Ascent of White Mountain Peak on 2013-08-19

Climber: Peter Stone

Others in Party:Jill Stone
Twm Stone
David Stone
Ceri Stone
Patrick Stone
Date:Monday, August 19, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:White Mountain Peak
    Elevation:14246 ft / 4342 m

Ascent Trip Report

With only a week until our attempt at Mount Whitney, we decided that the White Mountains (specifically White Mountain Peak, the neighbouring bristlecone pines area and Boundary Peak) was a good area in which to do some altitude training.

We stayed a couple of nights at the Inyo National Forest Grandview Campground: a great location, the nearest official campsite to the trailhead, but no water available, only fire-rings and pit toilets. The campsite is 8,500 feet above sea level and 5 miles south of the Schulman Grove Bristlecone Pine Visitor Center. To get there head north-east from Big Pine on California State Route 168, then turn north-west onto White Mountain Road at Cedar Flat, just before Westgard Pass, and it's signposted on the left several bendy miles up.

On the first day we drove up to the Barcroft Gate trailhead (11,650 feet above sea level), with the idea of spending a few hours just letting our bodies get used to the altitude as we hadn't done as much high climbing in Yosemite the previous week as we'd hoped. The road to the Visitor Center is tarmac and only takes 15 minutes from the campground, thereafter it becomes a dirt road (except for a short paved section near Patriarch Grove) and although of good quality and suitable for all vehicles in summer conditions it is steep in places and does slow you down; it took us nearly an hour to do these 17 miles to the trailhead. The route passes through starkly beautiful landscape and it was lovely to see many mountain bluebirds en route.

We were mildly frustrated to find that the day we had chosen for acclimatisation (rather than hiking) was one of only four days in the year when the locked gate is open allowing visitors to drive all the way to the research station, saving 2 miles each way and a couple of hundred feet of ascent. However it was already 11 o'clock so we stuck to our initial plan and after several hours at 12,000 feet we descended to the bristlecone pines and spent an informative hour or so wandering among these ancient and beautiful trees.

The following day we were hoping to leave camp at 05:00, but when we awoke there was near-complete cloud cover with thunder-clouds and lightning flashes from the previous evening’s storms all around us, so we waited another hour to confirm it was clearing before driving off.

After a quick breakfast and bag-packing at the trailhead we set off in much better weather at 08:00. We made quick progress – the trail is a dirt road all the way - taking about 45 minutes to reach the Barcroft White Mountain Research Station. After peeking at the sheep in the pens we continued up the steepish slope behind the research centre for about 15 minutes until we reached an old telescope and a tectonic plate monitor. This is where we got our first clear view of the mountain itself. A brief descent followed, before a long flat section that led to the base of a short steeper section. To our disappointment as soon as we got to the top of this climb we realised how large the descent to the col is, we lost more height than we'd gained on the ascent just a short time before! After that a number of long switchbacks led us up the final 1,300 or so feet to the summit. The tedium of these was relieved by the fascination of watching some military planes directly overhead performing air-to-air re-fuelling manoeuvres. We did begin to feel the altitude on this last section, but since the path follows an old road, it was never particularly strenuous. At the summit there's another research building with a benchmark embedded in a rock behind it. There was a covering of snow, presumably the result of the storms of the previous couple of days. We had some great views from the top, but the cloud began to roll in as we started to leave.

The walk back to the trailhead took about 3 hours, there were rolls of thunder all around us, but we managed to stay dry until the final 15 minutes when our luck ran out and we suffered a serious soaking.

Total hiking time including summit stay of 8 hours, but you could do it much faster if acclimatised/acclimated, weren't hiking with children or used a mountain bike!
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
White Mountain Peak from the Owens Valley (2013-08-20). Photo by Peter Stone.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3596 ft / 1095 m
    Extra Gain:500 ft / 152 m
    Round-Trip Distance:16 mi / 25.7 km
    Route:Normal trail
    Trailhead:Barcroft Locked Gate  11650 ft / 3550 m
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail
Ascent Statistics
    Time:5 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 

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