Onion Valley or Horseshoe Meadows Road?

Hi folks,

I’m headed to the Eastern Sierra this weekend and only have time for one climb. Which do you suggest I tackle; Onion Valley or Horeshoe Meadows. I’m not fussed that Onion is technically ‘harder’, I’m more interested in which one is a more enjoyable climb for scenery, road surface etc.


Posting to see answers… I’ve never ridden in that part of the Sierras, and have only read about the climbs at this site:


White Mountain is on my bucket list. But not in the heat of summer.

OK, had to check my notes to see which one I liked better, and it was Onion valley.
You should also consider Whitney Portal.

Here are links to my rides with descriptions:
(Strava permissions seem broken - These are set to allow everyone to see them, but looks like that may not be working. Or maybe you just need to be logged in to see them, not sure.)

Whitney Portal and Horseshoe Meadows:

Onion Valley:

Rock Creek:

Write-ups below:
9:57 AM on Saturday, October 24, 2020 Lone Pine, California

Cooper sufferfest day 1, aka Whitney Portal and Horseshoe Meadows

Today we did the Whitney Portal and then the Horseshoe Meadows climbs, the 5th and 2nd hardest climbs in CA according to PJAMM cycling (The 10 Hardest Bike Climbs in California) Whitney portal is a great ride, with great views of Mt Whitney from several angles - definitely a ride I would like to do again. Horseshoe meadows, not so much. I have never been this close to physically not be able to complete a ride as on this ascent. I stopped a couple of times due to not being able to make forward progress due to cramping, and for several miles needed to stay seated to avoid major cramps. I think this was due to both dehydration and just pushing myself harder than I have in a while. I pushed myself harder than I should have at the start of the climbs, as both Kyle Cooper and Shane Trotter are much faster than me - slow and steady is my jam, and I went too hard at the start. I made it to the top of Horseshoe meadows, and up the 1 mile climb on the way back before Kyle and Shane came to rescue me. I made it, but I was not sure if I could, and the SAG wagon was coming for me either way. It is great riding with friends who are there for you, even when you can’t keep up. I appreciate this, and try to pay it forward, as everyone can benefit from a ‘good wheel’ to follow in their cycling journey.
Many thanks to Kyle and Shane for including me in this amazing trip - one of the cycling highlights of the (lame) year, along with everesting Ebett’s Pass, also with Shane. I’m still waiting for Shane to invite me on an easy ride :slight_smile:

9:05 AM on Sunday, October 25, 2020 Inyo County, California

Onion Valley from Independence (Cooper Sufferfest day 2)

Rode Onion Valley climb with Kyle Cooper today - the hardest climb in CA according to PJAMM cycling (The 10 Hardest Bike Climbs in California) If you like climbing for hours on end, check out PJAMM, they’ll help you get your fix.
This was a more interesting/beautiful climb that Horseshoe Meadows yesterday, and it helped to be fresh to do this. The views back into the valley were marred by smoke, but we got above that and had some amazing mountain views. Several stream crossings were nice to see as well. Kyle was a fair bit faster than me, but met me on the way down and rode to the top again with me. The wind got much stronger toward the end of the ride, and leaving the area later it was bonkers - unpleasant to be outside at all, let alone riding. AQI hit 999, I think mostly due to dust from the wind, so no other rides today.
I would do this climb again (Horseshoe meadows likely not :slight_smile: )


Thanks, this is perfect information! I’ve actually done Whitney Portal before at the end of a low to high event from Death Valley, plus there’s a fire going on there just now, so it’s off the menu. It sounds like I’m headed up Onion Valley at the crack of dawn to beat the heat.


I’m jealous. I did the Everest Challenge event several years back and have ridden the Eastern Sierra climbs a few other times since then but never ridden Onion Valley. Please report back.

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Not sure if the fire over by Whitney Portal (Alabama Hills) will have any impact on the air quality. Something you may want to keep an eye out for.

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So, reporting back as requested. I chose Onion Valley and I’m so glad I did, it’s a simply beautiful climb. I stayed in Independence and simply went up and back, but it was a great way to witness a beautiful Eastern Sierra sunrise. The descent wasn’t much fun with gusty winds picking up as I came out of the upper canyon, and my brakes took an absolute hammering, but overall I highly recommend it. Caveat: you need the legs or gearing to make this fun. My FTP is somewhere between 310 and 320 at 195lbs and I basically sat at that for the full climb, I simply couldn’t get the power below 300W with a 36/29 gear without dropping the cadence too low. Maybe my FTP gets a boost when surrounded by such beauty!

Strava write up is here: