White Mountain Peak


By: Erik Siering


The west ridge of White Mountain Peak rises from Owens Valley and climbs 9000 feet in elevation within 10 miles, passing through a diversity of geology and vegetation. Colorful Jeffrey Mine Canyon, reminiscent of southern Utah, divides the lower ridge in two. Bob Sumner and I tackled this big route by ascending the southern branch of the west ridge. In comparison to Telescope Peak, this classic climb is tougher than the renowned Death Valley approach from Shorty's Well (Sage #240, November 1995), but less taxing than the west side access via Hall Canyon (Sage #262, July 1999). The elevation, terrain and descent are factors. Much of the west ridge, situated between the Jeffery Mine and Milner Canyons, can be seen from Highways 6 and 395. The route begins gradually, but then entails abrupt stretches of character-building talus before segueing into a broken crest. A series of rugged gendarmes can be circumvented with class 2-3 scrambling.

Without a route description, Bob and I had planned to gain the ridge from Milner Canyon. We drove about fourteen miles north of Laws and past Chalfant, to the second, northernmost of two unmarked turnoffs east with closed cattle gates. This is prior to the signed White Mountain Ranch Road. 2.5 miles of DPS-good dirt road lead to the mouth of Milner Canyon and the intersection with an aqueduct road from the northwest (5600'). We turned left to follow a road visible on the ridge to the north. This well-graded, but steep track leads to several antenna installations on "Antenna Ridge" before petering out (6500'). We parked low in a switchback turnaround (5770').

We traced the track past its end on to a broad plateau (1000'), where we intersected a miners path that rose northeast from Milner Canyon. Both active and old, dilapidated shortwave radio antennas populate this ridge. They must provide connectivity between the northern Chalfant Valley ranches and Bishop to the south. The miners' path crossed the plateau east up through lovely pinyon-covered slopes before fading (8500'). We continued to a flat with a mining claim stake (9000').

"The Little Slope of Horrors" lay before us, the first of the disagreeably loose talus slopes. This sharp rise of 800 feet yields to an undulating ridge that crests (11,395') before a small saddle (11,200'). We flanked a number of rock outcroppings on the north to avoid going over them. One is then confronted by the second intimidating slope, "The Ghastly Ridge." A steep, consistent climb of over two thousand feet, again much of it on sliding talus, culminates in the barren, variegated ridge and a major gendarme (13,221'). The northern and southern branches of the west ridge merge en route (11,600'). We stepped through lingering snow patches before bypassing the gendarme 50 feet to its north side. This leads to a stable, minor knife-edge to the last saddle 13, 100') on the ridge.

We paused at a snowfield and admired the Sierra views. Lacking both proper rest and acclimatization, Bob and I were feeling the elevation so we adopted a moderate ace. What appears to be a skyline notch (13,700') below the summit is a large gendarme, that can either be hird classed directly over the top via a crack and ledges or passed 100 feet below to the north; the south side cliff s not an option. We clambered around the north on sketchy hard snow with a poor runout.

The final stretch is a rocky scramble directly to the top. It had taken us 8.5 hours. We expected see folks on the road from the UC Barcroft High-Altitude Laboratory. Instead, solitude that was eerily quiet. Several had signed the register book earlier in the day. The little remaining snow atop the White Mountains suggested August rather than June. To our surprise the summit building was open and unoccupied. Two rooms, one for habitation and the other for storage, were comfortably appointed with a double bunk and a large table. Unfortunately for us, beer was nowhere in sight.

We descended the same route. The slippery talus slopes were yet more unpleasant (nay, horrible!) on downhill. We recouped the water bottles we'd cached on our way up for contingencies. After post-hike ales at sunset, we drove out on the chuck-holed aqueduct road. This becomes the White Mountain Ranch Road and passes a large ranch (For Sale).

Stats: 20 miles, 9000 ft gain, 13.3 hours round trip.

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