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Death Ride – Tour of the California Alps 2024

July 13

road cyclists at death ride tour of CA alps

Updated June 16, 2024

The Death Ride - Tour of the California Alps 2024 is a legendary annual cycling event that challenges riders with its grueling climbs through the scenic but rugged terrain of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The event commences and concludes in the quaint town of Markleeville, California. It has grown from a modest gathering of 17 friends in 1978 to a worldwide phenomenon attracting cyclists seeking a stern test of their climbing prowess and endurance.  At Strambecco, we consider the event a bucket lister, one of the Best Road Cycling Events in California and the Best Road Cycling Events in the Southwest, and due to the "extreme" climbing nature of the event, we rate it one of the Best Cycling Hill Climbs in America!

Route & Event Details

Spanning approximately 103 miles, the Death Ride covers both sides of three mountain passes: Monitor Pass, Ebbetts Pass, and Pacific Grade, combining for a total elevation gain that tests the mettle of even the most seasoned cyclists. This event is unique due to its emphasis on climbing, with steep grades that push participants to their limits. The ride is fully supported, with road closures ensuring a safe environment for cyclists as they traverse the breathtaking landscapes of Alpine County.

The route's profile is notably challenging, featuring segments with grades up to 12.5% and an overall elevation gain that can exceed 14,000 feet. The ride is structured so that participants can choose how many passes they wish to tackle, but conquering all six (both sides of the three passes) is what earns a cyclist the prestigious "All Pass Finisher" status, along with the right to purchase the sought-after Death Ride Finisher's Jersey.

Starting and finishing at Turtle Rock Park in Markleeville, Calif., the 103-mile course begins at 5:30 am and covers both sides of three mountain passes: Monitor Pass (Hwy 89), Ebbetts Pass (Hwy 4), and the Pacific Grade (Hwy 4). The full course is not for the faint at heart! The course will be closed to traffic from Markleeville through all climbing sections, with a turnaround point at Lake Alpine, where participants will head back to the finish at Turtle Rock Park. In 2021, the course was updated and can be viewed below - check out the new route tested by Pete Stetina.

The course route, water, and rest stop locations are subject to change without notice. Road closures will be in effect from 5 am - 4 pm. The 13-hour time limit ends at 6:30 pm, and all riders must be off the course by 7:00 pm. All cut-off times are strictly enforced. Segment cut-off times indicate the latest time a rider will be allowed to begin each segment. Riders attempting to begin a segment after the cut-off time cannot proceed.

Markeeville, CA

Markleeville, nestled in the California Alps, not only serves as the backdrop for the Death Ride but also offers a variety of accommodations and dining options for participants and their supporters. From cozy vacation rentals to comfortable hotels and campgrounds, there's a range of options to suit different preferences. The region is also known for its vibrant culinary scene, with local eateries offering everything from hearty meals to replenish after a day's ride to refreshing beers from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., a long-standing event sponsor.

Beyond cycling, the area around Markleeville is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, boasting opportunities for hiking, fishing, and exploring the natural beauty of the Sierra Nevada. The Death Ride exemplifies the spirit of adventure and community, drawing cyclists not only for the physical challenge but also for the chance to experience the majestic landscapes and warm hospitality of Alpine County.

For those unable to make it to California or looking for a virtual challenge, the Death Ride also features a digital version on FulGaz, allowing cyclists to tackle the demanding course anywhere in the world. This virtual event covers the same epic climbs and breathtaking scenery, offering a unique way to remotely experience the Death Ride challenge.

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Markleeville, California

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View Reviews (1)
  • This review was published in the newsletter of the Almaden Cycle Touring Club in September 2022. I am the author, “Mister Muy”. You may post and share this as you wish.
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    Deathride ’22, Arising from the Ashes, by Guy Neenan

    Muy’s gotta get this down right away. So many will ask, “How was it this time.” The question often comes as Muy is cycling and breathing hard. He wants to give a complete and accurate reply without repeating himself as he struggles for air. He wants to say, “Read about it in the September Black and Blue Bottom. The whole story is there.” Period.

    According to Muy’s interpretation of a thick folder of journals, this will be his third attempt for his 29th Deathride and 23rd attempt for a 5 or 6-pass finisher pin. Virus prevented his first attempt and the windstorm-driven Tamarack fire interrupted Muy’s second 29th attempt last year.

    Things get underway nicely when Muy is granted three-nights of stay at Grover Hot Springs campground by the gracious host, Ranger Ron Jaramillo. Late reservations are unobtainable at Grover due to the total incineration of campgrounds at Turtle Rock and Indian Springs last year and a flood of requests from ‘22 Deathriders. Every site seems to have at least one tent and one bicycle. A great nicety is smoke-free air. Smoke from the Washburn fire in Yosemite seems to be cut-off by high pressure and easterly wind.

