Desolation in the Whites: A White Mountain Traverse

Desolation in the Whites: A White Mountain Traverse

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 37.56200°N / 118.15247°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 29, 2011
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Fall

In Hiding

WhiteThe White Mountain ridge
White Mountain had defeated us the week prior, it was a tantalizing affair having gained 9,000 ft. from Highway 264, just 3 miles north of Dyer, Nevada only to be turned back because of an enormous hail and snow storm that forcefully slithered and sliced through us on September 24th, 2011. Defeat. Chilled to the bone. An exercise in futility is the pathetic froth that keeps building up and keeps bringing us back. This defeat was of the especially bitter variety, since I had attempted White Mountain from the east in June 2009, only to turn back with heads turned low and my sights set high for a White Mountain-Boundary-Montgomery range traverse for the future.
WhiteFirst Daybreak on the Whites

This White Mountain range from the Nevada side is so tranquil, turning the somewhat easily accessible White Mountain into an elusive and hard earned prize, a trek of sorts with a knife-edge ridge finish.

From the highway, it was a 13.5 miles approach one way and an elevation gain of close to 10,000 ft. just to reach White Mountain. One would ascend a 5 mile wash along a rough dirt 4wd road to enter Leidy Creek canyon. The initial entrance into the canyon is one of my favorite spots. After being unrolled from a comfortable cocoon while traversing the desert floor in gradual steps of elevation gain in the night and the warm soft desert wind engaging in random temper tantrums, one becomes hidden.

Within the enclosure of Leidy creek canyon and at the mouth of the canyon, a strange gurgling and low rumbling noise begins, like a giant fish cleaning its gills. This was water gushing through old pipes--an old aqueduct system runs the length of the canyon, causing water to rush down into the desert floor below. Hiking this stretch back in the dark about 3 years ago on attempt #1 is when my obsession with desert canyons that hold water began. Further up canyon is the sparse scatterings of remains of an ancient, eerie, and secretive ranch nestled in the hills.
WhiteThe ranch

WhiteLeidy Creek

It is a strange environment, with fenced off tall grasses, the only collection of its kind, a rickety and slanted fence and an eternal water hole. A steep trail that turns faint climbs right above this ranch and gains the ridge which would allow us to scramble the rest of the way to the White Mountain ridge at elevation 13,400 ft.

Attempt 1

June 2009,

We encountered quite a few unexpected underground springs along the way higher up, passing through a strange, very soft and flattened out field of dry grasses. Lots of sharp irregular black rocks littered the field and jutted out unnaturally like tombstones, as if they were purposefully placed there.

The horizon and distances unrolled like a three dimensional crystal ball before your very eyes at this vantage point. The desert has its own way of reigning supreme, in more subtle ways.

The White Mountain ridge was heavy laden with fresh and recent snow, impeding on further efforts for a summit push as we were losing daylight and had only prepared for a dayhike effort of the peak from the east. As I would learn later on during subsequent efforts, the summit is indeed a substantial distance away once one tops out at the white mountain ridge.

WhiteWhite Mountain ridge on attempt 1
WhiteCrystal ball views

Attempt 2

September 24th, 2011,

WhiteStorm Wall

WhiteAn intimate moment with the enemy, on White Mountain ridge

We traverse over Perry Aiken flat, whatever water puddles remain look muddy and stagnant. The ground has an electrical charge to it, we had just dried out after the earlier stage of the approach, during which we persisted despite a preliminary hail storm that warned us of what there was to come.
Whiteat my feet

WhiteRunning from the storm earlier on the approach

From atop the ridge and crouching behind rocks, we watched the storm clouds approaching at a distance and overtaking us in a frenzy of loud booms and the ground shaking, but we were just being blown off our feet.
WhitePerry Aiken and stagnant puddles

Like the storm clouds, we felt wild and loose rushing down from the ridge tops after putting up a brief fight, a waiting game that was no match for the storm.
We yelled and hollered, releasing yelps and curses of pain and protest. The moment we passed down back onto Perry Aiken flat, it was like we had reached a different stratosphere, the winds had calmed.

WhiteAncient Bristlecone
WhitePreparing for battle

Attempt 3

September 28, 2011,

Perry Aiken flat is a calm and soothing meadow. It rolls under your feet and announces the final 2,500 ft. gain to the White Mountain ridgeline. Time flattens out forcing one into a gridlock of compulsion: a compelling need to move is equally matched by the a compelling need to stop. All is calm on the eastern front.


Like busy beetles burrowing into soft soil and random pebbles, we scurried and topped out on the White Mountain ridgeline with the unexpected surprise of a knife edge finish to the summit awaiting us.

WhiteApproaching the knife with White Mountain seen in the background as the farthest peak

WhiteThe knife edge

WhiteBallerina on the knife

The Journey Begins

We were breathing and panting like wolves on the run after having feasted amidst an energetic display of songbirds; we were shunned from the pack and had 20 miles to go to reach the home of conclusions.

The rest of the White Mountain ridge stretched out before us like a board, and our task was to hammer nails into it every centimeter of the way.

WhiteThe White Mountain Board

WhiteThe White Mountain Board

There is something about the symmetry of ridge traverses-a balancing out, an equalization of time and space, a beauty of movement in a straight purposeful arrow, the stringing of pearls on a long thread. Perhaps the great appeal to vast stretches of wilderness wanderings can be explained by the fact that it seems to mimic the architectural structure of the mind. The ridge traverse is like a task--the task of mapping out the mind. Perhaps the appeal is that it eliminates and recodes the map unreadable.



