High SIERRA 2023
Sierra Mountain passes
Highlights: Iowa Hill Rd • Mosquito Ridge • Eleven Pines Rd Wentworth Springs Rd • Ice House Rd • Big Hill Fire Lookout • Silver Fork Rd • Carson Pass • Highway 89 • Bodie Ghost Town • Highway 108 Sonora Pass • Highway 4 Ebbetts Pass • Highway 89 Monitor Pass
When I first moved to California in 1993, I soon heard about a place revered by motorcyclists called Mosquito Ridge. It allegedly had 600 curves in 36 miles. It was a road carved through solid rock in some places to reach the reservoirs built in the early 1960s when mountain valleys were being converted to large man-made lakes to store snow melt and for power generation. To reach these valleys deep in the Sierra Nevada mountains, roads were expanded to carry trucks and material to the build sites. I had to go see for myself. And you should too! Join Pashnit Motorcycle Tours for an all-new motorcycle tour of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Passes.
The Gold in Iowa Hill
The ride wastes no time plunging steeply off the ridge into the North Fork of the American River canyon to a steel bridge built in 1928. The ride is steep, narrow and one-lane. It leads to the gold rush town of Iowa Hill which is so remote, they only gained telephone service a few years ago. Iowa Hill like many gold rush towns, was once a bustling town producing $400,000 in gold a month in 1867.
Iowa Hill was once proposed to be the state capitol... having produced $20,000,000 in gold, with a population of 10,000 citizens through the 1870's. Unlike other gold rush towns, there isn't much left of Iowa Hill, the town burned down several times and was never rebuilt. Fires combined with bust always follows boom ensured the demise of this town, today only a few buildings remain. Nearby Sugar Pine Reservoir completed in 1982 is a small lake we'll ride to and a quick jog connects us to Foresthill.
Our goal is to ride Mosquito Ridge Rd, a mountain road beloved by motorcyclists. Mosquito Ridge leads up to French Meadows Reservoir deep in the Sierra. This mountain region is punctuated by ridgelines that protrude westward out of the Sierra Nevada range. In the steep canyons below are mountain rivers that flow westward to the ocean.
Any riding in this region requires descending into the canyon below and back out again. Mosquito Ridge Rd starts off atop the ridge and tosses out an endless panorama of mountain scenery. We're going down there? You can peer over the edge and glimpse into the canyon below. We’ll flow through an endless series of mountain curves to Circle Bridge aptly named for the half-circle shape across the North Fork of the American River.
A sinuous climb pushes out of the canyon to the top of Mosquito Ridge through the 2022 burn scar of the Mosquito Fire. The views are wide open in some portions and the road is cut through a solid cliff of rock dropping off steeply into the canyon below. The sheer walls often produce a fresh crop of rocks on the road, we’ll need to keep a watchful eye. Every few years, a truck-sized rock will fall off has been known to block the road.
Once the road reaches the top of Mosquito Ridge, the ride settles down atop this ridgeline and flows through a pine forest. Mosquito Ridge even passes by a small Sequoia grove most people have never heard of. The road rides out of the 2022 Mosquito Fire burn scar, then reaches French Meadows Reservoir some 600 curves and 36 miles later after a 4000-foot elevation change. French Meadows was completed first along with Hell Hole Reservoir in the next valley to the south, the two lakes are connected by an underground tunnel that was bored through the rock. With French Meadow Reservoir being slightly higher, it drains into nearby Hell Hole Reservoir and the water flow generates power.
In 2014, the King Fire ripped through this region of the Sierra Nevada burning nearly 100,000 acres of remote wilderness, the fire skipped around the forest leaving some areas completely intact while in other places burning vast tracts of land.
Eleven Pines Road is located in the most severely burned portion of the King Fire where tree mortality was almost 100%. We'll ride though this scarred land as we make our way to Wentworth Springs Rd while salvage logging is still taking place to remove logs.
Remember what it was like to be a child? That glee-like feeling upon being handed something new. The excitement, the sensation of your deepest desires fulfilled.
Now imagine a glassy smooth swath of gently arcing curves, unprecedented perfection, upon a deserted mountaintop. Imagine no homes, no paved side roads, no people, just absolute wilderness. Imagine mountain tops that frame the edge of horizons. Before you, lies something you once heard about, but wouldn't believe in until you saw it with your own eyes. This is Wentworth Springs Rd. Riding this will saturate you with a sense of motorcycle awe, a pure spiritual experience. You, the road, the bike, and nothing else. Nothing else really matters.
Wentworth Springs Rd used to be dirt until 20 years ago some intelligent person saw fit to grade a twisty banked section of pavement over this mountain top into the Ice House Region of the Sierra. The pavement wiggles along then reach the top of the ridgeline on Hartless Mountain, 6063 ft. The new road is pure joy, an exercise in smooth left rights. It all leads to Ice House Rd. The elevation climbs immediately through a stand of trees and then breaks out into a stunning wide-open view at 6400 feet.
Roads like this were placed on this earth so that you and I could escape for a few moments, stand atop a mountain and survey all the world before us. Much of this ride encompasses wondrous views. After miles of incredible road, we’ll pull to the side of the road, overshadowed by the Crystal Range and shut the bikes off.
Not a sound. Nothing. No neighbors, no lawnmowers, no other traffic, no TV. Nothing.
French Meadows, Hell Hole, Loon, Ice House, Union Valley, these lakes are all connected with bored tunnels or above ground pipelines. Starting from the Rubicon Reservoir, the highest lake drops water into the lake below, power is generated, then drops again into the next and so on. Power is generated at every step down as it flows finally into Folsom Lake in the valley below. At Loon Lake, the powerhouse inlet is a few feet away from a Chalet at Loon Lake that you can rent, and was completed in 1971. To build what you see today, Loon Lake and Pleasant Lake were joined to form the 1400-acre reservoir. The power generating center is actually 1200 feet below the lake drilled though solid rock.
Big Hill Fire Lookout
On July 28, 1955, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District filed for a license to construct the Upper America River Project. This project, through a series of reservoirs, tunnels, and penstocks would deliver hydroelectric power from natural water and snowmelt storage on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In 1958 clearing was started on the first Upper America River Project, Ice House Dam and Reservoir. Then on June 18, 1971, with the scenic backdrop of the Crystal Range of the Sierra Nevada, completion of the 40 mile "Stairway of Power" was celebrated at Loon Lake.
We'll have time to stop by Big Hill Lookout at 6500 ft. The view is a 360-degree panorama of the Crystal Range that borders the western side of the Lake Tahoe Basin. To the west on the clearest of days, we can see clear across the entire state to the San Francisco Bay Area.
The lookout atop Big Hill dates to 1933 when the California Conservation Corp constructed fire lookouts throughout the Sierra Nevada. It has been manned seasonally ever since, except during WWII when it was manned year-round for the detection of balloons carrying Japanese firebombs. The Cleveland Fire in 1992 destroyed this hilltop and all its structures. In 1994 a new tower was completed along with a hanger for a helo fire attack base.
We always climb the ladder on up to the fire lookout, one of the few in the Sierra that has a paved road to the top, and the public are welcome to walk on up. It’s a moment to converse with the lookout who resides there, providing ever a watchful eye for smoke in the distance. After a hearty lunch, the group will head south over 8023 ft Monitor Pass. A few years ago, a group of motorcycle writers wrote a book and called Monitor Pass, the best motorcycle road in California. We’ll let you decide.
The Sierra Nevada Passes...
Day 2 involves riding the Sierra Nevada Range over nearly 10,000 ft mountain passes, Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass are right outside our door. Ebbetts Pass, one of the Sierra's highest mountain passes at nearly 10,000 ft, welcomes you twisting up and over the range.
There's much to see, and a thrilling vista is at every turn. There will be plenty of time to take in the sights, shoot some pics, and enjoy the ride. Ebbetts Pass actually has two summits with a saddle like depression in the middle. This is the Sierra Nevada at its best. The highlight of Highway 4 is a section of road at the crest with no center line, narrow, twisty and incredible vistas! This portion was also recently repaved.
One our favorite roads tucked away is Big Hill Rd to Middle Camp Rd, a ride that offers up a taste of the Sierra Nevada Foothills.
A few miles south and then we'll make for Sonora Pass, which has even more stunning scenery. The 9624 ft. summit includes a 26% grade and some aggressive switchbacks.
There are very few roads anywhere this steep, and the smell of brakes is everywhere. During the month of June, there will be ample amounts of snow in the mountains and all the peaks will be covered in a layer of white. Some of our tour seasons included 10 feet of snow on either side of the road as we ride over the summit.
After descending out of the Sierra Nevada, it’s only a few miles back to our lodging and a hearty dinner within walking distance. It's been another weekend of great riding, and this may be some rider’s 2nd or 3rd tour with us! We'll be looking forward to riding with you again!
Tour: June 16, 2023
Meet: 424 S Auburn St, Colfax, CA
Arrive: 7:00 AM, Safety Brief 7:30, Depart 8:00 AM
Cost: $460 per rider, $119 Passenger
This tour includes narrow single lane paved mountain roads. The ride includes steep mountain grades to 26% and negotiating tight hair-pin corners. All roads on this tour are paved except three miles of hard pack into Bodie SHP.
EXPERIENCED RIDERS ONLY:
This tour is not recommended for beginner riders or Very Large Motorcycles. Riders are expected to have at least several years of enthusiastic experience on their motorcycle riding remote challenging paved mountain backroads along with at least 5000+ miles of concurrent recent experience.
This tour is limited by the amount of rooms at our host lodging. We have booked rooms months in advance and our tours sell out by the end of January. Get on our mailing list to be the first to know about new rides. Tours are planned & announced in the late fall of each year.
Book early to ensure a spot on this new ride. Check with us to see if any available spots are open. Some of our rides may have waiting lists to be able to join the group.