I drove into Big Pine after dark, and was now only about and hour away from the trailhead of White Mountain Peak. My bike was secured to the roof rack on my Outback. I’ve been riding a hard-tail for about two years now after damaging the frame of my Pro Flex full suspension bike. I transferred the XT components and the Girvin shock to a Cannondale frame. After some heavy riding in the last few seasons, I don’t entirely trust that everything will function properly on the rebuilt bike for too much longer.
I headed up to Westgard Pass and then onto White Mountain Road. After about nineteen miles the road turned to dirt, I was surprised at the length of it. The lights of Bishop passed far below on the left, then faintly disappeared behind, and the road went on. I finally reached the parking lot (12,000’) at 11:30 PM and was struck with an unexpected sight. Out of the ten cars/trucks parked there, mine was the only one without a fortress of chicken wire or even more elaborate walls built around the base of the vehicle. There was a marmot problem here that I wasn’t aware of.
Even though I was exhausted from the nearly nine hour trip, the discomfort of sleeping in the trunk of my car and a few concerns kept me from sleeping for too long. In my sleepy state I imagined hose-hungry marmots circling my unprotected car while I was attempting to bike higher then I have climbed, Mt Shasta being the highest for me to date. The other concern was acclimation. I had just come from sea level and did not know the affects of a fast aerobic ascent on a bike. I have biked to the top of Mt Tamalpias about seventy-five times on a series of trails that adds up to about 3000’ of vertical climbing in about twenty-two miles, but all done about10,000’ lower.
All I could think about was a story a friend told me about an ascent she had made with her parents of White Mountain Peak. They were all experienced climbers knowing the affects of acclimation and altitude, but the mom wound up projectile vomiting from AMS on the descent. I was sure it was going to happen to me. The White Mountain service road makes for an easy route, but a misleading ascent at that elevation.
After one of my doze sessions I opened my eyes and first light had begun. A few minutes later rustling came from neighboring cars and sleeping bags. A boy scout unit was right next to me. About eight young troops were lined up like sardines on the dirt. Things started well when a neighboring climber pointed out that some neglected chicken wire had blown a hundred feet away from someone who left the day before. I ran out there to retrieve it and secured it around the base of my car with rocks, then proceeded with preparations for the ride.
Once my lightweight pack was composed of food and clothing, I secured a cable lock on the outside in case I needed to stash the bike part way up due to some unforeseen difficulty. I laced up and velcroed my biking shoes and headed off at 7:05 AM before about twenty people hit the trail. The first few miles of the road are wide and at a mellow grade. For the first mile I took to a real slow pace, staying in or near granny gear to see how things went. No problem, so I really stepped up the pace. I shortly reached the Bancroft Research Facility (12,470’) and a fenced off pen with about thirty sheep.
The next half-mile went up a steeper section with sand and loose rocks. This required a little navigation in spots, and the climb itself added to the difficulty, but it was easily done. The trail crested and gradually dropped a short distance on to a plateau which lead to another small gradual climb, and then to the summit block. My energy boosted with this little downhill section, and my climbing/biking metabolism was up and running by this point.
The next little hill had a few sandy spots and rocks, which were easily avoidable. This then dropped down a few hundred feet through one of the rockiest trails I have ever biked or hiked. The dirt was not visible through the abundant rocks. I descended halfway cautiously with a foot sticking out hillside to help discourage any flips. Partway down I wished I had my helmet on, which was strapped to my pack for the descent from the summit. Of course I didn’t stop, and fortunately didn’t crash either.
Next came the long gradual climb up the last 1000’ to the summit. A few of the switchbacks were steep, but this went well until just below the summit where trail conditions were very tricky with loose rocks on top of loose gravel. Whoever has been able to ride this section is kick’n ass. I resorted to pushing by bike for the last two-three hundred feet or so.
I was the first to reach the top that day. It was 9:25 AM, the ascent took 2:20. I was surprised it was over. There is nothing hidden about the summit on this mountain, the research building (more like a room) on top stares down at you the whole way up. There is also no missing the summit registry box, this is by far the biggest one I have seen. It is the size of a regular cooler. A quick glance through the sign in log unveiled that at least two others had biked up within the prior month. It could have been a delirious state I was in, but if I read it correctly, some guy had ridden to the summit from Bishop. This would have been 9000’ vertical and would have been up Silver Canyon Road adding another 23 miles one way. . . He expressed tears of joy, I’d be crying from pain myself. I signed the register and ended with ‘Now I can find out whether biking is quicker then glissading. . .’
Now was the fun part, I strapped the helmet on and let’er fly. This trail was really good for a cross-country ride. I tapped breaks to control speed, round corners and dodge rocks. I was beginning to have fun, then I started passing people on their way up and I had to grin.
At the bottom of the ‘summit block’ I reached the really rocky section. I elected to hike up a non maintained trail to the top of the middle hill which skipped the rocky road. You can see the trail from the descent off the summit, but not from the approach. At the top, I jumped back into the saddle and cruised all the way back. Riding up to the first hill just above the Bankroft Research Facility was a chore, but it only took a few minutes.
From the middle hill to the first I stopped at least five times to people waving me down asking how the ascent/descent was on a bike, you could tell they were jealous. And of course there was the ‘annoyed hiker’ who flaunted off the trail, eyes rolled back, and sneered "Are there any more of you?" There were, I saw three more bikers headed up, but only one looked like he would make it.
I reached the parking lot in 1:04, although stopping to talk with people slowed that quite a bit. I was humored to find that cars had parked on both sides of mine and were chicken-wireless, but no marmots were around.
STATS from my bike computer
Distance: 15.85 miles
Total Time (riding): 2:50:10
Average Speed: 5.5 mph
Max Speed: 27.3 mph
Acclimate, acclimate, acclimate. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Bring 1-2 tubes and a patch kit. I only brought one tube and didn’t blow one, but if I had blown two, it would have been a long haul. The trail has many sharp rocks.
I believe that with the proper amount of rest, proper acclimation and a regular sized hydration pack, CTC could be done in under 2:30 or quicker.
For anyone who is an avid Mt biker and plans to climb White, this is a perfect opportunity for a unique descent down a great trail.