back onto Highway 395.

I ride along highway 395, the sky explodes and then fades into darkness and I catch the sign for Buckeye Hot Springs. I spend the night climbing back up into the mountains for a place to sleep. I feel cold, but it it's not chilly. I chalk it up to the rapid descending. I can see campfires on the other side of a creek, but can't sort out a road to get to them so instead I just sling my hammock up between two trees in silhouette . I'm so bushed that I sacrifice a cooked dinner for the luxury of getting in my sleeping bag early, with a cornucopia of cliff bars.


Route Map