Mt Whitney Portal Road begins in Lone Pine CA at an elevation of 3700 ft and ascends to 8300 ft over the short distance of 12 miles. Our TandemBicycling.com editors tackled this ride on the Memorial Day weekend and were greeted with a challenging climb followed by a harrowing descent; the final analysis = service your brakes before doing this ride.
The ride begins at the junction of Highway 395 and Whitney Portal Road in Lone Pine CA. There is ample street parking throughout the town. The route immediately starts ascending as you travel up the alluvial grade to the base of the mountain.
The road surface over the alluvial grade is smooth pavement interspersed with temperature caused cracks. They are of sufficient size and frequency to illicit caution on your return trip but cause no bother during the climb.
After 7 miles you will reach the base of the Sierra Nevada Range and will notice a significant change in vegetation. The road surface also changes from smooth pavement to rough cement and asphalt. There are numerous boulder gouges (from falling rocks) and occasional spots of surface gravel and sand; again both had a greater impact on the descent versus the climb. The gradient at this point is steady and steep with the climb really kicking in.
After navigating the switchbacks the route turns into the mountains along a canyon. During our May ride the sound of rushing water could be heard in the valley below. The road pitches towards the sky more steeply here as the thin air and tired legs conspire to punish your tired body. Ride with the confidence that the road is nearing an end as you pass the Whitney Forest Sign.
1 mile further and you reach the end of the ride at the Mt Whitney trailhead parking lot.
Your adventure is half over as you change direction and travel down the mountain. Extreme caution is urged as the first 5 miles of the descent covers rough pavement, steep grades, and tight corners. Rest your fingers and cool your brakes at one of the lookouts before finishing the ride.
For our editors the 1.5 hour climb was rewarded with a 30 minute descent matched with 50+ plus mph speeds.
Mt Whitney Portal Road is a truly epic route for the fearless tandem team.