White Mountain Peak
Total round trip distance from parking lot to peak - approx. 15.5 miles
Mount Whitney has been many months in the planning. Not only do we need to train for the distance portion, we also need to train for the altitude by acclimatizing as high as we possibly can. White Mountain is commonly climbed as a Whitney trainer and we decided it would be perfect for us to use it that way too.
We checked the weather carefully in the weeks prior to our hike and it has had several days of snow dusting the peak, but our window for Saturday looks ideal for a peak run.
We were able to leave work around 3 and after some quick packing, we were on the road for a 5 hour drive to Bishop. We stayed in a campground right off of 395. We arrived late and after a quick meal, we readied the truck for bed. We decided to see how it would be to sleep in the bed of the truck on a cushion with the Tonneau cover closed 3/4 of the way with a blanket covering the opening. It was much like a pizza oven, but comfy... unless you have confined space issues. It's one of those things you really don't know until you try and on this experiment we learned that Chris really doesn't enjoy the coziness of this incredibly small space. However, sleeping without the blanket means you are nice and cozy inside while still looking straight up at the stars. It's a little less claustrophobic and were able to make that work.
We were up at 5 and on the road within about an hour.
We were able to watch the sun rise on our trip to find White Mountain Road.
Not knowing exactly where we were going, we relied a little bit too much on Google Maps. It directed us to this little road. And although it would have eventually connected us to White Mountain Road, we quickly found out this is NOT the way to go, unless you have a serious 4WD, which Val, my Dodge Ram is not. After less than a mile, we were crawling over rocks and squeezing between mountain shrubs that were just scratching their way down the side of the truck, like nails on a chalkboard. Painful. We both agreed this is not the way to go and were able to negotiate a U-turn. It was slow going to even get of there, but we were able to get back to the main road without too much truck damage. But if this is the way, we aren't going...
Thankfully, we found White Mountain Road just a couple of miles down the road. Whew!!
So glad to see the sign for White Mountain!
Now for miles and miles of winding road through the Ancient Bristlecone Forest. It's so interesting. These trees are more than 4,000 years old!!
After miles and miles, we arrived at the infamous gravel road. The "proceed at your own risk" sign should also have read "prepare to drive 5mph for the next 1.5 hours"...
19 miles of washboard grooves, sharp rocks, dips, curves, turns, hills, etc. It's a tough road. We saw a few people driving 20 mph and I have no idea how they didn't get a flat tire (which is very common out here). They warn that a tow from here is more than $1,000. Ouch. I was happy to drive super slow and let it be what it is... a yucky, gravel road.
The surrounding area is all very barren. Because of strong winds, low moisture and poor soil conditions, very few things grow here.
FINALLY, the locked gate appears. This gate is 2 miles from the Observation station and the official start of the trail, but it's as far as you can travel by car. There are vault toilets here and that's about it.
It's also at about 11,000 ft. This is nearly above all of the other peaks we normally climb and this is our starting point! Get ready to suck wind!
We grabbed our gear and were excited to head out on the trail.
In a continued effort to prepare for long hikes and of course Whitney, I have my food pretty much down to one bag. I found out I still have TONS left over. Have to work on getting this right so I don't have to carry so much food. It's heavy...
2 miles of climbing and we reach the White Mountain Research Center, University of California Barcroft Station. Elevation 12,470 feet.
This station was built to study physiology of high altitude and weather conditions on the mountain. It can house 20 people and completely off the grid using solar power to power the entire building and maintain it's internet connections.
And the official Trailhead. We are on our way up to the top of White Mountain Peak!
The trail is more like a 2 lane road. It's very easy to follow. We finally have a good view of the end goal. White Mountain is not white, but a plethora of colors and textures. Very pretty.
Random White Mountain Wilderness sign in the middle of nowhere. But yes, it's where we are.
After a long slow downhill, we are on our way back up, up, up towards 13,000 feet.
At 13,000 feet high and 5 miles in, we stopped to have lunch. I enjoyed a nice egg and bacon breakfast burrito. It was perfect! I am definitely doing that again. We are both doing pretty well with the elevation. At about 12,000 our breathing became more labored and Chris was experiencing some light headed moments. I was also having a sinus headache. But none of it was enough to slow us down, yet.
Now we have to drop about 300 feet to get to the bottom of the mountain to start on the switchbacks. It's a bummer when you've climbed so high, only to go down to go back up...
Just over the top of my head, you can see the very tip, top of the peak. It's just right up there! It will be a while, things are slow going at this point.
I keep looking up at the peak. Each switchback seems to get steeper, but the draw of the peak keeps pulling us closer. This is mind over matter when things get difficult. Your body is telling you to stop, but your mind says keep going, you're not there yet. Bagging a peak isn't easy, but there is a definite payoff when you get there.
We started to go up a very difficult scramble up the scree when another hiker suggested we continue on the trail and it would swing around and connect back with the road. That was great suggestion, the scramble was very loose and at 14,000 feet, would have been very difficult. Thanks hiker guy!
Up and up we go! The peak is up there and around one more turn!
White Mountain Peak! This building is the Summit Hut which is part of the research facility for the University of California. It can house up to 4 people for conducting research on weather, radiation and high altitude physiology.
We have a calm weather day to celebrate our achievement. It's chilly, but a gorgeous day. There is quite a bit of haze in the air either from fires or dust. So, the views are a bit obscured. But at least it's not windy! On December 19th, 2008, the summit recorded winds of 162.4 mph. WOW!
It's also very dry up here even though there have been a few dustings reported this past week. White Mountain stays very dry most of the year. On a typical summer day the amount of precipitable moisture in the air is 0.5mm. This is the lowest moisture level that has ever been recorded on planet earth! Seriously? Talk about extreme. From wind to low moisture, white mountain has it. This moisture will be a contrast to what we experience on Whitney since it often rains and snows up there.
We feel very accomplished making it up here.
We are both still feeling our symptoms from earlier. Headaches, a little bit light headed and definitely feeling the exertion of climbing at high altitude. But looking forward to the descent when it should all go away.
Signing the peak log. The cache box is now adorned with our stickers too!
And our inaugural flying of the GGG colors! Can't wait to let this one fly in the wind on top of Whitney in a couple of weeks.
Views from the peak
Looking out towards Nevada
We made our way down the mountain only to have to climb this hill once again back up to 13,000 where we had lunch. The up and down of this trail seems particularly difficult. Going down to go back up is a little deflating.
The drive in took longer than anticipated, so we are finishing as the sun sets. Another 15 minutes and we would have had to put on our headlights. The clouds made for a pretty sunset as we were nearing the bottom of the mountain towards the locked gates.
It was at about this time that Chris started not feeling well too. I didn't know it until we were at the bottom, but AMS was really setting in. Stomach upset, shortness of breath, chest tightness, headache. When we finally arrived at the truck and he disclosed to me how he was feeling, I knew he needed to get down to lower elevation. Unfortunately, I was trapped by the constraints of a terribly long, slow drive on a dirt road and unable to speed up the descent, I felt helpless. At 5-10 mph for the next 19 miles, it was difficult to see him not feeling well and unable to make it go away any faster. This portion of the trip was very worrisome. In my mind, his symptoms didn't present themselves the way AMS would have normally, since it really came on strong as we were coming down. So it really had me worried that I was watching something else happening. Was it just AMS or was it something cardiac related? I have no idea, but we just need to get down to lower altitude to find out. It's a huge hurry up and wait moment that lasted for 1.5 hours. Painful.
Thankfully when we got down to about 6,000 feet, he really started to feel better. We pulled into a turnout off of the highway to camp for the night. Both of us were exhausted from the day, but I was still on an adrenaline high after being worried, so sleeping won't grab me yet. The confinement of the truck bed was also still an issue for Chris this night as well and we slept with the truck somewhat open to help alleviate that and open things up to the starry night sky. Neither of us got much sleep. We were awake before 5am, made some hot tea and decided to hit the road. We are going to take our time driving home and an alpine nap may happen along the way too. On the way home, we decided to check out the ghost town of Bodie. You can read about it HERE.
Even with all the misadventures of this trip so far, it's still an amazing feeling knowing that we were just on top of the third highest mountain in California and 15th in the US. Very cool!
Now it's time to get ready for Mount Whitney in 2 weeks!
Our tracks and elevation recorded on Garmin Fenix 3 and uploaded into Strava