Ascent of White Mountain Peak on 2018-11-10

Climber: Marcus Lostracco

Others in Party:Whiley Hall
Date:Saturday, November 10, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:White Mountain Peak
    Elevation:14246 ft / 4342 m

Ascent Trip Report

The intention on coming to White Mountain was for a full traverse of the White Mountains range in a day starting from White Mountain and ending at Boundary Peak. This has been a dream of mine for a while as I was analyzing the topo of the range. I was in Bishop the week prior and the weather was absolutely perfect. I found a great White Mountains map at a local bike shop and I decided, why wait until next year? My current favorite mountain partner Whiley flew out from Colorado to do it with me somewhat on a whim. I picked her up from LAX on Friday morning and we made the drive up to the Whites. On the drive up, Whiley and I noticed a giant cloud of smoke coming out of the Santa Monica Mountains… we had no idea what it was.

Entering Owens Valley on the US 395 North we were both captivated by Red Hill – I had driven past it several times before and we decided we would save it for the return trip (See TR dated 11/12).
The drive from Big Pine up to the Barcroft Research Facility road takes a good 2 hours. It is a stunning drive to say the least. Any vehicle can do it. How amazing would it be to bike that? This thought always comes to mind when I drive these amazing roads with nobody on it. We were being treated with an incredible sunset on the open rolling meadows of the Whites, as well as a rare sighting of Campito – the lone wild horse who lives up there. I suppose he enjoys being left alone, however I feel like he would enjoy the company of a female horse one day.

We drove by a couple Bristlecone Pinetree Groves – some of the most ancient living organisms in the world, some dated beyond 4,000 years. The oldest tree “Methuselah” is said to be 4,484 years old and is located somewhere in the Schulman Grove – the exact location is not disclosed for preservation purposes. I have a suspicion that it is not at all in the Schulman grove and is actually somewhere in the Patriarch grove which does not have a visitor center, is higher in altitude, further out of the way of the road, and its trees just look older in general.

We arrived at the “Locked Gate” (as described on google maps as such) just as the sun was going down and it was absolutely frigid! Definitely negative temperatures. I hastily prepared the car for sleeping. For dinner I had a camping meal but I couldn’t find my lighter for my stove so I just ate it cold. Not bad but would have been nice warmed up! (lighter was right under my nose of course). As we hunkered up in the back of my car for the night we pretty much decided we were not prepared for a traverse and tomorrow would be a scouting day. We would do White and then see how we fared if we felt like exploring beyond it.

The alarm went off at our intended wakeup time of 2:30am. Not happening. Shut that thing off and stayed warm in the car until sunrise. When the morning came another car had pulled up and they got started before we did! Pretty funny to me when this happens. We slowly got our act together and hit the trail/road at 9am. I was carrying about 4L water and some warm layers and some fuel for the hike. We walked up towards the Barcroft Research Facility and on this walk I decided to ditch 2L of water – it was weighing down heavily on my shoulders and I felt like I wouldn’t need it anyway. Turned out to be the right move.

The research building was interesting, seems like they corral some sheep up there for some experiments. Seems like operations are wrapped up for the year. We considered tagging Mount Barcroft which is directly accessible from this point by going off trail to the summit. We decided to save it for the return trip (which we would not bother with any way).

Once over the next incline, White Mountain stands tall in all of its majesty, providing the first real view of the summit from the start of the hike. It is an impressive mountain as it dominates the landscape. Looking back at the rolling “hills” of the Whites is a beautiful sight. Views can be had in all directions from this point forward, however, some intense haze had entered Owens Valley for only what we could conceive was smoke from a fire. We would later discover this was smoke from the catastrophic “Camp Fire” from the Santa Monica mountains. The smoke soon filled the valley on the Nevada side, making for some strange skies all around. It was quite windy, as these mountains are notorious for high winds, and we were there on a “low wind” day (25-35 mph). This windiness added a severe unquantifiable windchill which I believe slowed us down tremendously. Doing the full traverse would have been very, very hard!

Whiley and I passed the young couple that started about an hour ahead of us on the downhill leading up the to final climb. The ascent to the summit of White is straightforward and gradual. Still a long and arduous hike. The “easiest 14er in California” should not be taken lightly! There is a shelter building on the summit which allowed for some shielding from the wind when we sat up against it. It felt great to take in some rays and relax a little. I was glad we were above all the smoke from the valley below. The air up here was still fresh. Soon the other pair of hikers joined us on top. They discovered a door to the shelter building was open! There were some messy bunk beds inside – surely people had been using this even though there is a sign at the bottom of the trail stating there is no access to the shelter on the summit.

On the way down from the summit we did some half-ass scouting of the next step of the traverse. It looked rough right beyond White Mountain. I could see Mount Dubois in the distance. One day this will happen!

Our descent took a long time. Whiley was dragging behind. I think the cold was getting to her. She was even wearing my jacket on top of her jacket and her layers! I didn’t realize she had dropped her pack somewhere along the trail. I went ahead and found her pack (she wasn’t even sure where she had left it…) as she rolled around in a sunny meadow. It’s a good thing we didn’t do this traverse today.

On the way down it seemed like the smoke had now bellowed out of the valleys and started creeping up the mountaintops. I definitely had a few inhalations where I could taste it - not as bad as when I was on Mount Peale back in August, but still a very unpleasant sensation.

We returned to our car around 3pm for a roundtrip hike of 6 hours. On the drive down we stopped on the side of the road to awe at a beautiful old bristlecone pine tree. These trees are magnificent. They are very weathered and wind-eroded and grow very slowly. It’s possible the specimen we were standing next to was over 3,000 years old. We pretended it was the Methuselah tree. We stopped at the Schulman grove to check that out – overall we were less impressed by the trees here than the ones at higher elevation. I would check out the Patriarch grove if I were to go back and skip Schulman. I also remember the bristlecone pine trees on top of Telescope Peak to look more old than the ones up here in the Whites.

We drove back down into Lone Pine for the night where we would car camp once again, but this time in the Alabama Hills where the temperatures were much more comfortable. In lieu of doing the long traverse of the Whites we aimed our sights at Mount Whitney for the next day.

Respect the White Mountains. They are a beautiful and desolate mountain range home to beautiful and unique landscapes. And of course, Campito. One day I will return for the complete traverse.

If you don’t succeed the first time, come back stronger, more prepared, and more determined.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3600 ft / 1096 m
    Extra Gain:300 ft / 91 m
    Round-Trip Distance:14 mi / 22.5 km
    Route:Barcroft Facility road
    Trailhead:Locked Gate  11246 ft / 3427 m
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail
    Weather:Cool, Windy, Low Clouds
Smoke in the valley
Ascent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 30 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Marcus Lostracco
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