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Downieville Classic

Enjoying the early morning views on the Downieville Classic

 

For years now I have been hearing lots of fantastic stories about the Downieville Trails. I almost made it here last year, but the South Lake Tahoe Trails kept me occupied longer than planned, so I never made it. As I’m sure you can understand, I was pretty stoked about riding what a lot of people call “The hottest mtb destination in the USA” .. I have been to a lot of fantastic mtb destinations, and was really curious if Downieville would come close to some of my all time favorites, or would it go down as Just OK …

 

Downieville Classic Trail Map
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Trail Stats & Information

Nearby Town : Downieville / Sierra City

Length: 21.94 mi

Trail Type: Point to Point

Skill Level: [what the books say] no info

Skill Level: [My Opinion] Technically moderate – challenging. Physically demanding.

Duration : My time was 04:31:17

Elev Gain: 3,907 ft

Top Elev : 5,177 ft

Min. Elev : 2,886 ft

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Book Description

The trail begins with an 8 mile, 3,000′ climb up the face of the Sierra Buttes, a metamorphic crown that stretches 8,600′ towards the wide-open sky. This legendary climb is known to many as the “Trail of Tears”. It starts with pavement, turns to dirt, and then gradually steepens and narrows to a loose, exposed, shaly doubletrack. We try to make things more comfortable by providing an overhead water mister at the 2 mile point, and Clif Bar supported aid stations at the 4 and 7 mile markers.
After cresting the saddle, the route follows a rolling jeep road to the east rim of Gold Valley and the top of “Baby Heads” – a fast, loose, rocky descent that is responsible for numerous flat tires, get-offs and lead changes. At the bottom of this anarchy awaits Gold Valley and the Pauley Creek crossing. This 30′ wide crossing can be as deep as 3′ during the race, often making it difficult to navigate across at high-speed.
Once across, the route turns to singletrack on the Pauley Creek Trail, a 17 mile creekside plunge that blends flowing turns and rolling jumps with jagged rocks and slippery roots. After descending 2,000′ and crossing three foot-bridges, the trail climbs from the Pauley Creek Canyon to the Lavezzola Creek Canyon, and to the trailhead of the world famous Third Divide Trail. Third Divide is known for it’s Star Wars like speeds, magic carpet tread, bermed corners and lofty airs.
After a thrilling 3 miles, Third Divide Trail dumps out onto Lavezzola Road, which descends to the upper First Divide trail, a 150 year-old water flume built to provide water to a nearby hydraulic mining site. This stretch of trail requires a ton of pedaling as it winds its way downstream through the Lavezzola Creek Canyon, across a saddle, and into the Pauley Creek Canyon to the long awaited streets of downtown Downieville for the finish.

 

 

My Experience

I decided for numerous reasons to base myself in Sierra City, just 10 miles from Downieville, and the actual start of the Downieville Classic. As usual I arrived without any maps, and with very limited trail intel. Lucky for me I arrived on a Sunday, and the last day of the Downieville Classic Race, which meant that about 900 mountain bikers had just ridden the trail, thus making it very easy for me to follow… Yeah!.. well that was my plan anyway.
So, very early on a very sunny Tuesday morning I set off with my very basic map, but my excellent plan to follow the well ridden trail.
I knew I had an 8 mile solid climb, but for some reason known to nobody, I kinda forgot how far 8 miles is when it’s all uphill, with zero shelter from the sun. The scary thing about the first 4 miles, is that you can actually see for almost 4 miles the trail you will be taking, and believe me, it’s a longgg climb.
The first 4 miles was a grunt, but at least you can’t go wrong.. this changes when you think you have reached the top, and you suddenly find yourself at a 4 way Trail junction.. that is NOT on the map, and all 4 directions are very well worn.. So, it was decision time, I had come from one direction, so I had a choice of 3 others, Left, Straight Ahead or Right… I decided to go left ( direction Downieville ) luckily for me, the trail dead ended after a mile, so that was an easy decision to return to the junction. My next guess.. Straight Ahead… Not quite lucky this time, the trail ran into a “Wall of Snow” 3 miles DOWN the trail, so I knew this was not the right way either.. So it was the Right Trail I had to take.
From the 4 mile mark, the trail continues to climb for another 4 miles, but nowhere near as bad as the first 4 mile climb. Once you hit the tarmac it’s a mile downhill to the ” Butcher Ranch Trail”…
Now this is the Starting Point to your Reward for the 8 mile climb.. And what a Reward it is..
The next 13 miles is 100% fun pumping fast manic and raw Mayhem!! .. I have not got a clue what was going on around me, all I saw was what was directly in front of me.. going by FAST!!
I was only 10 min. into the 13 miles downhill, and I was already making plans to come back and do this again!
Although this trail offers the max enjoyment level, and it is not extremely difficult, it really should be done with caution, I felt completely at home on this trails, but if you not like very rocky narrow trails with deadly drops, it could be very scary. There are sections on this trail, that will kill you if you fall, we are not talking the 200ft sheer drops that certain Moab Trails offer, but we are talking 30 ft sheer drops into the cold rapids of the Yuba River!..

