DRIVE: From US Highway 395 at Big Pine, CA. turn right (E) on paved State Route 168. At a fork in 2.2 miles bear left (right will put you on the Waucoba-Saline Valley Road) and drive 10.8 miles to the paved, signed White Mountain Road. Turn left (N) and drive 10.3 miles to the end of pavement at the signed Schulman Grove. Continuing N on the excellent dirt road and following signs toward Patriarch Grove, drive 16 miles to a locked gate at 11680 feet elevation, passing the turnoff for Patriarch Grove approximately 12 miles from the end of pavement. Park.
CLIMB: Hike up the road past the locked gate for 2 miles to the University of California's Barcroft Laboratory at 12,400 feet elevation. From the laboratory, continue following the road N for 0.5 miles as it climbs more steeply now to a flat spot at approximately the 12,800 foot level near an astronomical observatory. From this vantage point White Mountain can be clearly seen as the prominent red and black colored peak to the north, 5 miles distant via the road. Continue hiking the road N as it drops slightly to an expansive plateau and then gently rises to a spot just W of point 13189. Here, follow the road as it turns W and drops sharply some 250 feet to a saddle before continuing its long switchbacking path to the summit.
ROUND TRIP STATS: 3455 feet elevation gain, 15 miles, 8 hours
- White Mountain is the highest peak in the Great Basin Desert Area and the third highest peak in California, being topped only by Mts. Whitney and Williamson. Its official height, 14,246 feet above sea level, places it just 4 feet higher than North Palisade across the Owens Valley in the Sierra Nevada. According to a 1990 report published by the U.S. Department of the Interior/U.S. Geological Survey entitled "Elevations and Distances in the United States", White Mountain Peak is ranked as the 20th highest named summit over 14,000 feet in the contiguous United States and the 37th highest named summit if Alaska is considered in the survey.
- Located 2 miles beyond the 11680 foot level locked gate is the University of California's Barcroft Facility and Nello Pace Laboratory at an altitude of 12,400 feet above sea level. This research station opened in 1953 and was manned year round until 1980, when a violent ice storm destroyed the aboveground power lines which supplied the facility with electrical service. Since 1980 the facility has been staffed only from May to November. When the crew vacates the station in November, they leave some of the smaller quarters unlocked to provide emergency shelter for cross-country skiers during the winter months. During its earlier operation, the laboratory had the distinction of being the highest, continually inhabited settlement in North America. Research carried out here is quite varied and has included scientific investigation into astrophysics, physiology and archeology. On your hike up White Mountain you'll pass an observatory about 0.5 miles past the Barcroft complex. This building at one time housed a large infrared telescope capable of searching the heavens for objects emitting radiation outside past 1200 years. Finally, the small hut atop White Mountain itself was once the site of physiological investigations into the effects of high altitude on the human body. Volunteers, living in the hut, collected medical data on basic body functioning at altitude for prolonged periods of time. The research facility is staffed by a friendly crew of knowledgeable workers who will gladly answer any questions you might have about the laboratory and its operation. In addition to being extremely informative, they also are equipped with limited medical supplies a nd are in radio contact with the Owens Valley in case of an emergency situation. So, if you're feeling the effects of altitude because of poor acclimatization and didn't bring your first aid kit along, stop in for a free aspirin or a "hit" off the bottled oxygen they have inside! Even if you feel great, drop in and get acquainted; you'll probably learn something new because of the visit. As a point of trivial interest, following are some of the meteorological extremes recorded at the station during its operation:
- Lowest Temperature (Still Air): -36°F on February 5, 1976
- Highest Temperature: 73°F on August 2, 1978
- Lowest Barometric Pressure: 461.3 mm Hg on March 23, 1964 (This corresponds to an oxygen content of approximately 60% of that at sea level)
- Maximum Annual Snowfall: 243.6" (20.3 feet) in 1965
- One of the main attractions of the White Mountains is the 28,960 acre Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Botanical Area. Situated on the high, wind-swept s opes of these mountains exists the oldest known living things in the world, a forest of Pinus Longaeva, be tter known as the bristlecone pine. A short, squat tree reaching a maximum height of about 25 feet, the bristlecone thrives in the dolomitic (limestone) soil of the Whites. The trees grow very slowly, adding an average of about 1 inch per 100 years to their diameter. The largest tree identified in the White range is the Patriarch, a multistemmed giant having a base circumference of 36 feet 8 inches. This tree is recognized as being over 4,300 years old, making it 1500 years older than the oldest known giant sequoia trees of the Sierra Nevada. The two main groves for viewing the bristlecones is the Schulman Grove at 10,100 feet elevation and the Patriarch Grove at 11,000 feet elevation. The dirt road running N along the spine of the Whites from the Westgard Pass Road to the trailhead for White Mountain Peak passes right by these two groves. There are self-guided nature trails at each location which provide information about the bristlecones and their environment. Picnic tables and restrooms can be found at both spots.
- Grandview is an established campground located along the White Mountain Road about 2 miles S of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest boundary (or 5.5 miles N of State Highway 168). It is a free campground which has picnic tables, fire rings and pit toilets. You'll have to bring your own water however, as none is available at the campground. In addition to this campground there are four group campgrounds near the Cedar Flats entrance station. They can be reserved in advance by calling (619) 873-4207 or writing the White Mountain Ranger District, 798 N. Main Street, Bishop, CA 93514. If overnighting in the established campgrounds is not to your liking, then consider getting a campfire permit from the ranger at the Cedar Flats entrance station and finding your own private spot along the many miles of dirt road between State Highway 168 and the southern boundary of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
- In the past a DPS'er who parked at the locked gate trailhead for White Mountain reported a story about metal and rubber munching marmots who destroyed the radiator and associated hoses on his truck. This same problem is known to occur at Mineral King in the Sierra, where there are posted warnings about the marmot situation. There, some people attempt to protect them selves by stringing a fence of chicken wire around their vehicle and anchoring it down with large rocks and rope while they are off hiking. Be aware of the possible potential problem at White Mountain and consider taking whatever steps you might feel are warranted to protect yourself from this nuisance.