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Tuolumne River

This is a description of a ride from Pine Mountain Lake/Groveland in the Sierra Foothills. Pine Mountain Lake is located on Highway 120 between Sonora and Yosemite. This area tends to be hot in the summer and cold in the winter, so prepare accordingly.

There are quite a few trails and Forest Service roads in this area. You can get a detailed map at the Buck Meadow Forest Service station just up Highway 120 from Groveland. I highly recommend this if you are going to be getting off of the main road as there are not too many riders in these parts.

The ride starts at Pine Mountain Lake with a road ride on Ferretti Road, going first north and then east. After passing the lake and the airport, you move into a much less populated area. This area is a nice road ride early in the morning. Continue out Ferretti Road to Lumsden Road (aka Forest Service Route 1N09). This is a dirt road off to the left of the pave road with a gate. This will quickly start descending down to the Tuolumne River. Down, down, down to the river.

The Tuolumne River is very pretty. It is a classic California mountain river with water rapidly flowing through a narrow, rocky course at the bottom of a steep canyon. This is one of the best white water rafting segments in California (see below). Once you are at the bottom, continue past the first to campgrounds and ride along the river to Lumsden Bridge. You can cross the river and keep going, but be aware that there are very few bridges spanning the river, so you should plan your route ahead of time. This is a good spot to take a break or jump in the river (but don't get washed away).

My route retraced steps back toward the campgrounds. Just as you come out of a rocky stretch onto the dirt road, there is a short section on the left ending in a green gate. Go through the gate (I don't remember the name of the trail if it has one) and start making your way back up the side of the canyon. This is mostly fire road with a few gates to pass through. This route is much steeper than the Lumsden Road route down to the river, to settle in for some serious climbing. This can be brutal on a hot day, so start early. The top of this passes through a grazing area, over the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct that takes water to San Francisco (this is buried underground) and through a "penny forest" that was originally funded by donations from children after a forest fire (as I recall).

As I recall, this takes you back to Highway 120. You should have satisfied your need for climbing by this time, so it is time to return. Head west on Highway 120. If it is still open, stop at Casa Loma for a fruit'll be ready for it. After the smoothie, finish off the ride and hit the shower.

There are lots of other places to ride in the area. Red Hills is down the hill past Lake Don Pedro near Chinese Camp. There are also many Forest Service roads in the area beckoning to be explored. I also found a trail through the forest that make a nice Christmas Day snow ride (but I was not too popular when I returned after dark and everyone was waiting on dinner for me). There are some trails off of Clements Road, but one that should have headed down to the river seemed to terminate in a dead-end of a massive thorny thicket.

This section of the Tuolumne is one of the premier white water rafting rivers in the west. The campground near Lumsden Bridge is a popular put-in for a class 4 (out of 5) trip down the river. For the more adventurous, you can get a class 5 trip that starts at Clavey Falls. This is quite an adventure and you should make sure you are up for it in terms of conditions and comfort in the water. I thought it was pre-ride bullshit marketing when they tested everyone, but on the river I discover that their advice about "don't fall out of the boat in this section because we won't be able to pick you up for over a mile" was true. The water is moving very fast, the rocks are very smooth and the edges are vertical, so there is no place to grab onto or maneuver. If you fall out, will be swimming and bouncing off of the rocks for a mile. By the way, the eddy that they mentioned as a point where you could be picked up turned out to be about 4 feet wide. Still, it was a great experience.

Much of this area was burned during by the Rim Fire in the summer of 2013. This fire burned more than 257,000 acres (more than 402 square miles) and this area was near the center of the fire. I haven't been there since, but it will probably be a long time before it returns to its previous state.


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