White Mountain Peak (Cali. 14er)

14ers in California and Washington state or any other peak in the USA
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White Mountain Peak (Cali. 14er)

Postby Aubrey » Thu May 31, 2007 8:38 pm

White Mountain Peak
Elevation: 14,246’ (3rd-highest mountain in California and Mono County highpoint)
South Face Route (class 1)
Distance: 14-15 miles round trip
Elevation gain, in total: at least 3,441 feet (according to my GPS readings)
Date climbed: Memorial Day, May 28, 2007

*Special thanks to all veterans and military personnel -- past and present. Without them, Jen and I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy climbs like this. We all owe them so much.


White Mountain Peak was our second climb in the area. The previous day (May 27) we climbed Boundary and Montgomery.

Here's a rough route profile I made, based on GPS readings:



Jen and I stayed in the dusty California town of Bishop. The town reminded me a lot of Buena Vista, in more ways than one.

From Bishop, we headed south on 395, took a left (east) onto the curvaceous and undulating 168, and then another left (north) onto White Mountain Road at Westgard Pass.

Looking west, down on Owens Valley, on 168 (from Big Pine, CA, to Westgard Pass):


After turning onto White Mountain Road at Westgard Pass, 10 miles were paved and 16 miles were unpaved (2WD cars can make it to the end, but they’ll have to go much slower than high clearance / 4WD vehicles).

The road to the trailhead is long but it’s incredibly scenic. The ancient Bristlecone Pine forests are a destination in and of themselves, and the views of the eastern high Sierras (which includes the Mammoth and Yosemite areas) are enough to make anyone’s jaw drop. The mountains rise high and steeply from the wide, low and flat Owens Valley, where you’ll find the towns of Bishop and Big Pine.


At the end of the road there’s a fairly large parking area and an outhouse. When we arrived there was only one other car in the lot (car campers who didn’t end up following us up that day).



Shortly after pulling into the lot we started hiking up the road past the locked gate at 7:15 a.m. My GPS read 11,675 feet.

The road offered easy, class 1 hiking with a gentle grade. The views were sweeping and vast. Besides a light wind, it was unbelievably quiet.

About two miles later we passed by the Barcroft facility. I don’t think anyone was working there at the time. It seemed pretty dead, other than a few marmots that were scurrying around the area.


After passing by the Barcroft facility the road steepened a bit. Soon thereafter we made it to the first high point of our climb (near a rusty observatory). This is when discouragement and frustration set in. Based on the information we gathered online, we were expecting an “easy” climb, with less than 2,500’ of gain. Route descriptions we read didn’t mention any ups or downs on this climb. The views from this first high point showed an undulating road that dipped pretty low, and the peak was far, far away.

Here's a shot of Jen at the first low point (well past the rusty observatory), with White Mountain Peak far away behind her:


We continued on, but both of us were secretly considering calling it quits. Still beaten from the previous day’s climb, neither of us expected White Mountain Peak to have so much elevation gain. The distance alone was hard enough on our weary bodies.


Even though we were discouraged and worn out, we were having fun (it may not show in my trip reports, but just know we LOVE this stuff). And I'd rather be suffering up a mountain than comfortable on a couch.

Surprisingly, when I was checking elevations with my GPS, I was getting 12 bars. I’ve never gotten all 12 satellites before!

After dipping down into the second low point, the slope became steeper and the switchbacks in the road became longer. The summit was “so close, yet so far” away.

As we ascended, we noticed another climber following us up (and gaining on us at a fast clip). He was the first person we had seen all day.

Looking up at our route, we noticed a large snowfield covering one of the long switchbacks. It appeared to be very deep and almost impassable (as it looked to be very slushy). Luckily, just before the snow, there was a well-defined, single-track trail that bypassed the snow. The only snow we had to cross on the entire route was a 5-foot section.

After about 4 hours of hiking, we finally touched the summit at 11:10 a.m.

Jen in front of the summit lab:


Just moments later, the guy (Eric from Southern California) that was behind us made the summit as well. We ended up chatting with him for a while up there. He was considering climbing Boundary, so we shared some beta and talked about other high peaks in California and Colorado. Nice guy.



Jen and I headed back down at 11:30. Eric ended up passing us on the way back and he was out of sight soon thereafter. Hours later we passed Greg and Katie, who we met on Boundary the day before, as they were on their way up. Eric, Greg and Katie were the only other people we saw on White Mountain Peak all day long.


Marmots on White Mountain Peak weren't very scared of humans. They even seemed to challenge us to fight.


The weather held up perfectly all day. Temps ranged between 40 and 55 degrees, and winds were mostly gentle. I never needed more than shorts, a t-shirt, a long sleeve and light gloves.

We finally made it back to the truck at 2:30 p.m. and saw just one other car in the parking lot – Greg and Katie’s car.

Here's one section of the dirt road:


We then had a long drive back to Vegas (at least 5 hours from that trailhead). I wanted to stop at a brothel to put a "happy ending" to this story, but Jen wouldn't let me.

That night we soaked our sore muscles in my In-laws’ hot tub while bug-eating bats whipped around just feet above our heads.

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Postby Greenhouseguy » Thu May 31, 2007 8:46 pm

Looks like an awesome road trip. Did you have to get a permit to climb? Any lightning or weather issues?
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Postby thebeave7 » Thu May 31, 2007 8:51 pm

Nice reports Aubrey, and must agree, the views from White Mt West are spectacular, especially when the Sierras are covered with snow(amazed at how little snow the Sierras have though). I miss them, :cry:
Did you guys get a chance to visit the Bristlecone Pine Forest, that's a really neat place to walk around.

