Last year over Labor Day weekend, 6 of us rode climbed White Mountain Peak,
a 14,246’ peak in eastern California, with unicycles and rode down.
Afterwards, Kris and/or I came up with the idea of doing it again, but
instead of riding down from the summit to the car, we would ride all the way
to Bishop, a large town 10,000’ below the summit. Initially we just sort of
joked about it, but sometime during the year, the jokes became a plan for a
serious attempt at what will probably be the biggest unicycle descent I ever
We met at the campground Friday night. Kris and Shannon drove down from
Vancouver, starting a multi-month trip. The 3 of us with Bronson had a
painless 8 hour drive from the Bay Area. Saturday we spent doing a 5 mile
hike to the oldest trees on Earth at Schulman Grove, and playing around a
little at Patriarch Grove around 11,200’. Hoping that was enough
acclimatization, we packed the truck that night and went to bed early.
The alarm went off at 4:30am and we were driving up the road a little after
5. We got to Barcroft Station at 12,500’ around 6:20am, just before sunrise,
and had breakfast. It was a little chilly at 33F, but it warmed up quickly
as we started. We started up at 7:05am and rode little of the uphill,
conserving strength. It seemed easier than last year, and we all made the
summit together before 11am. It was beautiful and practically cloudless and
everyone was feeling great. I was wondering if we were crazy - it just
didn’t seem that we could ride another 32 miles and descend over 12,000’ all
in the same day. We remembered Galen Rowell, the photographer/climber we had
met here last year. He and his wife tragically died nearby in a plane crash
We started down together just after noon. Then Beau and Kris started riding
down fast together. Bronson and I were following, but could not catch up!
How does Beau ride like that on a 20" wheel? Finally I caught them hiking up
a short climb, and we rode the last few miles down to the car. It was only
1:30pm and the first of the day’s three phases was done.
Kris and I exchanged Munis for souped-up Cokers, and Bronson switched to his
mountain bike. We filled our camelbaks, ate, and took off a little after
2pm. Riding the dirt road we had driven up was challenging, especially the
uphill sections. There were about four uphills, totaling 1550’ of climbing.
One was steep and went on forever, and we had to walk some of it. Without
the 175mm cranks, we would’ve walked all of it! By 5pm, we found the cache
of water and food Megumi and Shannon had left for us and turned off on a 4WD
road that drops an amazing 4000’ in only 3.5 miles.
The key piece of equipment for the 3rd phase of the day was the brake on the
Coker. Bronson and I had just set these up the day before the trip and
hadn’t really tested them, but they worked great. We basically had to keep
the brake cranked on its maximum setting, but due to the steepness, once
rolling, the wheel would turn smoothly. Amazingly, on the steepest sections,
we had to ALSO apply FULL power leg braking. Remounting was tough. You jump
up but the wheel is completely locked. To start riding you have to give one
powerful pedal stroke which starts it rolling, then you’re back to braking
with the legs and navigating over the rocks etc. Near the bottom, I said,
“Without the brake, this wouldn’t be possible even with 5 foot long cranks.”
After 3.5 miles of very very steep riding, it leveled off to only very
steep, and we started hitting the stream crossings. There are about eight of
them, and even this late in the season the water was over the pedals on
some. You have to remember to release the brake as you enter the water as
the bottom is rocky and you have to apply a lot of power to get up the other
side. At least there was no more problem of the rim overheating. Bronson was
really loving this part on his full suspension mountain bike. He was
carrying our tools and took photos and helped with a couple of repairs.
It was so classic as we got down to the bottom of the road, riding straight
into the setting sun! I was pretty sore when we finally stopped after 37
miles (60km) of riding with 4215’ (1285m) of climbing and 12568’ (3830m) of
descending. In a few minutes Megumi and Shannon drove up and we headed over
to a friend’s house nearby for a huge wonderful dinner and showers. What an
amazing day! It would’ve been absolutely impossible without our brilliant
support crew of Bronson, Megumi, Shannon and Beau. They drove us, they fed
us, they packed for us, they carried heavy stuff for us, they cheered us up.
To them and our friends Brent and April who put up with 6 hungry dirty
climbers in their gorgeous home, I say THANK-YOU!
My post about last year’s trip: http://tinyurl.com/19mv
Last year’s photos and my others: http://www.movaris.com/nathan/photos.html
White Mountain Research Station: http://www.wmrs.edu/
Topo map of White Mountain Peak climb:
Galen and Barbara Rowell’s site: http://www.mountainlight.com/