    With two days to acclimatize, Muy takes a sentimental ride from camp Grover to see the remains of Turtle Rock and Indian Springs camps. There is nothing but charred stumps remaining at these burned-out campgrounds where he’s camped with ACTC friends for so many cycling adventures. The bear attack on Pat Stenstrom’s chuckwagon during Donny Axtell’s Deathcamp in ’94 remains vivid. The Indian Springs Reservoir is very sick from dehydration and blankets of toxic algae. Indeed, the widespread devastation from the ’21 Tamarack fire is awful to behold. The whole length of Airport Road is now wasteland. No one goes there at all.

    Exploring the Markleeville vicinity, he goes-up Raymond Meadow Road to a promontory that gives a panorama that features the view to Silver Mountain. It’s a 360-degree view of a fire-devastated landscape. The pyramidal peaks have been completely sterilized into ashy rock. It’s an unanticipated experience of total fire apocalypse, horizon-to-horizon. So much green is gone. Things will never be the same. Neverever. It’s a miracle that Markleeville and camp Grover were saved by CalFire.

    To the point; the ’22 Deathride is a stunning success. The planning and execution by cheerful volunteers and safety personnel are fabulous after 36 months of virus and smoke. The field of riders is crowded with superb athletes and fine bicycles. A fit couple appear wearing USA Cycling Champion jerseys. They prevail. ACTC riders are here. Just ask Jennifer Yang, David Kuang, Jeff Lew, Frank Kretz, John Wallace, and Ed Irvine, “How was your ride?” Also present are buddies Brian Carrol, and James Porter.

    Members Jennifer Yang and David Kuang appear on a nifty black tandem. See the photo of the two at Monitor monument. See Jennifer’s personal report in this month’s Club Report column. And see the “black and white” photo of the two with their long black bicycle at the Monitor monument.

    Six blessed passes this time? Ninety-four degrees in Markleeville? How does it compare? For Muy it seems as tough as ever. Carson Pass is delightful on fresh legs, but it has been an ordeal for Muy on every Deathride. Carson Pass and highway 88 logistics have gotten to be too much for the organizers as well and two new “passes” have been added; Pacific Grade (west) from Hermit Valley and (east) from Lake Alpine. So we now have 2x Monitor Pass, 2x Ebbetts, and 2x Pacific Grade. It’s not really a “six-pass” ride. It’s four passes and two grades. Save your 2019 5-pass pin. It was the last one!

    The out/back to Alpine Lake ranges 7050 to 8050 feet elevation. For the anemic, this constitutes an extended period of oxygen deprivation and heavy breathing. It’s more strain for the corpuscles than the previous route through Woodford’s Canyon to Carson Pass. So the net 6-pass route is 26 miles and 1600 feet shorter. For Muy, it’s an 11-hour ride; about 2 hours less than the 5-pass ride. This must be a good thing. But the last climb to Turtle Rock from Markleeville is brutal for stragglers who seem willing to walk for much of the last 3-mile grade.
    “Hot” is the correct adjective when it’s 94 in Markleeville and jerseys are crusty with salt. Shots of cool Pickle Juice and cans of cold V8 are the antidote for John Wallace and Muy at the Hermit Valley rest stop.

    Coolest jerseys on the ride. A couple in USA Cycling Champion jerseys get everyone’s attention wherever they appear. By far, Frank Kretz’ red/black ’22 Sierra to the Sea jersey is the best one to spot on the ride. Frank’s about as strong as he is handsome in the shirt; he’s two passes ahead of Muy at Hermit Valley. Muy wears his favorite red/orange “Touchdown Rosie” ’99 Deathride jersey, a gift from Stuart Wallace. There’s one other guy in the ’99 jersey. There’s also one guy in the original ’91 jersey. Dozens wear the nice, new, blue 41st DR jersey. It’s not too gruesome.

    The round-up at the Turtle Rock headquarters is just about as fun as ever. The make-your-own taco meal seems inedible this time. The whereabouts of ice cream is a mystery to Muy. The Sierra Nevada beer wagon is being taken-apart by 6 PM. The swelter within the crowded building is an health emergency. A crowd of unmasked vectors waits interminably for a chance to sign the poster and claim the new 6-pass pin. Hand fans are passed-out to mitigate the lack of active ventilation for the building. Muy must have his first 6-pass pin, so he dons a respirator and joins the salty crowd. Muy’s shocked when he reaches the front of the line. “Where is my pin?” Like an afterthought, the photographer hands over tiny ziplock with a tiny blue pin inside. No one asks to see the bib with ink stamps from six passes. Please don’t tell anyone; it’s possible to simply crowd into the line with no bib check, get the pin, and show it off. That’s a full pose. This is a new secret of the Deathride.

    Formerly showers were available at Turtle Rock camp, a shower truck, and at Grover Hot Springs itself. Not this time. There is a secret to getting a hot shower after the ride. Muy just won’t divulge it. It’s remarkable what these Alpine County folks have been through and they deserve great tribute for putting it back together for us again. The Deathride seems to have arisen from ash like an insuppressible but flesh-free Lazarus. Amazing to feel and tell.

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