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White Mountain Peak - Home Page timberlinetrails.net
Peak located in the US
state of California is
not well known by the
majority of people in
the state and around
the world, but this
does not take away
from the fact that this
lonely alpine range has much to offer. Overshadowed by the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains on the western side of the region,
visitors traveling along highway 395 are usually unaware that White Mountain looms high above to the east. At 14,246 feet above sea
level, White Mountain positions itself as the third highest peak in the state. With both the White Mountain and Sierra Nevada Ranges
towering above 14,000 feet, the 10,000 plus foot vertical drop into the plains below make Owens Valley one of the deepest valleys in
North America. The White Mountains are also one of the driest mountain ranges in the world for its height. This is due to the fact that
the great barrier of the Sierra Nevada blocks moisture coming in from the west.
The White Mountains begin in Nevada at Montgomery Pass on U.S. 6, and head south for a distance of 60 miles, where at that point
the Inyo Mountains take over. Westgard Pass and Deep Springs Valley separate the White Mountains from the Inyo Mountains. The
range reaches its greatest width of 22 miles just east of the town of Bishop, California.
Most of the moisture (about 12 inches annually)
comes in the form of snowfall during the winter
months. As Pacific storms move eastward along the
Sierra Nevada, high altitude conditions rob the
majority of moisture from the air, and leave only
strong dry winds swirling about the slopes of White
On a typical summer day the amount of precipitable
moisture in the air is about one half of a millimeter.
This is the lowest moisture level that has ever been
recorded on planet earth.
Dry air is not the only notable distinction of this
desert like mountain. High winds are also a White
Mountain trademark. To add proof to this fact, the
summit climate station recorded a 162.4 mile per
hour wind speed on December 19, 2008 at 5 AM.
Summit hikers and climbers on White Mountain will be traveling mostly in the alpine
zone and temperatures there will range anywhere from 65 to 37 degrees F in the
summer and 36 to -26 degrees F in the winter months. All this wind, dry air, and often
times extreme cold makes White Mountains a very inhospitable environment for all life
To add to the problems listed above, the soil quality is also poor, and at its worst in the
alpine zone. This factor combined with a limited growing season, results in very sparse
and delicate plant and wildlife. Because of this, visitors are cautioned to be careful not
to disturb these very fragile life forms. The sub-alpine forests of the Great Basin
support the Bristlecone Pine (shown to the right), and the permeable dolomite and
certain granite substrates also support the Limber pine. Further below, denser stands of
Piñon pine and Utah juniper abound. These upper and lower conifer zones are often
separated by a zone of mountain-mahogany brush. Various subspecies of sagebrush
extend from the surrounding valleys to the lower alpine zone.
Most hikers on White Mountain wanting to reach the summit spend most of their time
above 11,500 feet. At this level, the main vegetation disappears and rocky barren soil
replaces it. This high altitude terrain is quite destitute compared to the Pinion Pine and
Bristlecone Pine trees that line the slopes from about 7000 to 11000 feet. Below the
7000 foot level there are few trees present and the vegetation there gives way to mostly
sagebrush and other desert like plant life.
All the above being said, White Mountain is
certainly not without a beauty all its own.
The clean, dry, crystal clear air, combined
with the low angle shadows of the early
morning and late afternoon sun make for
stunning opportunities for landscape
photography. But as always, no photo can
ever do justice to the beauty that the human
eye is capable of capturing.
In the photo to the left you can see the
summit of White Mountain looming high
above in the upper far left hand portion of the
image surrounded by the surreal scene of the
light green grassy slopes in the foreground.
Also note the dirt road located in the lower
right hand portion of the image. This is part
of the unpaved section of the approach road
that leads to the traditional starting point for
summit hikers on White Mountain Peak.
The photos above and to the right give you a good
idea of the landscape along the White Mountain
trail/road. The road is closed to all but bicycle and
foot traffic nearly all year. Only those who are a
part of the Barcroft Research Station are allowed
to drive motorized vehicles along this road. The
path from the locked gate to the summit and back
is a little over 14 miles, and skirts along some of
the most barren terrain in all of California.
In the upper right hand photo, you see a hiker at
about the half-way point with White Mountain
Peak in the background. In the image to the right,
note the lone hiker nearing the summit, as he
traverses one of the steeper sections of the road.
