Thursday, June 18, 2009

Eastern Sierra Double Fiasco 6/6/2009

Well, I "DNF"ed (bailed out) of the Eastern Sierra Double on Saturday, as I felt it was more important to be able to ride next week than put myself at risk of hypothermia. The whole experience was very frustrating and made me seriously question the judgment and competence of the organizers, Planet Ultra.

The ride was supposed to be out of Bishop, north to Mono Lake via Mammoth Lakes, then east on 120 across the valley and south back on 6 to Bishop. When I checked in they said they were changing the route owing to the weather but at that point they had no details of the new route.

The "weather" was not a typical late system front that would have impacted all areas including the valley, but was predominantly a moisture feed that was being picked up by the mountains to create localized weather. I drove over from San Francisco on Friday and had to go north over 88 as 120 and 108 were closed. There was no weather in the central valley but the cloud and some rain/snow was evident over the Sierra. However, once down into the valley on 395, the weather was fine all the way down to Bishop. It was a little cool in Mammoth owing to the altitude and you could see the rain/snow on the peaks on both sides of the valley. The forecast for Saturday that I saw was for similar to slightly better conditions than Friday, which is why I was surprised to find out about the route change.

I heard a rumor that one plan was to ride 100 miles down 395 and 100 miles back. That would probably have been relatively weather free, but not significantly better than the standard route (and a lot less interesting!). The alternate route they actually chose was a disaster because it violated one of the basic rules of the prevalent weather pattern, which is to stay away from the mountains because that is where the bad weather is. The alternate route, which we learned about at the start at 5am, had us going South to Big Pine then east towards Death Valley on 168/Death Valley Road (and then back again). Admittedly it was unlucky that the particular area we headed into had the bad weather brewing so early, but the western flanks are the most likely places for precipitation in the Sierra. [For example, on my way home, I rode up Tioga Pass with no precipitation, but it rained solidly from 8000' to 3000' on the western descent.] Although the route up Death Valley Rd didn't go that high (7000') it was surrounded with plenty of high enough peaks to create weather. Indeed as we rode down it was ironic that it was clear north up to Mammoth but obviously developing weather in the area we were headed into. Unlike the original route which had plenty of bail out options and possible shelter early on, riding 25 miles into total wilderness with no shelter or bail out options was very high risk and likely to produce exactly the result that the route change was trying to avoid. I personally bailed 12 miles out just shy of the summit when it started to hail. At that point we were facing another 13 miles out at that altitude, then a return and then a long descent, all in potentially appalling weather conditions, i.e., between 2-3 hours. That seemed like a pretty good recipe for hypothermia to me, even when reasonably well equipped for rain. Even though I bailed pretty quickly, I was very cold indeed by the time I got to back to the valley where thankfully, but no real surprise, it wasn't raining.

After checking out of my hotel I drove north to Lee Vining and could not help feel depressed as to to how good the weather was there for riding. As I had wanted some climbing at altitude I rode up Tioga Pass and back, without any precipitation. By the time I returned it had clouded over some and I could see some isolated showers to the east. So, we might well have got wet on the second half of the ride, but it would have likely been short in duration, unlike in the mountains [and the second half of the alternate route was into that area anyway].

The ride up Tioga saved the day for me. I haven't heard the fate of the rest of the riders. I saw a handful who had been sagged back to the hotel just as I was leaving, who said they were so cold they couldn't hold their bikes straight. And I know some people were up there without real rain jackets. I just hope they all got back ok.

No comments:

Post a Comment