UBC Kernville Cover

This article is part of Mtbr's Ultimate Base Camp feature. See all the stories in this special section here.

Testing shiny new outdoor gear is a tough, tough job. No, really it is. Initially we got familiar with the equipment for the Ultimate Base Camp in backyard camp sessions. But because we're duty-bound to give our readers comprehensive, real world feedback, we hit the hard roads and trails of California to pressure-test our initial impressions. All three of our test destinations-Kernville, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz-are each road trip worthy. As you read through our destination guides, we think you'll see why.

Crushing Kernville

UBC Map Kernville

The hard-working town of Bakersfield, Calif. is perhaps best known for oil production, agriculture, and the "Bakersfield sound," a rough-hewn variant of country music from Dust Bowl refugees like Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. What's not-so-well-known is its gateway status to some of the best all-mountain riding in the state.

Situated a twisty hour-and-a-half drive east sits the tiny town of Kernville, near where the Sierra Nevada mountain range comes to its southern terminus. The berg is ground-zero for the Cannell Plunge, an epic, advanced-level, downhill-tilting route featuring nearly 30 miles of roller coaster topography punctuated by rocky chutes, ribbons of buff singletrack, the occasional uphill grunt, and enough picture perfect scenery to start a postcard factory.

A few miles south, the aptly named Just Outstanding trail bobs, weaves, and tunnels like a bobsled run from the Alta Sierra Ski Resort back to the picturesque Isabella Lake basin near the town of Wofford Heights. Together, the pair of rides make the perfect itinerary for a weekend trip and serve as an appetizer to the area's mountain biking tonnage. That inventory includes trails used for the long-running Keyseville Classic Race and several others.

UBC Kernville Cannell Plunge OH

Ride 1: The Cannell Plunge

Ride Snapshot:

The epic Cannell Plunge winds from a start at the 9,200-foot saddle of Sherman Pass and flows for nearly 30 miles through the Sequoia National Forest's tree-lined tracts and alpine meadows dropping some 8,000 feet to its conclusion in the Kern River Valley. Though the mostly-singletrack route features a distinct downhill orientation, including The Plunge itself-the route's mind-blowing drop of 5,000 feet over the final eight miles-it requires true all-mountain fitness and a bike to match. You're gonna have fun on this one, but you're gonna earn it, despite the long shuttle ride to the top.

And while The Plunge may be the cherry on top of this tasty mountain bike sundae, to overlook its preamble is to forget about the ice cream, whipped cream, bananas and hot chocolate topping. Like a good sundae, the Cannell Plunge's whole is greater than its parts, but each part is pretty damn tasty on its own. From pump track-like flow sections to rocky, technical chutes to barely-more-than-tire-wide singletrack the Cannell Plunge feels like five or six rides-in-one and deserves inclusion in any "California's Best" conversations.

UBC Kernville Island

Riders get treated to both amazing riding and awesome scenery on the Cannell Plunge route near Kernville, Calif. Photo by Don Palermini

Ride Level:

The Cannell Plunge requires advanced-intermediate to expert technical abilities, excellent fitness, and the ability to be self-sufficient in the event of mishap or mechanical malfunction. The route is long and strenuous, and some parts are quite remote with no cell phone coverage. Light armor recommended, large hydration pack required.

UBC Kernville Cannell Push

Though the Plunge is mostly downhill, it does have a couple gut-busting climbs, but they're short and well worth the effort. Photo by Don Palermini

Seasonality:

The spring and fall are best for riding Cannell, though the summer is doable if you can take the heat. Our first trip to Kernville in June saw high temperatures of 111 degrees, making even carbon handlebars hot to the touch. On the other end of the spectrum, snow on the ride's upper reaches is not uncommon for the early spring and late fall. A lower shuttle drop-off at the 7,500 foot Horse Meadow serves as an alternate start point when Sherman Pass is snowed-in. Temperature swings of 20-30 degrees between the start and finish are commonplace any time, so bring layers and make sure you can carry it all. The folks at Mountain and River Adventures (800-861-6553) can usually give you an idea of what to expect if you give them a call a few days before you arrive.

UBC Kernville Cannell Plunge

On this particular ride temperatures were as high as 111-degrees. It's also been known to snow at the ride's high-elevation start. Photo by Don Palermini

Continue to Page 2 for more on Kernville and full photo gallery »



UBC Kernville Shuttling MRA

Mountain and River Adventures' shuttle drivers are friendly and knowledgeable…and they take you to the fun. Photo by Chris Holmes

Ride 2: Just Outstanding/Wagy Ridge Trail

The Kernville-area mountain bike route called Just Outstanding might be the only trail we know with both a stage name and a craft beer named after it. Like Bono or Cher or Prince, we suspect Just Outstanding woke up one day and decided its given name-Potato Patch-lacked the requisite zing to inspire the praise and devotion it deserved. Adding further legitimacy-and distance from its starchy original moniker-the brew masters at the Kern River Brewing Company even named its highly-rated IPA after the bobsled run-like trail.

