Bicycling Magazine

Lake Tahoe, CA: Alta Alpina Challenge 

Climbing 28,460 feet up eight Sierra mountain passes, the 200-mile Alta Alpina Challenge winds through verdant, glacier-carved valleys near South Lake Tahoe.

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Author: Bicycling Magazine
Date: 29 Oct 2008 9:50:55 PM
Activity: Bicycling
State: California (CA)
Distance: 198.81 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 28468 ft
Total Loss: 28468 ft
Net Change: 0 ft
Difficulty: 10 / 10
Tags: California, Gardnerville, Lake Tahoe, Sierra Nevada, South Lake Tahoe
Rating: Unrated   Rate it

Starting from the Diamond Valley School in Woodfords, this double century epic begins with a 700-foot descent through riparian Carson Valley. The first ascent, to Daggett Pass, is most moderate of the day. Shake your legs out at the top and then let the brakes loose down Kingsbury Grade, the only downhill not slowed by technical switchbacks. The route then winds along Carson River’s West Fork through marshland before turning up Luther Pass, an alcove between two 9,000-foot peaks. Next, schlep along the river to Carson Pass, an area peppered with small, mountain lakes. The ride’s midway point, Blue Lakes, offers panoramas of the pine-choked valley below. Rest and food are necessary before the ride’s most strenuous stretch: cresting Ebbetts and Monitor Passes twice (read, more than 18,000 feet of climbing in 68 miles).

Trail the Carson’s East Fork to the front side of Ebbetts, where 18 percent grades and canyon views await. The 5-mile ascent up the back side of Ebbetts gains more than 1,400 feet. You’ll drop almost 2,700 feet to Monitor Pass’ front approach, then gain all but 400 feet of it back over 8 miles. After summiting Monitor a second time, retrace the route back to Woodfords.

Editor’s Note: Diamond Valley Road, CA-88, and CA-89 function as a hub: Riders access a pass, turn onto one of the three roads, and then bike up the next. Each of these passes represents a challenge in its own right, so ride according to your fitness level. While road conditions are excellent, passes have weekend traffic and no shoulders. Ride single file near the top. Rest areas or campgrounds are at every summit but Monitor Pass. Services are also available in Markleeville, Woodsfords, and Sheridan. Carry water and food with you at all times.

-Mapped by Wayne Riley

TO TRAILHEAD: Head south on US-50/Lake Tahoe Blvd. At 2.4 miles, turn L at US-50/CA-89. At 4.8 miles, turn L onto CA-89. Continue 11.2 miles. Bear R at CA-89. Turn L at Diamond Valley Rd. At .5 mile, turn R at Hawkside Dr. and continue into the parking lot of Diamond Valley School.

Position Format: Datum:

8 Mountain Passes in South Tahoe

Distance: 198.81 mi Points: 8065
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
# Distance Instruction Distance to next
1 0.08 mi Turn Right - onto Diamond Valley Road. Then go 4.53 mi
2 4.61 mi Bear Left - to stay on Diamond Valley. Then go 2.15 mi
3 6.75 mi Turn Right - at Foothill Road. Then go 3.50 mi
4 10.25 mi Straight - Foothill becomes Fredricksburg Road once you cross into Nevada. Then go 0.87 mi
5 11.13 mi Turn Left - onto CA-206/Fairview Lane. Then go 5.39 mi
6 16.52 mi Turn Left - onto CA-207/Kingsbury Grade. Then go 7.95 mi
7 24.47 mi U-Turn - Retrace your way back down CA-207/Kingsbury Grade Then go 7.96 mi
8 32.43 mi Turn Right - onto CA-206/Foothill Road. Then go 5.40 mi
9 37.83 mi Turn Right - on Fredricksburg Road. Then go 3.60 mi
10 41.43 mi Turn Right - at Emigrant Trail. Then go 3.19 mi
11 44.62 mi Turn Right - onto CA-88 Then go 0.69 mi
12 45.31 mi Straight - as CA-88 becomes CA-89 Then go 5.81 mi
13 51.12 mi Turn Right - at CA-89/Luther Pass Road. Then go 2.77 mi
14 53.90 mi U-Turn - Retrace your way back down Luther Pass Road. Then go 2.77 mi
15 56.66 mi Turn Right - onto CA-88 Then go 2.51 mi
16 59.17 mi Bear Right - and stay on CA-88 Then go 6.54 mi
17 65.71 mi U-Turn - Descend from Carson Pass Then go 6.55 mi
18 72.26 mi Turn Right - on Blue Lakes Road. Then go 11.54 mi
19 83.80 mi U-Turn - Retrace your way back down Blue Lakes Road Then go 14.01 mi
20 97.81 mi Straight - as CA-88 becomes CA-89 Then go 5.82 mi
21 103.63 mi Turn Right - on CA-89 Then go 0.53 mi
22 104.17 mi Turn Left - onto Diamond Valley Road. Then go 0.51 mi
23 104.68 mi Turn Right - onto Hawkside Drive. Then go 0.06 mi
24 104.74 mi U-Turn - Then go 0.07 mi
25 104.81 mi Turn Left - onto Diamond Valley Road. Then go 0.52 mi
26 105.33 mi Turn Left - onto CA-89 Then go 10.67 mi
27 116.00 mi Straight - and merge onto CA-4/Ebbets Pass Highway. Then go 18.52 mi
28 134.52 mi U-Turn - and retrace your way down Ebbetts Pass. Then go 18.48 mi
29 153.01 mi Turn Right - on CA-89 Then go 17.50 mi
30 170.51 mi U-Turn - and descend from Monitor Pass Then go 17.50 mi
31 188.01 mi Turn Right - onto CA-89 Then go 10.32 mi
32 198.33 mi Turn Right - onto Diamond Valley Road. Then go 0.21 mi
33 198.54 mi Bear Right - and stay on Diamond Valley. Then go 0.19 mi
34 198.73 mi Turn Right - onto Hawkside Drive. Then go 0.06 mi
35 198.79 mi Stop - at Diamond Valley School

Points of Interest

Diamond Valley School Start/Finish

Location: 38.766699, -119.808912
The Diamond Valley School in Woodsford (south of South Lake Tahoe) is basecamp on this 200-mile ride. You'll start, have lunch here, and finish here.

Daggett Pass

Location: 38.976459, -119.888649
After climbing Kingsbury Grade, reach the first summit. South Lake Tahoe is due west; Carson Valley is to the east. Enjoy the descent because it is the only straightforward downhill you'll experience all day. The remainder of the pass roads are full of switchbacks. Drop down Kingsbury Grade to head through Alpine Village toward Luther Pass. <a href=" ">Watch</a> the Kingsbury Grade Descent. ©Wayne Riley

Luther Pass

Location: 38.788212, -119.948902
The second summit of the day, Luther Pass offers views of Thompson Peak to the north and Waterhouse Peak to the southwest. The descent from here is also pretty fast, but not as quick as Kingsbury Grade. After reaching the top, descend Luther Pass Road and hang a right through Hope Valley. Carson River will be a prominent and beautiful roadside feature once you're in the valley. <a href=" ">Watch</a> the descent from Luther Pass. ©Wayne Riley

Carson Pass

Location: 38.696564, -119.991474
Carson is the third pass of the day. Red Lake is directly east of here. After stretching your legs at the top, take CA-88 back into Hope Valley and begin the climb up Blue Lakes Road. <a href=" ">Watch</a> the descent from Carson Pass. ©Wayne Riley

Blue Lakes

Location: 38.610063, -119.924569
At elevation 8,055 feet, Blue Lakes are not technically a "pass," but it's still a killer climb to get there. They are also the last "pass" before lunch. After resting along the shore, ride back down Blue Lake Road and grab some food at Diamond Valley School. <a href=" ">Watch</a> the descent from Blue Lakes. ©Wayne Riley

