White Mountain Peak P5K DPS / WSC / GBP / LVMC

Fri, Jul 19, 2002

With: Ron Burd

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow

White Mountain Peak, though the third highest peak in California, hardly conjures up visions of mountaineering or even just strenuous hiking. Thanks to a 30mi+ of road, half of it paved, one can drive to within 7 miles of the summit and start at almost 12,000ft of elevation. Of the several choices I presented Ron while on family vacation, White Mtn Peak was the only one that grabbed his attention. At least he'd heard of the peak, and it was one he'd been interested in climbing. No one else was interested in joining us, despite my assurances that it was about as easy a hike (with me) as it gets. Since Ron had a rental car for the week, it became our official vehicle for reaching the trailhead.

We arose at 5:30a, just as it was discernably lighter outside, and were on the road leaving Mammoth at 6a. As we were to find out, it's a very long drive to the trailhead from Mammoth, taking 2 1/2 hours. An hour south on US395 to Big Pine, half an hour to the ridgeline, then another hour along the winding road that climbs towards the Bristlecone forests and White Mtn Peak. When we arrived at the parking lot at 8:30a, it was the beginning of a beautiful day and there wasn't another soul or car around. We dutifully parked in the lot before the closed gate, though due to lax security, it would have been easy to open and drive up to Barcroft. I imagined we might be angrily turned back at that point, so we didn't dare.

The hike follows a 4WD road to the summit, amidst mostly barren terrain and rolling hills. It can be readily mountain biked (and is by many), hardly making for an impressive climb. After two miles we came upon the Barcroft Research Station. An official vehicle was outside, though we saw no officials or researchers on the way nor on the way back. A large trailer with NASA insignias was prominently parked - I suspect it was used to fake many of the moon landings thirty years earlier. We had our first sighting of Bighorn Sheep in California, about 30 ewes penned nearby. They must have figured pretty quickly that we weren't there to feed them, as they all moved to the far side of the pen to avoid us. And that was about it for the research station.

We continued on, climbing a steeper incline that led to a rusting observatory on the top of a small knoll. Then down through a low stretch that brought us our first close views of our summit still about four miles away. Ron had gotten ahead of me as we drew within a few miles, but I shortcutted the trail at one stretch that both got me a nice picture of him hiking the road, as well as catching me up. The final two miles are steep and the road deteriorates to the point that few 4WD vehicles would be able to continue to the summit. On the northeast slopes of the summit we were genuinely surprised by a dozen or so goats wandering the mountaintop. They must be rather tenacious creatures to eke out a living in such sparse surroundings. And certainly they seem to be more tenacious than the Bighorn that are stuggling to survive in the same conditions.

We scrambled up the boulder piles on the east side of the summit and found ourselves on the north side of the structure that occupies the top. I climbed up one of the antenna poles attached to the building in order to climb onto the roof, while Ron walked around to the front and used the convenient ladder to achieve the same purpose - and here I thought I was being clever... It was 11:30a, having taken us 2 1/2 hours to cover the seven miles. The elevation of the peak does not include the extra 10ft or so one gets by standing on the roof, and I climbed the antenna pole above the roof as far as I could to gain maybe another 8ft. The door to the building was sealed shut, and sported a sign on the door warning of an experiment in progress - that seemed highly unlikely as the place looked to be deserted for some time.

Ron, a vegetarian, had brought a vegetable salad in a large plastic container along with a number of other tasty items for his lunch. Myself, a staunch carnivore, had brought my usual summit meal - nothing. And so I watched Ron feed himself until I was tired of that activity and went off to peruse the summit register.

On the south (front) side of the building is a large, fixed box that contains a large amount of junk in addtion to summit registers that were filled on every page. People left all sorts of stuff such as Nevada road maps (helpful in reaching the summit?), business cards, and other scraps of loose paper. There was a large piece of wood that was covered with names and dates, and it was to this that Ron and I added our own summit entries. I collected the trash that I found in the register and disposed of it, we took a bunch of photos looking out on our fine (if a bit hazy) views, and after an hour on the summit we were ready to head down.

The descent was mostly uneventful, we jogged the downhill portions once off the large boulder field, though Ron seemed to display a good deal more energy than I did for the first five miles. Once we were back at Barcroft I jogged the final two miles continuously, and arrived back at the car an hour and a half after we'd left the summit. Ron was but a few minutes behind. I'd gone through the liter and a half of water that I carried with me and I think Ron's supply ran out as well. On the drive back I convinced Ron to stop at the Patriarch grove of Bristlecone pines where we spent maybe half an hour taking the self-guided tour around the parking area. The highlight of the tour is the Patriarch Tree, the largest known living Bristlecone pine. Other trees were old and wind-sculpted, others but newborns, but all were fascinating. It was 5p before we got back to Mammoth. We actually spent more time driving that day than we did hiking, but at least it was scenic!


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Brian Browning comments on 05/19/08:


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