Greenhouse, no permit needed to dayhike White Mt Peak, if you are camping you need to grab one. Weather in the California Mts is usually quite mild, thunderstorms are much less of an issue, and it is usually only in July. The Whites tend to be very dry during the summer, very few storms. Sierra storms are much easier to track than Colorado's(watch them slowly build).


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Postby Aubrey » Thu May 31, 2007 9:05 pm


I don't know what "normal" snow is in the Sierras, but they looked to have quite a bit higher up. Looked like there were some healthy glaciers up there. That snow and the jagged peaks reminded me of the Swiss Alps.

Didn't spend much time in the Bristlecone Pine forests. Mostly just driving through. Incredible stuff, though! I was amazed by how large they were, compared to the little scraggly ones on Evans, for example.

I also liked the look of the fallen/dead trees. Very trippy and finger-like.


No permit needed, as thebeave mentioned. Nobody working the front gate, either, for that matter. And no weather issues, either. We had incredible weather both days (albeit a bit hot for my blood on Boundary). 99% clear until late in the afternoon, when there were only a few puffy white clouds. Bluebird days, you could say.

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Postby RenoBob » Fri Jun 01, 2007 10:51 am

Great report!. It will be very helpful when Les and I go down there later this summer. I may PM you before then with some other questions. Nice job after Boundary.
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Postby lordhelmut » Fri Jun 01, 2007 11:37 am

looks pretty sick Aubrey, I've always wanted to climb the peaks of California, it looks so dry out there, but can't beat an empty trail. Thanks for the photos.

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Postby chuckbarnes » Sat Jun 09, 2007 6:56 pm


Thanks for the trips reports for both this and Boundary Peak. Have them on a 3 peak schedule the end of the month (along with Mt. Shasta - snow conditions permitting)

For White Mtn. do you (or anybody else on this thread) know if you have to get the camping permit at the station just down from the trailhead or is it possible to get it at one of the other ranger stations in advance?

Reason is that we're planning on a moonlight ascent of White with plans to be at the summit at sunrise. :)

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Postby MtHurd » Sat Jun 09, 2007 8:09 pm

I climbed the peak in October I think 2003. We didn't have to get any permits. We camped right at the trailhead out on the tundra, although I am not sure if that is allowed or not. Don't ask don't tell. :-) Others were doing the same thing. It's a lot longer hike than it looks. There are a lot of ups and downs too.

It's pretty exposed up there to the elements, so if you do overnight it up there be prepared for it to get quite cold. At least it was for us. Here's a pic of the Palisades from the road up to the trailhead. Most of the northern 14ers are in this shot.

Last edited by MtHurd on Sat Jun 09, 2007 8:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Aubrey » Sat Jun 09, 2007 8:10 pm


Not exactly sure on the camping. The following is something I came across on another site:

Camping is allowed at the Grandview campground (8,600'), free of charge, on a first come basis (36 sites). There are 4 group camps (7,200') located at the entrance to White Mt. Road. Open all year by reservation only. Phone: (800) 280-CAMP

When we pulled up to the parking lot we saw some people camping (plenty of room for camping at the gate / trailhead, and there's a bathroom). You may want to call to confirm, though: White Mountain Ranger District - (760) 873-2500

The moonlight ascent sounds awesome! Leave at least a few hours before sunrise, unless you're a marathoner ... :wink:

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Postby chuckbarnes » Mon Jun 11, 2007 7:26 am

Thanks for the info. There seemed to be confusing information about the camping so always good to check with the people who have been there recently. Had already planned to contact the ranger district to get info as well.

As for the moonlight ascent, yes we're preparing to encounter colder temps (just like doing a nighttime 14er ascent here in CO) and will play it smart as to weather patterns (which we'll check that afternoon for the latest update).

As for pace, our group will not be marathoners so we're planning on leaving leaving early enough to allow plenty of time to get to the summit. Plus this way you get to see the landscape two different ways (by moonlight and by sunlight). :lol:

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Re: White Mountain Peak (Cali. 14er)

Postby Randy » Wed Jul 09, 2008 2:33 pm

I climbed this peak 6 yrs ago and loved it. I slept in my truck at the trailhead with no issues.

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Re: White Mountain Peak (Cali. 14er)

Postby 1moremile » Wed Jul 09, 2008 4:06 pm

Congrats to you both! Thanks for the great trip report!

Your fabulous pics bring back such memories, as Wonderhubby and I hiked this peak ten years ago on the Fourth of July.

Okay, truth. I do recall dozens of baby marmots, the summit lab, the arresting views of the Sierra*, and a little bit of snow. I don't recall much about the hike, but I have an excuse: HazMat. You see, after hiking we drove our filthy selves and our even filthier camping-gear-stuffed rig** into town that we might enjoy a shower and motel room. But first we met the HazMat crew because of a little unscheduled explosion that happened in the back of the Blazer while I was off-loading toiletries. Seems one of the propane bottles had spent the journey down the hill leaking into an unlatched Rubbermaid box that was sitting on top of the rolled-out sleeping bag. Leaked gas ignited when I pulled the box over the synthetic bag ... BOOM! ... and released static electricity.

Happily, I still had on my hiking hat, so the hair on my head was protected, but the blast burned the hair off my arms and face. #-o

That was Wonderhubby's introduction to 14ers. Previously he'd been a cyclist and considered hiking too tame a sport. :D

* A fellow hiker took a photo of us on the summit with the Sierra in the background. If I could find that shot, I'd scan it and post it, but we've moved four times since then, and ... yikes.
** We'd hiked Sheep Mountain and done the Ancient Bristlecone Forest gig earlier in the week, and had been car camping. PU!

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