OverviewPiute Mountain is part of the Inyo-White Mountains of California, a beautiful desert range running parallel to the Sierra Nevada and separated from the latter by the Owens Valley. This valley, at around 4000 feet, has 14,000 ft peaks on both sides of it, making it one of the deepest valleys in the nation.
The Inyo Mountains lie to the south of and are separated from the White Mountains, in which resides Piute Mountain, by Westgard Pass, over which passes highway 168, connecting the Owens Valley on the west of the Inyo-Whites to Fish Lake Valley on the east side of the Whites. Together, the Inyos and the Whites form a long and sometimes rugged, always beautiful mountain range.
By a long shot, the White Mountains contain the higher peaks of the Inyo-Whites. But being one of the highest named peaks in the range, no one ever pays much attention to Piute Mountain…because it lies less than 10 miles to the south of California’s 3rd highest peak, White Mountain.
A gentle ascent over rolling terrain, Piute Mountain is an easy endeavor. It can be approached from the southeast via a class 2 traverse from nearby Sheep Mountain, or from the class 2 north slope from the White Mountain trailhead (the gate near the saddle of Piute Mountain and the 13,040 foot Mt. Barcroft to the north).
Getting ThereFrom Big Pine, California, get onto highway 168 and head east toward the Inyo-White Mountains. After about 12-13 miles, just before reaching Westgard Pass, you’ll reach the junction with the signed (and paved) White Mountain Road (& Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest) on the left.
White Mountain Road features stellar lunar high-country scenery, bristlecone pines near the road as you gain elevation, as well as the possibility of a wild horse sighting.
Turn north onto White Mountain Road.
Depending on what route you choose to use, you have a number of options. Here they are in a nutshell:
If doing Piute Mountain via a traverse from Sheep Mountain, follow White Mountain Road north until you reach the signed turn-off to Patriarch Grove. Although the pavement ends about 10 miles from highway 168, and just past the turn-off to Schulman Grove (and the visitor’s center), the quality of the dirt road is generally good, and passenger cars should be able to make slow but steady progress. Continuing past the turn-off to Schulman Grove (to the right), go another 13 miles or so until you come to the turn-off to Patriarch Grove. The turn-off (on your right) is signed.
Look for a place to park off the road at about 11,300 feet and in the vicinity of the turn-off to Patriarch Grove.
From this area, Piute Mountain is not visible, but Sheep Mountain’s southeast slope is seen immediately to the northwest.
This approach requires a roundtrip of about 4 miles and perhaps 2000 feet of gain;
If doing Piute Mountain from the White Mountain trailhead, continue on the main road past the Patriarch Grove turn-off another 4 miles or so to the trailhead (and gate). There’s ample parking there for several vehicles. This last bit of road is typically in much worse shape than the first long section, and high clearance vehicles, while not necessary, are a good idea.
From here, Piute Mountain is the obvious peak to the south. This approach requires about 750 feet of gain over a roundtrip of around 3 miles;
You can approach Piute Mountain by parking at any point along the road between Patriarch Grove and the White Mountain trailhead. The going is class 2 from any direction, and the mileage will vary (but never be much).
On 9-30-07, Phydeaux was kind enough to offer this update:
"Since a lot of persons seem to be using Limestone Pk, Sheep & Piute Mtns as "warm-ups" for White Mtn, the NFS has made an informal parking lot closer to the Piute/Sheep Mtns area. Instead of parking near the Patriarch Grove, take the road towards White Mountain. When you get to the top of the first rise (White Mtn will appear off in the distance), you can turn off and park on the flat area on the EAST side of the road. Start hiking up the hill on the west and you'll first top out on Limestone Peak, can traverse to nearby Sheep Mtn, then traverse once more to Piute Mtn. A relaxing 4-5 hr hike."
Red TapeNone that I’m aware of.
When To ClimbSummer or fall is ideal.
The peak could also be done in spring or winter, but expect a long hike 8000+ feet up from the desert floor below or a relentless slog along the unplowed (and long) dirt road.
CampingA few miles off of highway 168 along the White Mountain Road is the Grandview Campground. There are a few dozen nice sites, all of which are free and available on a first-come first-served basis.
The campground is only open May to October. Being at over 8500 feet, the campground makes for a nice spot to acclimate before heading to points higher, such as White Mountain, etc.
Mountain ConditionsHere’s a weather link for Big Pine, California. Since the Inyo-White Mountains lie in the rain shadow of the Sierra, conditions tend to be somewhat better, and certainly drier, than those in the nearby Sierra. That doesn’t mean, though, that the Whites don’t get their fair share of snow, rain, wind and lightning.
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