Ebbetts Pass

Location: 38.548568, -119.809170
The fifth and most difficult climb of the day, Ebbetts Pass has short sections with 15 to 18 percent grades. You'll need to summit this pass twice to complete the eight mountain pass challenge. Refill water bottles at the campground, then descend into Hermit Valley. Once you reach the point where Goose Creek and Mokelumne River meet, turn around and climb up the back side of Ebbetts. <a href=" ">Watch</a> the descent from the front side of Ebbetts. Make sure to hit "Watch in high quality." <a href=" ">Watch</a> the descent from the back side of Ebbetts. ©Wayne Riley

Monitor Pass

Location: 38.681624, -119.593735
Monitor, like Ebbetts, needs to be climbed from the front and back sides in order to bag eight passes on this route. Unfortunately, there are no services at the top. Once you get over the crest, drop down to Highway 395 and turn around. The finish is at Diamond Valley School. <a href=" ">Watch</a> to see the descent to Highway 395 from Monitor Pass. <a href="">Watch</a> the descent from Monitor Pass back toward Markleeville. ©Wayne Riley

Descending to the Valley Floor

Location: 38.797176, -119.755397
©Wayne Riley

Sierra Sunrise

Location: 38.866311, -119.793377
©Wayne Riley


Location: 38.909419, -119.830670
©Wayne Riley

Woodfords to Hope Valley

Location: 38.771752, -119.831829
After descending Kingsbury Grade, loop back to Woodfords and climb toward Hope Valley. ©Wayne Riley

Crossing the Carson River

Location: 38.763872, -119.856505
©Wayne Riley

Approaching Luther Pass

Location: 38.777122, -119.918861
©Wayne Riley

Carson River in Hope Valley

Location: 38.784448, -119.919516
©Wayne Riley

6 passes to go

Location: 38.788245, -119.946606
©Wayne Riley

A rare flat section

Location: 38.772555, -119.933640
Enjoy the flat sections of this ride in Hope Valley as you make your way toward Carson Pass. ©Wayne Riley

Climbing Carson Pass

Location: 38.737314, -119.952529
©Wayne Riley

Above Red Lake

Location: 38.695760, -119.990745
©Wayne Riley

On the flats

Location: 38.731916, -119.931779
©Wayne Riley

Climbing Blue Lakes Road

Location: 38.704317, -119.924333
©Wayne Riley

Blue Lakes Road View

Location: 38.682914, -119.924355
©Wayne Riley

Hope Valley from Blue Lakes Road

Location: 38.640540, -119.915857
©Wayne Riley

Blue Lakes

Location: 38.610474, -119.924537
©Wayne Riley


Location: 38.699143, -119.783464
©Wayne Riley

East Fork

Location: 38.648701, -119.727974
Continue following the East Fork of the Carson River toward Ebbetts. ©Wayne Riley

Approaching Ebbetts Pass

Location: 38.623945, -119.733703
The grades tick up on the early slopes of Ebbetts Pass. ©Wayne Riley

Ebbetts Pass Climb

Location: 38.603725, -119.771619
©Wayne Riley

Canyon views

Location: 38.590175, -119.791489
©Wayne Riley

Approaching the Ebbetts Pass summit

Location: 38.568301, -119.805565
©Wayne Riley

Kinney Reservoir

Location: 38.554911, -119.807324
©Wayne Riley

Hermit Valley

Location: 38.541453, -119.876118
©Wayne Riley


Location: 38.656695, -119.672012
The lush meadows on this side of Monitor are in stark contrast to the dry conditions you'll see on the other side. ©Wayne Riley

The road just-travelled.

Location: 38.661654, -119.585495
While climbing the back side of Monitor Pass, look back at the road just traveled. ©Wayne Riley

Panorama on the back side of Monitor

Location: 38.654818, -119.597340
©Wayne Riley

Stark Valley

Location: 38.652807, -119.577255
©Wayne Riley

Starting the climb from Highway 395

Location: 38.643188, -119.537280
The barren start of the climb from Highway 395 is on the back side of Monitor Pass. ©Wayne Riley

Monitor Pass Summit

Location: 38.678022, -119.600161
Passing this sign on your return trip will be a welcome sight. ©Wayne Riley


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