 

Conclusion

I have to admit, this trail really is Kick Ass.. and YES, it probably has the highest adrenalin pumpin’ fun factor of all the trails I’ve been on ( joint 1st spot with Cold Creek to Star Lake to Armstrong Pass down Corral Trail in South Lake Tahoe )

The flow and speed on this trail is amazing, kudos to the Downieville trail builders for doing such an amazing job.
There are two ways of doing this Trail, one one I did, with a brutal 8 mile climb, or the easy way, getting a shuttle to drop you off, so all you have to look forward to is the sweetest 13 miles you might ever experience..

 

Other Info:

Traffic on Trail: I did this ride twice, and both times I had the trail to myself, however if you get caught on the trail between “shuttles” it might be a completely different story..

Wild Life : I would not have a clue.. Way too much fun to notice wildlife

Scenery : Great scenery

Getting There : From Downieville head towards Sierra Cityon the 49. The trail starts on the Sierra Buttes Road

Other : This downhill trail can be extremely fast, however it is shared with hikers and motocrosser’s always be on the lookout for other trail users.

 

My Trail Rating : 10 / 10 with a GOLD STAR

 

 

 

The Downieville Classic was proudly sponsored by :

Yuba Expeditions Downieville

Yuba Expeditions is the one stop bike shop in Downieville, For SALES • SERVICE • DEMOS • SHUTTLES • MAPS • SEMI-ORGANIZED ANARCHY and lots more.

Yuba Expeditions is THE place to get all the up to date trail intel, as well as any parts you or your steed will need while in Downieville.

Yuba Expeditions is also the choice shuttle service of Mountain Bike Mayhem, High on Mountain Biking and Mountain Bike Trails USA.

 

Yuba Expeditions – Downieville Downhill
208 Main Street, Downieville CA 95936
Tel: (530) 289 3010
www.yubaexpeditions.com

 

10% discount


Mention MOUNTAIN BIKE MAYHEM and receive 10% discount on the Shuttle Service.

 

 


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Giant HDR

Giant at Star Lake getting ready for Freel Pass

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A few days a did the Heavenly Valley from Stagecoach to Armstrong Pass, it was a slaughter, but the downhill section from Freel Pass all the way down Armstrong was probably the best ride / section I have ever done.
I did not want to leave Lake Tahoe without enjoying this section one more time. However, there was no way I wanted to get slaughtered again on the Stagecoach to Freel Pass section, so I decided on a different route that was hopefully gonna be slightly, or even better a hell of a lot easier, but with the same fun factor…
Cold Creek to Star Lake to Armstrong Pass down Corral Trail.

Did I succeed?

cold creek, star lake, armstrong and corral Trail

Cold creek, Star Lake, Armstrong Pass and Corral Trail

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Trail Stats & Information

Nearby City: South Lake Tahoe

Length: 21.01 total miles

Trail Type: Point to Point ( for loop add about 3 miles )

Skill Level: [ What the books say ] Aerobically: strenuous. Technical : difficult

Skill Level: [ My opinion ] Aerobically: strenuous. Technical : moderate

Duration: 4 – 6 hours [ my time ] 7.05 hours

Trailhead Elev: 6,500 feet

Top Elev: 9,500 feet

Book Description

This is a self put together ride connecting various trails, below a short description of each individual trail :

  • Cold Creek : The lower Cold Creek Trail is a popular and easily accessible ride out of South Lake Tahoe. It begins with a ride up the graded High Meadow Road. After less than 2 miles, the loop segment crosses Cold Creek and heads downstream on smooth,wellpacked singletrack. Real hammerheads can continue up the painfully steep climb to Star Lake. This ride makes a nice side trip off the Power Line Trail.
  • Star Lake : Very steep and strenuous climb from High Meadow Road or Cold Creek Trail to Star Lake. Be prepared to walk a lot on this trail. Star lake is a beautiful place to rest and eat before heading up to Freel Pass
  • Star Lake to Freel Pass : The climb continues, however it’s not as bad as the previous grunt and it’s more scenic, it should take between 40 – 60 min. to reach Freel Pass
  • Freel Pass to Armstrong Pass and down the Armstrong Connector Trail : Spend 15 min. at Freel Pass, enjoy the superb scenery, test your brakes, and make sure you don’t have any loose parts on your steed. The coming 1.5 hours is gonna be one of the best rides imaginable. Do not admire the scenery, just keep your eyes on the trail. The “Connector” is 100% fun with very little margin for error, short section but unique… very unique.
  • Corral Trail : This trail is a FFF Trail “Fun” Fast” and “Furious”… this is a trail gives you the feeling that you are the main character in an out of control video game… Not to be missed


My Experience

Well to honest, from Cold Creek to Freel Pass was just as brutal as the Heavenly Valley Stagecoach to Freel Pass section was. The ride to Star Lake is very steep and physically extremely demanding, and I kept telling myself that it would be worth it. I spent 45 min. at Star Lake relaxing and stuffing myself with fluids and energy nibbles. From the Lake to Freel Pass it’s about another hour slog, the first section is pretty easy going, but the second section is strenuous.

Once at Freel Pass, you can rest assure that the real fun is about to start. 100% fun filled adrenalin rush that will last between 1.5 – 2 hours… that’s if you manage to stay on your steed. From Freel Pass all the way to the finishing point could well be the best ride in the USA.

For the real “Gear Grinders” among us, at the Armstrong Pass, you can continue on the TRT and head down Saxon Creek and Mr Toads Wild Ride.. Let’s put it this way, once you are at Freel Pass, no matter which way you choose, it’s gonna be a 10/10 ride.

Conclusion

Mountain Biking just doesn’t get better than this, the nice thing about this is that no matter how you approach it, you will have to work HARD for the reward, but the reward will make you forget everything… If there is any such thing as a “Natural High” then this is the place to be.

Other Info:

Traffic on Trail : 2 mountain bikers 1 hiker

Wild Life : Coyote and a (dead?) snake

Scenery : excellent scenery

Other : Take extra water, and energy nibbles. Be sensible, a trail is only fun if you make it to the end in one piece. This is definitely not a trail for novices

My Trail Rating : 10 / 10 with a Gold Star




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Armstrong Saxon Creek and Mr Toads Wild Ride Lake Tahoe

Giant on the way to Mr Toads Wild Ride

Armstrong, Saxon Creek, and Mr Toads Wild Ride or whatever else this loop is called, all I can say is that this could well be the best trail the USA has to offer. ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC!!. This trail offers everything any mountain biker dreams of.. and more!.. all bundled into a 18.84 mile loop

Map Armstrong Saxon Creek and Mr Toads Wild Ride Lake Tahoe

Trail Stats & Information

Nearby City: South Lake Tahoe

Length: 18.84 total miles

Trail Type: Loop

Skill Level: [ What the books say ] Aerobically: strenuous. Technical : difficult

Skill Level: [ My opinion ] Aerobically: strenuous. Technical : difficult / mental

Duration: 4 – 4.5 hours [ my time ] 5.58 hours

Trailhead Elev: 6,200 feet

Top Elev: 9,600 feet

Book Description

Saxon Creek Trail is more commonly known as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Noted for its wild downhill, this is one of the legendary trails in Tahoe. There are several ways to access Mr. Toad’s, but this loop eliminates a shuttle and minimizes the road riding. The first 3.0 miles up the paved Fountain Place Road are on a route that was one man’s dream for the main pass over the mountains. Today the ride from the end of the road to the ridge follows some beautiful and well-graded singletrack that connects to the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) at Armstrong Pass. An out-and-back to Armstrong Pass is a great ride in itself. It’s a bit of a huff along the TRT to Saxon Creek Trail, but the views along the rim are gorgeous. The descent on Mr. Toad’s is extreme: steep, technical, nicely banked turns, concrete lattice trail work, and some impossible drops. Mr. Toad’s is for advanced riders with the good sense to walk the crazy stuff.

My Experience

My previous ride Heavenly 2 Armstrong, I completely under-estimated the trail and myself, and I paid the price, I got slaughtered!! Today on the Armstrong Saxon Creek and Mr Toads Wild Ride I yet again misjudged the trail, however, this time it was to my benefit. I had already come down the Armstrong pass trail, but I was so knackered I for some reason convinced myself that it was gonna be a grunt riding up the trail. I started at the bottom at the trailhead parking, and cycled the 4 miles to the start of the “real” trail, the 4 road miles were not too bad, and an excellent warm up. Although I preferred coming down the Armstrong, going up was not bad at all, and although a bit of a slog, it is 100% doable, and it’s actually a really nice climb. At the Armstrong Pass junction the TRT trail continues to climb, however this section is more strenuous than the previous miles, not so much technically, but because of some very loose sand / gravel on the trail. Both Armstrong and the TRT section is very scenic, and excellent trail conditions. After 3 hours of great climbing, the trail tops out… from this point on, it’s 98% downhill, and not just any old downhill, this section puts all and any theme park to shame.. It’s time for a 9 mile downhill roller coaster ride. The first part of the “gauntlet” is short lived, a grade 5 section forces every human with a will to live, get off their steed and walk this section. Once that’s behind you, there is miles of fantastic but technical and narrow singletrack to enjoy. Just when you are on the brink of thinking you are immortal, Mr Toad brings you back to your senses. Let me just be completely honest, NOTHING I say, or the photo’s and videos you see online will give you a real impression of Mr Toad… It is the craziest shit I have ever seen, let’s put it this way, if I had the best DH bike on the market, with the best body armor on the market, and you offered me a million buck to ride down Mr Toad, i know there is no way I could convince my brain and my body to take me down. For any mountain bikers that have ever done the “Holy Cross” trail in Grand Juction Colorado, it’s 5 times more mental than that… So, I can now say I walked my steed down Mr Toads Wild Ride… even that was scary!! And although that is by far the most impossible section of the loop, there are LOT’S of hairy sections on the rest of the trail. Just be sensible on this trail, and it is possibly the best trail you will ever do.

Conclusion

All I can say is, JUST DO IT!!… EVERYTHING a mountain biker dreams and more packed into a 19 mile loop. Armstrong Saxon Creek and Mr Toads Wild Ride should be on everyone’s wish list.

Other Info:

Traffic on Trail : a handful of friendly mountain bikers ( No hikers ) Wild Life : who needs it on a trail like this?… I didn’t see any Scenery : excellent scenery Other : Take extra water and energy nibbles. Be sensible, a trail is only fun if you make it to the end in one piece. This is definitely not a trail for novices

My Trail Rating : 10 / 10 with a Gold Star

I would really like to thank everyone who works on these trails, you guys do an excellent job in maintaining the trails, and without you I myself and others would not be able to enjoy this activity.  

 


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