There is still a fair amount of snow present at the
near 14,000 foot level in the month of June, 2009.
The US state of Nevada appears far below in the
Hiking to the top of White Mountain Peak is a great
way to get introduced to high altitude mountain
travel. It will certainly give you a good idea of how
you will perform when hiking and climbing in the thin
dry air that is typical of alpine ascents.
What makes White Mountain such a great starting
point for up and coming mountaineers, is that one
travels by motorized vehicle to a very high starting
point (11,670 feet), which then gives access to a nice
broad hiking path that leads to the peak's very
respectable 14,246 foot summit. There the oxygen
and pressure level is about 1/3 of that at sea level.
Most hikers that attempt White Mountain live at low
altitudes and getting used to the low pressures and
thin air can be a problem.
The photo in the upper left shows the last public restroom before starting up the trail to the top of White Mountain. It is a chemical
type facility, and is usually well stocked with toilet paper for those last minute necessities. Please do not throw trash or other foreign
objects in the toilet. It makes for a very nasty job to remove it latter on. Bears and other wild life are not a problem on White
Mountain, so keep any trash in your vehicle and deposit it later on in the appropriate place once down the mountain.
In the upper right hand image, if you look carefully, you see the trail switch backing up the final slopes of White Mountain Peak. This
is the most difficult part of the climb, and where you will gain the most elevation for the distance traveled. Before you get to that final
summit approach, you will drop down approximately a couple of hundred feet before ascending again. This is always a bit discouraging,
because it is always on your mind that every bit of hard earned elevation lost must be made up for latter on.
To the right, you see the
Summit of White Mountain
in the background. Note the
beautiful variation of
colored minerals that are
lite up by the mid afternoon
Most photos of White
Mountain Peak will be best
taken in the late afternoon.
Also note the rock in the
sandstone, and granite
bedrock along with
extensive outcrops of
dolomite (limestone) make
up the geological
formations of the range.
Well, that's about it for the
introduction to the White
Headaches, nausea, and other such symptoms of altitude sickness can certainly spoil your outing. If this is a problem for you, then it
would be wise to slowly get acclimated at a lesser elevation before tackling White Mountain Peak.
Please make use of the below links for further information and a hike to the top of this most interesting high altitude desert mountain.
Deeper Insight - Trials and Adversity in Life
On the surface, logic would seem to dictate that the White Mountains would be the last place on earth you would go to find the
oldest living things. You would think that extreme dryness, poor soil, ferocious winds, bitter cold, and high altitude would shorten
the life span of any living organism. But harsh conditions and adversity are just what the doctor ordered when it comes to long life
for the Bristlecone Pine. With some trees reaching an age of 4,500 years or more, the Bristecone Pine is certainly tenacious of life.
But what about adversity when it comes to the human condition? We all try to avoid trials and troubles, but it seems as though they
are unavoidable in this life. If you have not put much thought or study into this matter, you may be surprised to learn that trials and
troubles are there by design.
In Job, one of the oldest books of the Bible, God tells us that "Hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble
sprout from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward." (Job 5:6-7) Jesus later tells us in
John 16:33b "that in this world you will have trouble"
We need to realize that afflictions do not rise out of blind chance but are sent and managed by a wise and merciful God. Sufferings
remind us of God's providence and of our dependence on Him. They expose our weaknesses and teach us of how limited we are to
supply our deepest wants in life. We learn that we are powerless to remove afflictions and sufferings, and they will remain until God
in His infinite wisdom has decided that they have served their purpose. We know that God has the power to grant our wishes, but
most often, His wisdom sees fit to withhold or even take away. This enables us to concentrate more on Him as the Giver than on
If you have spent any time at all exploring or photographing the great outdoors, there is no doubt that you have discovered that the
most spectacular sunrises and sunsets occur just before, during, or after a storm. Light mixed with storm clouds will often work
together to produce indescribable beauty. Charles Spurgeon puts it this way: "A man who should live and die without trials
would be like a setting sun without clouds; he would have little opportunity for the display of those virtues that the
grace of God has endowed him with." You see, it's the storms in life that bring out one's true character, whether good or bad.
One day, all the above will come into sharp focus, and we just may find that our current day misfortunes have actually been the
source of our greatest blessings.
So in the strength of the Lord, may we all continue to persevere,