I'm on the mend from a broken finger during my last outing up Mount Williamson. There might not be any rock climbing on my agenda, but that didn't slow me down from bagging another Sierra peak. Last year, in October, I squeezed in a shoulder-season summit bid for Mt. Langly, in keeping with that tradition I set sights on another 14er almost one year to the date.
The objective was White Mountain Peak, or simply White Mountain. Standing 14,252' above sea level, it's the 3rd tallest mountain in California (behind Mt. Whitney and Mt. Williamson) and the highest peak in Mono County and the White Mountains range.
White Mountain has a reputation for being "the easiest 14er" and it's not without good reason. The trail to the top is essentially a large, low incline fire road, this means there is no complex navigation or technical terrain, just walk the dirt road! It's also minimal work, relatively speaking to the rest of the mountains of this magnitude. The metrics to get up are around 7-8 miles (each way) and 3,000' gain from the trailhead.
All that being said, I don't believe ANY California 14er is a gimme. The altitude alone kicks your butt, and particular on this mountain, getting up the mountain road to the trailhead is long and difficult.
James, Luis, Gino and I met Friday September 30th, 2016 after work. We all jumped in Jame's SUV and headed to the Sierras. We left Los Angeles around 6 or 7pm and stopped at Chronic Tacos in Palmdale on the way up. Our plan was to drive as close to the trailhead as possible that night and day hike the mountain the next day. The road up to the trailhead is notorious for being windy, rocky, requiring high clearance and slow-going. We had a walk-in campsite staged as a back up plan if we became too uncomfortable on the road up.
We had an E.T.A. of like 11pm or midnight maybe, but slow-going is an understatement! We had an entertaining ride up as I DJ'ed 90's rock and alternative and drank several sodas just to keep awake. We made it all the way to the trailhead where most people bivy in what's just a spacious parking lot. There is an outhouse but no amenities. It was seriously chilly, at around 11,500' above sea level. We took out sleep systems and hit the sack, I looked at my watch right before I feel asleep and was 2AM!!!! I left work at 4pm to meet these guys, so it was 10 hours from work to the trailhead, jeez!
The plan was to hit the trail around 7am, we were gonna hike the peak and then head back to L.A. that night to have Sunday for rest and relaxation. I had a zero degree down bag, and slept in a down jacket and bivy sack so I slept fine. I woke with with frost on my bag and apparently Luis and Gino highly regretted bringing the 30 degree bags because it was COLD!
I woke up at 6:30am, to a amazing sun rise in front and behind me. 4.5 hours of sleep, UGH! James slept in the car wearing this poncho while Luis and Gino slept icy in the tent.
I slept in my bivy like a sausage, nice and warm but would have been nice to get about 4 more hours of sleep before the hike. We woke up, geared up, and headed to the trail by 7:30am. It was a cold start and we were eager to let the sun hit us.
Below is "THE GATE" Everyone refers to this gate, it's the trailhead and the gate is locked at all times. This is THE GATE you drive up for this "easy" hike. The White Mountain area is used for all types of scientific research, you pass multiple buildings and areas where the University of California studies the effects of high altitude on physiology.
Right after getting passed the gate we were treated to excellent views of the Palisade Mountain Range, where just a couple months back Luis and I completed the Thunderbolt to Sill Traverse. Funny thing is, when we were out there we were looking at White Mountain Peak, now it's gone full circle!
Not far up the road you get to Barcroft Station, where much of the research happens. There is even a large carral of sheep, apparently they use them to assist in their altitude studies.
Keep on keeping on, the hike starts out very mild, rolling hills, quite flat and fast. One might even say "boring" and not exactly very atmospheric, but that's only after being spoiled backpacking areas like Little Lakes Valley.
About 3 to 4 miles down the trail you get your first glimpse of White Mountain Peak. To be honest, after walking such a mild trail so far, it's a bit of an overwhelming view because you know that 3,000' gain is going to hit you all at once. The summit is the obvious high point in the photo below, sandwiched between two other unnamed peaks.
Luis and Gino were fairly immune to the thin air but James and myself, especially myself, got a serious case of mountain sickness. I was moving so sluggish and felt like vomiting the whole second half of the hike. As we passed the 13,500' altitude it was becoming increasingly worse. James was sticking close by and his positive encouragement saved my ass. I felt like my feet had magnets on them and I could barely drag them across the Earth's surface.
At just below 14,000' I was really ill. The one "cure" for my altitude sickness is my summut fever! I was not coming back her to do this again, I was going to see that summit and bag this peak.
James and I started taking rest steps and several breaks really often. At one point, we literally had to just lay down on some flat rocks right off the switchbacks, OHHHH I FEEL SO SICK!!!
We pushed the final stretch and upon getting to the summit, I immediately just laid down in a wind shelter made of rocks. Luis and Gino had probably been waiting 40min to an hour for us to arrive. We were pretty worked, it was 2pm. That's SLOW seeing as it was 7.5 miles and we left at 7:30am. Not my best performance but we handled business.
After our much needed rest, it was business as usual signing into the summit registry. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE signing in to these books. It's really cool to read the names and dates of previous ascents and dig around the strange items people leave in the box. This particular registry might be my favorite one, it's HUGE! Like a treasure chest, I enjoyed a thorough dig around in there. There were signs, flags, stickers, business cards, notebooks, a little time capsule thing with a marriage love note and more. Really cool! Signed the books, this was my 9th California 14er to date and my 7th 14,000' mountain this year!
There was an American flag in the box that made for an epic summit photo!
And of course we took our summit selfie with a timer on the phone camera. DREAM TEAM!
After a good meal at the top, it was time to go. I had caught a huge 2nd/3rd wind and the descent wasn't too bad. My altitude illness was subsiding I dropped lower and lower towards the trailhead.
It was a bit humbling to have to head UP many of the backsides of the rolling hills on the hike back and the air and breeze was brisk. Light gloves and hat brisk. Summer in the Sierras is over brisk.
We were pretty beat by the time we got back to the car. Around 16ish miles roundtrip. it was getting late, by the time we winded down the mountain road, and stopped for dinner, got back to L.A., and walked in my house around 1am!
What a wild 24 hours, big Saturday, another peak on my list ticked off, and had all of Sunday to celebrate! Take that weekend!
Below are some metric from Luis's watch on the hike in (one way.)