Both sides of Sonora Pass are beautiful, but the west side is probably somewhat more interesting to the eye. Starting from Dardenelles the road allows a pleasant warm up, as it climbs gently and even offers a few rollers. There is a nice overview of the creek along the road early on, where a person could bask on a warm rock and stretch or do whatever else they must for a few minutes to prepare for the intense gradients ahead. Here we clearly are just getting rolling and haven't gotten down to business yet. Mark may be sticking his tongue out, but he isn't really tired yet; hell, he never did get tired. Sterl on the other hand - well his hat already looks like he soon will feel. It is pretty warm at this point, which is at about 6000' elevation. The scenery is beautiful, the weather is good, the pavement is fast and the company can't be beat: what do you want from life? How about an 18% grade, 55oF and a downpour. Yeehaw, that's why you ride in the mountains.
The scenery along 108 east of Dardenelles is fantastic - truly mountainous, even truly alpine up high. The rocks that you can see capping the mountain in the background are volcanic and Neogene in age (relatively young geologically) . You don't see such rocks everywhere in the Sierra, especially at such high elevation, and they lend a certain drama to the surrounding ridge crests. The road more or less stays in the bottom of the drainage and climbs steadily until the canyon boxes out farther east, as you can see in the following picture. The pavement is fast and consistent all the way. Sterling 'I like my 32 x 27' McBride nabbed this shot of Mark and Somepunk just before the old 39x25 started to feel just a little big (despite the Kelme hat). And to think we used to ride around on 42 x 21's.
Somehow the road climbs out of this valley and into the clouds. Life is still good at this point, although it has become overcast and a bit muggy. Things get interesting where the road climbs out of this beautiful glaciated valley. If the broad U - shape of the valley doesn't give it away as glacial in origin, the glacial polish on rocks along the roadside might convince you. Noticable at this elevation is the small size of the trees relative to down at Dardenelles.
Here we are, bringing on the deluge by playing tourists! And it worked! Sterling laughed at me for bringing long fingered gloves, but I was very glad for them before long. Within seconds it was pouring and Dr. Anolik was shredding on his all-weather Michelins: 'MY tires have little clouds on their emblem, I'm passing that Miata, damnit!' The road deceptively levels out about a mile or so from the top. Actually, it only looks flat in comparison to the prolonged18% grueler that precedes it; however, you just can't get down off the big cog, as it still climbs at about 8%. The 9000' elevation is playing tricks on you at that point as well. Just east of the pass, the road dramatically drops off at about 15 to 18%. You really feel as though you are perched on the summit. Even under the best of conditions it would be very difficult to slip on a vest after cresting the col before you were plummetting towards a turn at 85 kph. The speeds on the descents are phenomenal - with the combination of very steep grades, thin air and good pavement, it is easy to exceed 100 kph.
A wet section on the east side. Actually, the entire east side was wet when we rode it. It is a very reasonable but challenging proposition to climb Sonora Pass from highway 395. 395 is about 3000' vertical below the pass, and the climb probably averages about 7% much of the way. There are some steep pitches through a series of switchbacks midway up. Then, about 1.5 to 2 miles from the pass, there is a false summit. Upon cresting it, you descend about 200 vertical, pass a 9000' elevation sign and the 1.5 miles to go marker. At that point, the road is pretty flat, which is a bad, bad thing, because you are 624 feet below the summit, and only about 1 mile of road lies between you and your lofty goal. In case you don't put 624 and 1 together, as you hammer along the flat, the brutally steep road come into view between the trees, and your plight strikes home like a Walloon Arrow. The ride out to 395 from the base of the climb was well worth it in our minds. Mark is the red dot about to disappear into the distance. The photo is by Sterling 'I am on a 32 x 25 and I am barely moving, so I may as well stop and take a picture' McBride. Thanks for taking the picts, Sterl - thanks for inspiring a great day.