White Mountain Peak, located northeast of the city of Bishop on US-395, is the third highest peak in California and the highest outside of the Sierra Nevada. It is part of the Inyo-White Mountains which are composed of some of the oldest sedimentary rocks in California with fossils nearly 600 million years old. The White and Inyo Mountains to the south are in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada which creates a striking desert-like appearance and the perfect conditions for the world's oldest living trees, the Ancient Bristlecone Pines. Methuselah, the oldest of these trees, is over 4,700 years old and tree-rings have been used to create a record dating back over 8,600 years. These trees are viewable off of White Mountain Road (see below). The summit provides excellent views of the Eastern Sierra Nevada as well as Owens Valley.
The 7-mile South Face route (class 1) is the most popular one and follows a 4WD road to the summit making it the easiest route to the summit of any California 14er, a fact supported by the many mountain bike and now unicycle ascents. The trailhead is the Barcroft gate at 12,000' making for a gentle ascent. A more challenging route is the 10-mile class 2 West Ridge Route (9,000 foot elevation gain) which may be gained from Jeffery Mine or Milner Canyons (See Erik Siering's June 3, 2000 DPS Trip Report). Non-winter ascents generally take several hours to a day, however, many beginners underestimate the need to acclimatize.
SOUTH FACE FROM CALIFORNIA: The trailhead for this route is the Barcroft gate on White Mountain Road. From California's Owens Valley, take US-395 to Big Pine and drive east on California Highway SR-168 into the White Mountains. In 13 miles you will reach Westgard Pass and the junction with White Mountain Road. Turn north (left) on to White Mountain Road and drive north until you reach the Barcroft gate, driving past Schulman Grove, Crooked Creek, and Patriarch Grove. The pavement ends just after Schulman Grove (about 9.5 miles from Westgard Pass), and is replaced by a gravel 4WD (at least high clearance) road for the remaining 17 miles.
Although a high ground clearance 4WD vehicle isn't strictly necessary for this last portion of the road, it certainly makes life go much faster. Low ground clearance cars, e.g. Acura Integra, have been known to take "at least an hour" for the last 17 miles (ref: 2ndage) while Toyota Tundra trucks with the TRD Off-Road Package have been known to tear up the road at 40+ mph. Also see the reference to the VW Passat in the June 16, 2001 summit log.
SOUTH FACE FROM NEVADA: Connect with California Highway SR-168 west off of Nevada Highway SR-266 at the town of Oasis. Drive over Gilbert Pass and into Deep Springs Valley before arriving at Westgard Pass and the marked intersection with White Mountain Road. Take this north and follow the directions above (from California).
No permits or entry fees are required to climb, hike, ski, or mountain bike this peak.
When To Climb
Generally, people climb June to October, but ascents are possible year round. White Mountain Road and others are not plowed during the winter and may be gated when blocked by snow. If you choose to do the South Face when the road is blocked with snow, it's an additional ~26.5 mile ski approach to Barcroft Gate for the final 7 miles to the summit. Contact the White Mountain Ranger Station (see the Mountain Conditions section below) for the latest weather and road conditions.
Winter condition notes from smeek12: I just got back from White Mountain, March 30th (2004), and the total round trip distance for the South side was 52 miles, even though the rangers told me 44. Also, pay close attention to the roads-the signs are terrible and are often contradictory to each other. I would've gotten lost if I didn't have my GPS. I also climbed the west ridge last February, and it cost me a full day to figure out where to start-all maps I have seen are outdated. Updated maps of the dirt roads can be found at a restaurant/convenience store in the town of Chalfant. I didn't catch the name of this store, but the town is very small, and the store is on the north end of town on the east side of the 6.
Due to the high summit elevation, many people coming from Owens Valley like to spend a night sleeping at high enough elevation to properly acclimatize. While there are restrictions against camping (and stove use outside of vehicles) within the boundaries of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest straddling White Mountain Road, camping is allowed outside of the this area with a campfire permit that is available from USFS field staff and ranger stations (see Mountain Conditions below for contact info). Some popular options for those using the South Face route include:
Barcroft gate trailhead (12,000'): There is space to pitch a tent and a couple of fire rings. No reservations are needed for camping but a campfire permit is required and available from USFS office in Bishop. (Ref: cdickinson)
Grandview Canyon campground (8,500'): No reservations
Fossil, Juniper, Pinon, and Poleta group campgrounds (7,200'): Reservations available via National Recreation Reservation Center, Online, Phone: (877) 444-6777.
White Mountain Peak is essentially an exposed desert mountain, with no water or shade along the way to the summit. This also means there are no trees or other natural barriers to block the wind. You should be prepared for a windy day any day and although it doesn't rain much, people have been known to get caught in rain and lightning. Also be prepared for sudden snow storms beginning in October. For up to date weather information, check the following: