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