I was chatting with my friend Jen a while back. We were going back and forth brainstorming great fall rides that encompass the majesty of our home area. The whole process of planning out future epic rides is one of my favorite parts of exploratory adventure riding. I do love day dreaming about epic rides… Oh, yeah… forgot what I was writing about for a minute… (as the white fluffy is falling out my window right now)…
Out of nowhere, Jen asked, “You ever done the Glass Mountain Traverse?” After a moment to ponder, I stuttered “Um, no. Don’t think I have. I’ve ridden up and down Glass Mountain Ridge, but never heard of the traverse.”
That was all it took. Jen dangled a few more pieces of power bait in front of me. She’d done this ride a handful of times and was eager to share it. I…
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“Flat” rides usually kinda suck. Just my opinion. I wanna be going up or going down with emphasis on the later. F-L-A-T equals B-O-R-I-N-G. Tedious, mundane, monotonous, stale… whatever you wanna call it. Especially on a singlespeed, where you just spin out while your buddies are clickin’ away up to the big ring.
Ah ha! Revelation. Fat bikes take the “flat” out of flat rides. Rides that were once impossible on mountain bikes, or considered drab and toturous if possible, have the possibility of being enjoyable with 4 inches of tire and 5 psi of pressure.
A couple years ago, I never would’ve considered riding my bike around Mono Lake. It’s sandy. It’s mostly double track and forest service roads. Pretty much deal killers for a singletrack snob. I don’t know anybody that enjoys walking their bike through beaches and dunes. Yeah, I know… it’s a gorgeous lake. But that’s…
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The descent down to Starkweather Lake is one of the best sections of singletrack in the area. It’s 2.5 miles of rollercoaster trail bliss. The climb back up is grueling and unrelenting, but we feel it’s worth “earning your turns” for this one. There’s only one catch – this trail is closed to bicycles most of the year. You can usually only ride for a portion of May or June and September – October. If the shuttle bus is running to Reds Meadow, it’s closed to bikes. This means it’s usually only legal once the snow melts in May or June, before the shuttle starts running for the summer – or after Labor Day when the shuttle shuts down at the end of Summer. It changes from year to year, so make sure you’re not poaching before you jump on this trail. Combine with Mountain View, Hard Core, or the Double High Five Y if you’re up for it. You can also shuttle it if you just want the downhill jollies without heaving up a lung.
- Ride Type: Out and Back
- Difficulty: Moderate descent. Difficult, grueling ascent.
- Terrain/Conditions: 100% singletrack
- Access: From town, drive up Highway 203 towards Main Lodge of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. Continue past Main Lodge and go all the way up to the turnoff for Minaret Vista (just before the Forest Service kiosk to go down to Reds Meadow). Make a right for Minaret Vista, and then another quick right and park in the dirt lot. Ride back to Highway 203 and cross the road at Forest Service kiosk. The trailhead is right next to the kiosk, and you’ll see the sign a few feet up the hill (see photo).
- Length: 5.0 miles (2.5 miles each way)
- Approx. Time: 1 – 2 hours
- Lowest Elevation: 8,011′
- Highest Elevation: 9,168’′
- Total Elevation Gain: 1,213′
- Bike Recommendation: XC Mountain Bike
- GPX File: Available by contacting us
Turn By Turn (in miles): No directions necessary. No trail intersections. Just take Starkweather Trail all the way down to the lake. There are a few small creek crossings, switchbacks, and a couple mildly techy sections to keep your speed in check. The dirt is mostly packed with some looser pumice spots sprinkled around. For some reason, most people ride the road to get back up. I guess the climb up the trail can be intimidating, but honestly it’s not that bad. At least as not as bad as climbing Hard Core/ San Joaquin Ridge. We prefer to stay on dirt when possible, so back up the trail is the way to go!!
This is an fairly easy ride for most riders. You can ride it by itself if you’re short on time, or use it as a warm-up for Big Smokey Loop or Lookout Mountain Loop. Also nearby are the Little Antelope Valley Loop and Casa Diablo Overlook Ride if you want an epic day of riding in this area. You can ride two or all three of these together if you seek a little more challenge. They all use the same staging area. No matter how you do it, Little Smokey offers up some majestic views of the Sherwins, San Joaquin Ridge, The Minarets and Mammoth Mountain area.
- Ride Type: Loop (clockwise as we describe it)
- Difficulty: Non-Technical, Easy with Minimal Climbing
- 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 4 miles north of Mammoth Lakes and turn right into Smokey Bear Flats. You’ll see a kiosk and a small parking area. The ride starts here.
- Length: 6 miles
- Approx. Time: 1 hour
- Lowest Elevation: 7,627′
- Highest Elevation: 7,921′
- Total Elevation Gain: 332′
- Bike Recommendation: XC Mountain Bike, Fat Bike, 29+, pretty much any bike will do
- GPX file: Available by contacting us
This ride starts off very moderately, and continues that way. The climbing is gradual, and the descending is fun with a couple sandy areas here and there. Once you turn right on 3S13 (at 1.2 miles), the views open up, and you’ll forget you’re climbing. Don’t forget to gaze to the right and remember why you’re in the Eastern Sierra!! Turn by Turn (in miles): 0.0 – head out east on 3S04, it will go straight for a bit and then turn to the left .34 – continue straight on 3S04 .54 – continue straight on 3S04 .89 – continue straight on 3S04 1.2 – hit a trail junction. Go right on 3S13 (continuing straight on 3S04 will take you on Big Smokey Loop and Lookout Mountain Loop) 1.8 – hit a junction, stay right. There are some gorgeous views to your right, don’t forget to look!! 3.54 – veer right and head down the sandy Power Line Rd 3.75 – veer right again, staying on the Power Line Rd 4 – veer right on 3S38 4.1 – continue right yet again, staying on the main road from here on out – you will descend into Smokey Bear Flat and return back to kiosk where you began – 6 miles total.