Pinball Machine

At times, you could feel your surroundings spread out before you like a pinball machine and you were like a ball being shot through it.
WhiteBackpacks below resemble a pinball amidst the open land


Left and right, up and down, side to side, sideways, crooked, the sky was circular, dome like and bent around deformed, punching holes through the sky.



A Hunter

The ridge traverse was like a ravishing act.

It is like the search for sustenance, a thorough inspection, collecting apples in the basket quickly while no one sees.

Places like these that one feels hidden, there is an overwhelming nothingness that allows one to expand into a somethingness.

The Black Snake

As we approached the first major valley, it was an elevation loss of 2,000 ft. that we had to regain and it was the only running water on the entire White Mountain ridge.

We walked down to the water like little animals, sitting down next to it like complacent little animals.

WhiteAnimals to the water

Whitecomplacent sitting

I started taking pictures like a possessed lunatic having come out of his hole for the first time in 12 years.

WhiteThe snake from afar

This valley and the long black snake was striking, natures pallet. The liquid, metallic black snake scurried on, deep and long, cutting the land in half.

WhiteThe Black Snake


The sky would sometimes open up, revealing white spaces and then seal back up again, in a seamless blue.

WhiteWhite gaps

Desolation is a White room

Nature works with one pallet, and us with a thousand each outdoing the other. We were touching foot on every inch of this ridge traverse, but it was untouchable.

WhiteNatures Pallet
WhiteNatures Pallet replicated

I was witness to sheer genius an artist could never dream up.

We had set up a bivy right before Dubois Peak, and one the night before right at the foothills of Perry Aiken flat.
WhiteThe sierra sunset is visible

It was a windy night at high altitude; 13,000 ft. with small plots of hardened snow littering the ground. A long and laborious night slammed us with an icy cold morning.
WhiteOrienting the self in the early morning, post bivy

WhiteA moment

We were like drenched rats scurrying towards Dubois Peak, hair raised trying to run away from the cold from one rock to the next in search of some kind of treasure and hastily posing for a summit shot.
WhiteAtop Dubois Peak at suns first rays

We crossed over the range, operating as conquerors. This conquering fad was outlining an agenda: we still had to conquer Boundary and Montgomery.

During moments in between moments, I thought that I'd rather stand like an eternal statue, feeling the grass growing between my feet. But Time told us to get busy.

WhiteApproaching Montgomery
WhiteApproaching Montgomery
WhiteA look back to the Jumpoff

WhiteMontgomery's distinctive summit cap; the White Mountain Range is now behind us.

The final few steps to Boundary Peak would reward us with the unmistakable sound recognizable in all times and contexts: human voices. These are the first humans we laid eyes on in three days. We made new friends, two older men who had hiked up to summit Boundary Peak that day. They were on their way down and would give us a ride back to our car, which was parked right off highway 264 at the southern tail end of the range traverse. They were heading that way. This was a relief and an event of chance luck and coincidence, saving us an 18 mile dirt road descent which made the final descent off Boundary Peak a gliding down of sorts, feather-light and joyful. After being frazzled from the nights relentless winds up at 13,000 ft. elev. we were basking in the sunshine; I was combing my hair and inspecting from afar the deep canyons of the White Mountain range below Boundary Peak; they were beckoning the curious explorer.
WhiteExperimenting with 3-D, descent from Boundary Peak

WhiteDownward and outward; the range is complete

Desolation is a white room with its door open, a door you could not close and the wind would rush in; a spectacle for the senses.

WhiteFall time in Boundary Peak Wildernss is in full swing

I was watching my feet move forward and hummed a philosophers lullaby inside my head.
Topo WhiteTopo White

Whites StormThe Whites and storm merging into one; the Whites enveloped by a storm right as we got out


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-7 of 7

RoryKuykendall - May 10, 2012 6:20 pm - Hasn't voted

So Cool

Looks like a fascinating trip. Well done.


PellucidWombat - May 15, 2012 1:12 am - Voted 10/10

Thanks for sharing

I have twice been repelled from doing the traverse by early June snowstorms. I'm glad to see you made it! I was wondering what that spring midway along the ridge looked like. Thanks for rekindling my interest in some high altitude hiking :-)


MoapaPk - May 15, 2012 10:33 am - Voted 10/10

Good on ya

I'm also interested in that spring!

Vitaliy M.

Vitaliy M. - May 15, 2012 3:13 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice TR

That’s a great photo of Matt on the ridge! He does look like a ballerina! haha

Sierra Ledge Rat

Sierra Ledge Rat - May 16, 2012 10:29 am - Voted 10/10


You get to some out-of-the-way cool spots. You're wimp, though. I woulda walked those last 18 miles.


Daria - May 16, 2012 1:43 pm - Hasn't voted


Thanks all. Wimp or not wimp, I definitely killed the wimp in me by recently doing an unsupported Badwater to Telescope and back to Badwater sufferfest.

I added a topo map that shows my route for anyone interested in doing this more remote version of the traverse.

This range is plagued with thunderstorms, right as we descended Boundary Peak and started driving out of there, a massive storm enveloped the range (added a picture of that too) We got out just in time!


madeintahoe - May 18, 2012 11:57 am - Voted 10/10

Love The landscape

Thank you for sharing your story! This area has always facinated me..something about those wide open high barren landscapes I love and find very beautiful and soothing!

Viewing: 1-7 of 7