How to Soak and Shred the Eastern Sierra
January 11, 2020
From the pages of Issue 5: Black + White
By Jenn Sheridan | @nosnowsnakes
If you’ve never road tripped California’s Eastern Sierra, the time is now. Tall jagged peaks sprout from a high alpine desert and the space between the summit and the valley floor is a playground of adventures just waiting to be explored. While I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of opportunities for climbing, hiking, skiing, and well, you get the idea, I can spill the tea on how to spend a long weekend soaking in hot springs, cat skiing, and eating some of the best food. So pack your skis or splitboard and let’s hit the road.
Highway 395 stretches from the US-Canadian border approximately 1,300 miles south to the Mojave Desert. For this trip, we’re focusing on a section that parallels the Sierra Nevada range between Reno, Nevada and Bridgeport, California.
Reno is your first and last opportunity to stock up on food and all the last minute goodies you need for a weekend of fun. REI? Trader Joe’s? Reno’s got it, but once you start to head south big-name stores give way to funky shops and quick mart style grocers, which isn’t a bad thing until you’re looking for a specific type of fuel for your camp stove.
Speaking of last call, you’re definitely going to want to top off the gas tank one last time because just a few hours down the road gas prices can be as much as $1 per gallon more. Save the most pennies by fueling up at the Arco station in Gardnerville. From here, download your favorite podcasts and playlists (because you’re about to lose cell service) and hit the road.
Just south of Gardnerville the buildings are few and far between. This is where you really get into the podcast, road snacks, and cruise control for the next hour and a half as high alpine desert screams past the windshield. The next signs of civilization are a handful of small towns: Coleville, Walker, and Topaz. Don’t blink or you’ll miss them. If you’re looking to stretch your legs and your imagination, the Walker Flea Market is an eclectic mash-up of welded sculptures, antiques, jewelry, and art. The treasure hunt is well worth the stop.
Soak It Up
A quick 30 minutes down the road from Walker, you’ll see the town of Bridgeport, a small cluster of buildings in the middle of a few vast cattle fields. Don’t worry, getting to Bridgeport doesn’t mean the adventure is over, but it is time to get out of the car and soak those bones in steaming mineral water. From town there are a couple of different options for hot springing. The more adventurous choice is Buckeye Hot Springs. To get there, you’ll head east out of town on a washboard dirt road for a couple of miles. Just past Buckeye Campground, there is a pull out with ample parking. The trail will be steep and rough so wear sturdy shoes. The pools are right on the banks of Buckeye Creek. When it gets too hot, hop into the creek for a quick cool down.
The quick and easy place to soak is Travertine Hot Springs. It’s a quick five minute drive out of Bridgeport and while the road is a little rough, most low clearance cars should still be able to make it. There’s a total of six different pools at Travertine, each with stunning views of the Sierra Nevada.
Shred and Unwind
Don’t soak too long because the hot springs aren’t the final destination (it’s OK, you can hit them again on the way home.) The next stop is Virginia Lakes Road, just 20 minutes south of Bridgeport, where you’ll rendezvous with the guides of High Sierra Snowcat and Yurt. Virginia Lakes Road provides access to miles of backcountry riding including Dunderberg Peak, South Peak, and Mount Olsen. The road isn’t plowed in the winter and while it is accessible by skinning, booking a trip with High Sierra Snowcat and Yurt saves you the five-mile approach so your legs are fresh for bagging peaks.
The snowcat will take you to one of two yurts operated by High Sierra Snowcat and Yurt. Each yurt sleeps six people comfortably. The best part? All meals are prepared for you by High Sierra’s staff, meaning you’ll have time for a lap before dinner, even after spending the first half of the day exploring and soaking in the hot springs. After dinner, it’s time to hang the solar-powered string lights, slap the bag, and start the dance party, but be careful not to party too hard because you’ll want to be semi-fresh for a day of cat-assisted touring all over the Virginia Lakes basin.
Refuel for the Drive Home
After a long day of carving the peaks around Virginia Lakes with the guides of High Sierra Snowcat and Yurt, it’s time to head back to civilization, but there’s one last crucial stop before hitting the road. The Burger Barn in Bridgeport is the spot to go for greasy, filling, and inexpensive food to save you from being hangry. The menu is an odd mash-up of classic frosty and Tex-Mex. While a burger is one of my favorite apres meals, the Baja fish tacos are hard to pass up here. Whether you opt for a bun or a tortilla, the food here is sure to satisfy after spending a day exploring above treeline. From here it’s just a few more hours till Reno lights up the horizon.