UBC Kernville Lake Isabella

The views of Lake Isabella from both Wagy Ridge and the Cannel Plunge are, well, just outstanding. Photo by Don Palermini

Situated just south and west of Kernville near the town of Wofford Heights, Just Outstanding starts at the 7,100-foot summit of the Alta Sierra Ski Resort on Greenhorn Mountain. The trail's first segment shoots to the right off the dirt road heading south from the resort and gives you a taste of what you're in for-a heaping helping of rapid-fire permagrin-insipiring whoops, berms and flowy goodness.

After crossing back over the same dirt road, the clearly-marked route traverses a couple short dirt road sections then speeds towards its signature feature-the famed manzinita tunnel. The route concludes with a series of flowy, banked turns before ending at the unpaved Wagy Flat Road. From here you turn left and climb for about a mile to an intersection and make your finishing choice-the standard dirt road return to town, or the advanced techy singletrack ending via the Wagy Ridge Trail.

UBC Wofford Heights

Just Outstanding ends in the town of Wofford Heights, home to the delicious Chatter Box Café, Bake Shoppe and Pub. It's also right next door to an awesome place called Stuff that carrries an oddball assortment of old machinery, found art and sweet, rusty stuff. Photo by Don Palermini

Outfitters, supplies, bike shops, repairs

Mountain and River Adventures is the name of the game for outdoor fun in Kernville. In addition to mountain bike shuttles and river raft trips, the outfitter also runs a campground on the outskirts of town. Their storefront location in town offers limited parts and repairs.

For general supplies-groceries, deli, produce, camping gear, fishing tackle, ammo-the James Sierra Gateway Market has it all and a friendly staff to boot. Their walk-in "beer cave" not only chills an amazing beer selection, it's also the second most refreshing place in town on hot days-the first being submerged from the neck down in the Kern River itself.

Tips

  • Bleed your brakes and replace your pads before you come. Descending 8,000 feet requires lots of braking, and you'll be much happier with stoppers that are in top shape.
  • Self-shuttling Cannell is possible with multiple vehicles but not recommended. While saving a few bucks by shuttling yourself may be tempting, it's just not worth it. The run to Sherman Pass takes about an hour-and-twenty-minutes, multiplied by three plus loading and unloading means you'll be spending close to five hours in the car and burning a lot of gas all the time wishing you were at the brewery instead. Our advice: pony up, shuttle, and try the beer sampler flight.
  • If your bike uses any uncommon parts-proprietary spokes and the like-bring your own spares. Mountain and River stocks a few parts and does limited repairs, but you should be prepared to wrench on your own steed.
  • Best post-ride salt fix-the fried pickles at the Kern River Brewing Company.
  • Each fall, Mountain and River organizes a special mountain bike weekend called Shuttlefest. While this year's was a bit subdued and focused on offering extra shuttles, in the past it's included live bands, biker feeds, parties and other festivities. Whatever form it takes mountain bikers don't seem to have a problem making their own fun, so 2014 should be aces.

UBC Kernville Tips

Other tips for the Cannell Plunge-don't miss the spring near Big Meadow, it's the only water source on the ride; armor is a good idea; and pony up for the map. Photo by Don Palermini

Grub, beans and brew

Food in Kernville is better than expected for a small mountain town, though a five hour ride tends to make anything seem so. Famished or not, the Kern River Brewing Company's pub grub tastes great and perfectly compliments its excellent brewed-on-premises beer.

We didn't find any great coffee in Kernville, but we didn't really expect to. Your best bet is the aforementioned James Sierra Gateway Market, which is also good for a grab-and-go breakfast to eat on the shuttle up. If you've got time for a sit-down breakfast, the Cracked Egg Cafe rarely disappoints.

UBC Kern River Brewing

Kern River Brewing serves good food and even better beer. It's also a great place for your post-ride recap. Photo by Don Palermini

Accomodations

Camping: There's a number of good private campgrounds near Kernville, though the one at Mountain and River Adventures' just-out-of-town outpost tends to attract the most mountain bikers. Cozy and comfortable, it accommodates car camping, trailers and RVs alike. Camp James is a solid alternative if Mountain and River is booked.

Motels: As you might expect, most Kernville motels fall somewhere on the spartan-to-rustic spectrum. The simple-but-clean Kernville Inn starts at $100 per night, while the Whispering Pines Inn's relative luxury and premium price-$200 a night-includes breakfast.

UBC Kernville MRA Campground

Mountain and River Adventures' campground is just outside of Kernville. Photo by Don Palermini

This article is part of Mtbr's Ultimate Base Camp feature. See all the stories in this special section here.