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  • Writer's pictureJason Sheck

Kavanaugh Ridge (near Virginia Lakes Area)

The day finally came. A chance to make it to the top of Kavanaugh Ridge where the likelihood of being turned back by snow was VERY VERY low. My Dad and I had tried last fall, as part of a longer day in the Jeep, but snow stopped us October (see that post here). Bri and I had tried in the Land Cruiser a couple years ago in July, snow then too. Today, we made it! The route from Dunderberg Meadow Road up to Kavanaugh ridge is an easy to moderate Jeep road. There are spots where you have to drive around rocks and ruts, but very manageable for vehicles with SUV ground clearance or higher. The greatest "challenge" on Kavanaugh Ridge is probably avoiding tire damage. There is usually plenty of room to maneuver but you have to keep an eye out for sharp rocks.

We saw a few people in the area. There were some ATVers at the Kavanaugh Ridge sign, a group of folks that had taken their flat-fendered Willys up the route, and some folks camping at the lake/pond 1/2 way up to the ridge. The lake/pond is about the highest I would take anything that you can camp in or live in. It gets steeper and rougher from there, and even if you made it to the lake/pond, you've made it through plenty of rough stuff already.

The road is probably passable for Subaru's SUVs and crossovers, though tire damage will be the greatest concern. There are a couple steep climbs that might heat up the transmissions of vehicles without a low range, but those sections are short and there is ample opportunity to pull off and cool down. The high elevation of this route makes NA ICEs start to feel the thinner air.

The views from the top were amazing, and worth making 3 efforts to get to the top of the ridge. It was a lot of fun to be looking down at the lakes that were destinations of hikes we took in the past. The Virginia Lakes and Green Lake areas are generally amazing places to explore, and places anyone sightseeing along US 395 should check out.

What did I learn?

California does have some 10,000' plus Jeep roads, you just need to work harder at finding them, and this one was worth the effort.

No trip down US 395 is complete without a stop at our favorite BBQ place - Mountainview Barbeque in Walker, California. The staff are always wonderful, and every BBQ place we've ever been to could learn a lot from this roadside gem! When the cooker is out front and has wheels, and there are pallets of applewood in the parking lot, you know it's gonna be some good food.

As you leave Dunderberg Meadow Road, you're greeted with a little information about the route. While we've never seen bighorns in the area, I guess they're out there in limited numbers. Once you're above the tree line looking down at East Lake, you can see bighorns living here.

As we climbed in elevation and made our way up to the small lake/pond area, there were sections of the trail that made us wonder if we were still on the trail, and also wish for a softer ride.... we aired down and removed the sway bar links. Was it necessary? No, but the ride was a lot smoother and our risk of tire damage was reduced. Between installing the lift, tinkering in the garage, and our Ouray trip, I have the sway bar process down. It's worth the 10 minutes it takes (off and back on later).

The Jeep, trying to look tough at our destination.

I can see for miles and miles and miles... - The Who

Three things about this image. The smoke covering the mountains on the left is smoke from fires burning in-and-around Yosemite National Park. The lake near the middle of the photo is East Lake, which is a destination Bri and I hiked to in 2021. While harder to see, but on the righthand part of the screen, is Green Lake. Bri and I hiked to Green Lake with Uncle Mark and Aunt Mary on Thanksgiving Weekend in 2021. That hike is shown here.

Most of our adventures in the Sierra, whether on the jeep roads or by foot. end up being between 6000' and 9000' in elevation. Not Kavanaugh Ridge. When we reached the top or of our journey we were at nearly 11,000'! For Colorado jeep roads, that's nothing. For California jeep roads, that's getting up there. These very unusual plants were all over the ground where we stopped.

Rocks, rocks, and more rocks. Everywhere you look.

Looking east as we made our way back down.

We eventually got back below the tree-line, but the trees were still pretty scrubby, and considering where they grow, must be pretty dawn hardy.

We've passed through these exact trees in a few different vehicles now. The Jeep made it no problem, but the Land Cruiser was a mirrors folded-in effort. There's an easy bypass (you can see to the right), but I like squeezing through these trees.

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