Although there’s more than a foot of snow up on Packer Saddle where the shuttle drop-off point is, Yuba Expeditions stayed open until last weekend. And after the Yuba crew sells the remaining 15 Santa Cruz and Ibis demo bikes at the San Francisco Bike Expo this coming weekend, the season will officially be over. It was a record year, opening on April 1, nearly two months ahead of normal. And with three consecutive early winter storms dumping a foot of snow each over the last few weeks, the hopes of returning to at least a normal Sierra Nevada winter are high.
Over the past seven months I spent every other weekend in Downieville working for Yuba Expeditions. A few of you have followed the exploits of the summer on Mtbr, and a few of you have made the journey to Downieville and met me in person. The last seven months have been some of the most memorable in my life thanks to all the new friends I’ve made, both customers of Yuba and members of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship. And it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without my co-workers Jon Palmer, Billy Epps (and his two daughters), Kevin Marshall, Mason Werner and Jake Helm. Everyone will be back next year with the exception of Jake, who will be taking on the envious role of demo van driver for Santa Cruz Bicycles.
Right now, above 6,000 feet elevation the trails are already snowed in, especially on north facing slopes where the sun’s rays almost never reach. The leaves are falling and the mornings in Downieville are extremely cold; the deep, narrow canyon that town sits in doesn’t see direct sunlight until at least 11 a.m., keeping the frost on buildings and the ground all through the morning hours.
Like the hundreds of black bears that roam just outside (and sometimes inside) town, the people of Downieville go into hibernation in winter. Some don’t come out of their homes for days, giving Downieville an eerie, ghost town feel. Several people who spent winters in Downieville have warned me not to stay; the lack of sun has a depressing effect that does permanent damage to the psyche. I doubted it could be so bad, but after last weekend, I began to understand. Depending on what part of town you’re in, you might not see direct sunlight the entire day.
Last weekend was the final trail workday of the season, and in typical Stewardship fashion, a devoted crew of volunteers came out to dial in Big Boulder and Third Divide trails. Unlike most parts of California, thanks to the historic mining routes that predate classification, the Downieville region is rich with true multi-use trail, open to horses, hikers, mountain bikers and motos. In fact, the moto might be the best means of transportation in this vast, steep, rocky and remote region.