Tuesday, August 9, 2016

White Mountain (White Mountains Wilderness / Inyo National Forest) - 8/7/16

Hiking the Trail to White Mountain

Nearing the Bottom of the Switchbacks

Early Morning on White Mountain Road

Leaving the Motel before Sunrise
On the east side of Highway 395 in the Bishop, CA area, there are "NO BEARS!" This is where the White Mountains Wilderness is located. And, within this wilderness rises the third highest mountain in the state of California, White Mountain (14,252'). Surrounded by the Inyo National Forest, the mountain is accompanied by several groves of ancient bristlecone pine trees that can be reached from the same road as the mountain's trailhead. This road is White Mountain Road and it consists of 10 miles of paved surface and 16 miles of recently graded dirt surface. Just watch out for those sharp embedded rocks.

The Palisade Crest visible from Road and Trail
White Mountain Road is narrow and winding. There are cliffs on the side of the road at many places. A very slow speed is highly recommended. When you meet an oncoming car, just hope it isn't near one of those cliffs! Someone will be backing up!

First View of White Mountain
So seven club hikers had stayed at the Big Pine Motel in Big Pine, CA the night before. Even though there are many places to car camp along the long dirt road, we opted for the shower and warm meal.

Gathering at the Trailhead (11,462')

The First Two Miles
We had grabbed a breakfast from the local grocer the night before so we were ready to leave town around 6:00am (right after the gas station opened). The sunrise on the Palisade Crest across the valley was gorgeous and we could see it all the way up White Mountain Road. (Too bumpy for photos but we did stop once for the photo above.) Rounding a corner near the end of the road, White Mountain appeared. Wow! We're going to climb that? Okay. Might as well go ahead and tell you that this was the writer's first 14ner. Yep. They're pretty tall.

Barcroft Research Facility
We arrived at the trailhead around 7:45am. There were already many cars there and most of the drivers had probably camped overnight. There is a nice pit toilet restroom there and it was a Sunday. The locals were represented.

Many Small Wildflowers (photos: Setsuko)
The trail is actually an old dirt road and the first two miles lead to the Barcroft Research Facility. The gate at the trailhead is rumored to be open twice a year for hikers to drive up to the facility enabling them to skip the first 2 and last 2 miles of the 15 mile hike.

First View of White Mountain from Trail

Long Easy Section
Today, the gate was closed and all we could see was the road leading up the hill. We gathered at the gate for a photo then began our hike around 8:00am. Knowing that it would be a long day and the end game would be very tough, we started out at a very nice reasonable pace. At 12,000 feet, the landscape was amazing! No wonder there are no bears! It is above the tree line. Only rocks and grass and flowers could be seen for miles. The first landmark of any consequence was the research facility. As we approached, we heard the bleating of a flock of sheep! Behind the fence, the sheep were up and about. Very healthy looking.

White Mountain rises above the Valley Floor
The trail hikes straight through the facility and, it was here that we saw the first of other hikers that were sharing the trail. Yep. We caught up to them and passed them. (We weren't even trying.)

Climbing Again on the Tundra
Our pace was relaxed and moderate as we climbed a small steep section right after the sheep. At the top of this little saddle, an old observatory stood on a large flat meadow. This is also where you see the first view of White Mountain from the trail.

Arriving at the Top of the Steep Hill Down

The Switchbacks come into View
Next, we dropped down some of that hard earned elevation and strolled along an easy section that was almost flat. Our little group had started to spread out but we continued to be able to see each other to keep tabs on how we were doing. The pace slowed purposefully as we hit the next section of ascent. This is where the trail reaches 13,000 feet in elevation and, as a hiker, you begin to feel the slightly heavier legs. Still, the slope was gentle and our breath was under control. We passed the White Mountains Wilderness sign, continued to take a lot of photos and arrived at the top of a very rocky hill.

Marmots are Watching
Across from the rocky hill that we had to go down, the final prominence of the peak was clearly seen with its hefty looking switchbacks. Yep. The real hike was about to begin!

Descending Steep Rocky Hill
So, we reluctantly dropped about 200 elevation feet on the hill but were distracted and entertained by a couple of large marmots in the rocks off to our left. Photos were taken.

Starting Up the Switchbacks

Switchback Corner with view of Peak
The elevation at the bottom of this hill is right around 13,000 feet. The peak is at 14,252 feet. You do the math! After the first couple of switchbacks, the legs got heavier and the steps got smaller. Clearly, this was the tough part! The writer was hanging in there in the middle of our little pack but soon, the altitude reared its ugly head. Headache. A little nauseous. I sat down. Started again. Repeat three times. By now, I was staring at the first of two final long ramps. This was the saddle where you had a great view of the glaciers on the side of the peak.

Another Switchback Corner
As the writer sat for a moment, she watched the other six hikers of the group making their way slowly up the last mile / 600'. Did I mention that the views were already absolutely gorgeous? And, it was cold and windy. Did I mention that my lips were frozen?

Peak above a Saddle (Larry & Rita Rest)
Extremely proud of the hikers that are my friends, I watched them ascend into the thin air. At 5000' more, Kilimanjaro will be a piece of cake in a couple of weeks, Setsuko, Rita and Chuck.

The Fast Way Down

Starting Up the Last Long Ramp
Relieved to be excused from the altitude fest, the writer started down the switchbacks, slowly reclaiming that prized oxygen. While she headed back to the top of that 200' rocky hill to wait, the remaining six hikers slowly continued to the top. The views increased to 360 degrees and they could see all the way to Boundary Peak, a neighboring 13ner. There was a small building used for university research on the peak where hikers can gather to get out of the wind. This is where the six hikers sat to get their photo taken at the top.

Extremely Happy and Tired Group!
Every one of the six hikers exclaimed to the writer afterwards that this was one tough bugger of a hike! You can see it on their faces that they are very happy ... and very tired! They shared the peak with about 17 others.

Chuck Celebrates White Mountain Summit
So, after several minutes of celebration, everyone faced the 7.5 miles of down. Setsuko was the first to arrive at the top of the rocky hill where the writer was waiting in the cold wind.

Descending to the Saddle

View from a Top Switchback
The hike back started easy enough. The rocks on the old dirt road were avoided when possible. We let our legs do the talking as far as how fast we chose to hike. Yep. That wasn't that fast! We stayed within sight of everyone in our group and did a little leap frogging. There was one more hill we had to climb to get back up to the old observatory. Finally there, we sat to wait for the others. But, when we stood up to stretch, it was clear that we needed to keep going on our feet that were fast becoming very sore.

Last View up of White Mountain Peak
Down the hill past the sheep that were now resting. A few photos of the White Mountains in the near distance.

The Long Road Home
Hike a while. Stretch a little. Hike a while. Stretch a little. Just keep those feet moving.

Hmmm. Colorful!

Never Ending Road
At last, the trailhead came into view as the resident Australian Shepherd (remember the sheep?) came trotting up the road back home. A truly deserved celebration ensued as the club hikers joined in with other summiters. A half hour later, we were all driving slowly down the dirt road heading for Las Vegas. This will be a weekend that will long not be forgotten. White Mountain is clearly held close to the heart of many hikers.

15 miles; 3200 feet elevation gain; 8 hours

Dropping Down to the Research Center

White Mountain Road (thru windshield)

White Mountain Road (thru windshield)

No comments: