Subalpine meadow at Ebbetts Pass
|Elevation||8,736 ft (2,663 m) NAVD 88|
|Location||Alpine County, California, U.S.|
Ebbetts Pass, (el. 8,736 ft or 2,663 m) named after John Ebbets, is a high mountain pass through the Sierra Nevada range in Alpine County, California. Ebbetts is the eastern of two passes in the area traversed by State Route 4. The western pass is the Pacific Grade Summit (el 8,050 ft or 2,450 m). The pass is registered as a California Historical Landmark. The Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile (4,260 km) long National Scenic Trail crosses State Route 4 at Ebbetts Pass.
Native Americans were undoubtably the first humans to traverse the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but it is unknown if they regularly used Ebbetts Pass since any trail they would have used is no longer traceable. It is traditionally held to be the pass used by Jedediah Smith in late spring of 1827 when leaving California at the end of his first exploratory journey, the first crossing ever of the Sierra Nevada by a non-native, but snow would have obscured any trail so he was blazing his own path. It may also have been used by the Bartleson-Bidwell Party on their emigration to California.
John Ebbets, a fur trader turned guide for California Gold Rush "Forty-niners" claimed to have led a string of pack mules easterly over the Sierras in the vicinity of Ebbetts Pass in April 1851. He believed the pass he had used would be suitable for the transcontinental railroad, as he noted little snow at the time. He later surveyed near the pass for a possible railroad route, but found it unsuitable. He intended to return to the pass itself to survey it for a road but was killed in the explosion of the steamboat Secretary on San Pablo Bay in 1854 before he could do so. While the pass was referred to by his name earlier, it was not until 1893, when the U.S. Geological Survey surveyed the Markleeville quadrangle, that the pass was officially named after him.
The route was used only occasionally until silver was discovered east of the Sierra, and merchants in Murphys had a road constructed to Markleeville to more easily transport supplies over the pass to the miners. This became a toll road in 1862. From Markleeville, travel further eastward was taken along established routes.
It was not until the early 1950s that the road over Monitor Pass to U.S. Route 395 was completed, connecting the eastern terminus of State Route 4 to U.S. Route 395 via State Route 89 near the community of Topaz. Ebbetts Pass was designated as a California State Scenic Highway in 1971 and was honored with National Scenic Byway status September 22, 2005 by the U.S Department of Transportation in Washington D.C. It is one of only seven nationally designated byways in California and 151 in the nation.
Today, Ebbetts Pass is one of the least traveled passes in the Sierra Nevada. An extensive section of highway over the pass is less than two lanes with no dividing line. It has very steep sections with hairpin corners. The eastern slope is particularly difficult, as many of the hairpin corners are blind, and steepen suddenly at the apex, making it necessary to shift to first gear in most vehicles. It is rarely used by commercial traffic and is not recommended for vehicles towing long trailers.