The 15 miles
out and back White Mountain Peak hike will take you to the third highest peak
in California (14,252 ft). The hike is tough (overall 3,500 ft elevation), but
doable, and will take you through a rugged and beautiful mountain desert. The
summit of White Mountain Peak offers great 360 views from the Eastern Sierras California
to Nevada mountains. On your way to the hike trailhead, you will enjoy visiting
the Ancient Bristlecone Forest groves, some of the trees are up to 5000 years
Where? : The hike
trailhead is located at the end of Bristlecone Pine Forest Scenic Byway dirt
When? : Summer only, the
road is covered with snow at winter, it is close usually from late October
through late June or early July (depending on snow).
Due note 1: Remember that
you are at high altitude, and altitude sickness (AMS) can be deadly, as always listen
to your body and do not push it.
Due note 2: This is a high
mountain range, far from any service, bring enough fuel with you, nearest gas
station is at highway 395 (Big Pine or Bishop).
Due note 3: Make sure you
have a good spare tire and that you know how to replace a flat.
Due note 4: Bring enough water
and food and watch the weather and potential storms. High temperatures in summertime
at the mountain top are around 73f so you should plan for potential cold and
windy situations, including summer thunderstorms with lightning.
Due note 5: Surprisingly,
even though this is a remote mountain range far away from any nearby settlement
you will find that you have a good cell reception in many locations along the
Due note 6: You don’t need
a permit to hike to the White Mountain Peak or park for the night at the
trailhead (end of the dirt road).
My thoughts: I visited here
twice, I do not count my winter attempt as visit, and like it every time. It is
amazing experience to walk among almost 5,000 old trees, everyone with its
unique appearance. The mountain range landscape is also unique, open white and
somehow rounded unlike the Sierra ragged range.
The hike to White
Mountain, 13,000 ft summit, 3rd highest in California is highly recommended
hike, I had a lot of fun doing it.
No matter what
your plans are and even if the hike to White Mountain summit is all what you
want to do you can’t be here and not visit and see the oldest living trees on
Along the road
there are few Ancient Bristlecone Forest groves, some of the trees are up to
5000 years old, shaped, and gnarled by thousands of years of wind and desert
Bristlecone Pines grow in the white limestone soil that gives the White
Mountains their name. You can enjoy them even with doing shorts hikes in each
Overnight visit planning that
includes White Mountain peak hike:
- Plan to arrive
around noon to the visitor center at the park entrance (end of the paved road),
- Hike the
short, 1 mile, Discovery Trail near the visitor center, many of the most beautiful
trees are here.
- Keep driving on
the dirt road to Patriarch Grove (plan for 40 min drive)
- Visit Patriarch
Grove for some time (plan for 1 hour visit and short hiking)
- Plan to be before
sunset at the end of the road 4 miles after Patriarch Grove (20 minutes’ drive from
- Wake Up early morning
and hike to White Mountain peak, plan for ~8 hr hike round trip.
- Drive your
car back on the dirt road and if you want on your way back visit more places.
- if you have
time another hiking option is the 4.5 miles hike at Methuselah Grove near the
Mountains extend for approximately 60 mi as a greatly elevated plateau above Owens
Valley from it east.
point in the range is White Mountain Peak (14,252 ft) is the third-highest
summit in California. This peak is an extinct volcano rising about 1,600 ft above
the plateau surface of the mountain ridge.
hike from the gate to the summit is about 15 miles with total elevation gain
during the roundtrip of over 3500 feet.
The drive to the trailhead:
From Big pine
on highway 395 head east on highway 168, after 13 miles turn left into White
Mountain Road, taking this road up the mountain ridge for 10 miles will bring
you to the visitor center and end of the paved road.
After arriving to
visitor center the last 16 miles are on a dirt road called the Bristlecone Pine
Forest Scenic Byway. Driving this dirt road doable in a car, but you need to
drive slowly not to get a flats tire, 4x4 is much faster and safer.
Plan on 30-40 minutes
(one-way) drive from the visitor center to Patriarch Grove and additional 15-20
min to the end of the road parking lot.
You can camp at
the end of the road parking lot trailhead. It’s first-come, first-serve, and
free. The area exposed to wind. The campsite is primitive, but it has a
My Oct. 2021 visit to the White Mountains and the hike story:
This time it
will be a long story, you need patience to read it, or you skip and enjoy the
The goal of my October
weekend trip to the eastern part of the Sierra Mountain was to visit North Lake
near Bishop California and take fall color photos. Last year I arrived two
weeks too late, and the Aspen tree leaves were already down so this year I came
My original plans
were that this will be one overnight trip, drive east, see the fall colors, and
drive back home.
The cold and
magical early morning I spend at Bishop North Lake surrounded by fallen trees
was great fun and I really enjoyed it.
Few blog links
to Bishop North Lake and fall colors in the eastern Sierra:
This is a story
about how without any planning I climb one of the highest mountains in
California (14,300 feet).
Changing my plans
After my North Lake
visit, I decided to change my original plans and not to drive back home that
day but rather to continue for additional day.
Now I need to
decide what to do here.
On the one hand
there are many more places I have not visited in this area of California and many
other places where you can see fall colors, on the other hand I thought that if
I am already in this area near Bishop I can visit the White Mountains and the
oldest tree in the world, trees that live about 5000 years !!!
something that was already 1500 years old at the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs.
I just can’t understand how trees, living organism, can live so many years. You
can actually see their old age, scarred, convoluted twisted and full of “character”.
I already visited
the White Mountains a year ago, but it was a very short visit, I did not have
time ack then.
Well, I decided
to drive to the White Mountains and see the ancient trees.
I thought to visit
there during the afternoon and evening, go back down to the Bishop valley to
sleep at night and at the next day visit many others fall colors locations on
the way back home.
Driving to the White Mountains:
After a short drive
to an area near Bishop that included a nice off-road drive (photos in another blog
post), I headed up the road that leads to the White Mountain.
about an hour up the mountain (starting with highway 168 and then turning left
into White Mountain Rd.) brought me to the first section of the White
up the mountain, at a road bend, there is an observation point over the Owens valley,
when I came here the valley below and the Sierra Mountains to the west were fully
covered with fire smoke. Shortly after the observation point you will reach the
ancient tree visitor center (Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest).
Visiting Ancient Bristlecone Pine
I parked in the
parking lot near the Methuselah Grove Visitor Center and walked for a short
walk among the amazing trees. I was here before, so I knew which round to
choose and what I want to see.
It's hard to
convey the feeling I had in words, walking near something so old, the trees are
beautiful, and every tree looks different, almost like humans everyone has his unique
personality. I took so many pictures, to engrave the sights and feelings in my memory.
My plans were to
take some pictures at night, the old trees with background of stars and after
that to drive down back to Bishop and sleep in the valley.
The day was
quite smoky, there are still fires near Sequoia Park, think of a fire 60 miles away
and its smoke is still noticeable. I did not know if I will have at night a clear
sky with visible stars and it was still early, around 3pm in the afternoon, so I
have a lot of time to wait until 8-9pm.
I decided to
continue driving additional 13 miles into the mountains to visit another ancient
tree grove location. I never visit that remote section of the ridge and I thought
to myself that it would be interesting to explore.
After the visit I will return
to the visitor center at sunset to photograph the trees.
visitor center towards the mountains the road is a dirt road. The dirt road is maintained
in good condition, after driving for about half an hour in beautiful mountain landscape
I reached a junction with a clear sign indicating to turn right to the Patriarch
Grove. Soon after turning right, I reached the second place of the ancient
trees, Patriarch Grove.
In this forest grove
I did two relatively short trails that start at the parking lot.
trail and it will take you between the trees and ascend to a nearby observation
There were not
many people when I got there so it was fun. I took my time, walking slowly and enjoying
the short hike in this area. When I finished the hike the parking lot was full of
jeeps that arrived while I was hiking, my visit timing was excellent.
Driving to the end of the road:
I left the Patriarch
Grove area and then I reached back to the T junction. Left will take me back
down towards the visitor center where I wanted to photograph at night and if I turn
right the road will lead me deeper into the mountains, the signed say that road
ends after 4 miles.
I thought to
myself: “drive another 4 miles to the end of the road and then drive back down”,
it is only extra 30 minutes’ drive. If I’m already here, I will see the end of
the road and still have time to get back to the visitor center before sunset.
At the T
junction I turned right.
continued into the mountains, here it is an open landscape with no trees at all,
it is already above the height where trees can grow, and there were almost no
other vehicles in this remote section. The dirt road wind through the white exposed
mountains, it wasn’t uphill climb but rather the dirt road stays almost at the
After 4 miles drive,
I reached the end of the road and there to my surprise I saw a many cars and people
getting organized for a night sleep.
I asked people
what they are doing here, and they told me that from this parking lot begin 15 miles
out and back (with total of 3500 ft elevation gain) hiking trail that is leading
to the summit of the White Mountains peek, a 14,300 ft mountain. The third highest
point in California.
Some of the
groups that get organized for a night's sleep just finished the hike and told
me that most of the hike is not so difficult and only the last section is challenging
Now, I need to decide what to do:
If I want to hike,
I will need to stay here for the night. Hiking 15 miles with a serious ascent can
take around 7-8 hours. I did not plan to hike at all on this trip, so I did not
bring hiking gear (I only had my cameras bag with me). In addition, to sleep at
11,000 ft may give me headache and my original plans were to photograph the
trees near the visitor center at night. On top of all the above reasons sleeping
here will add 1 hour to my driving time home, from this point it will be at
least 8 hours of continuous driving ....
As you can guess,
I chose to stay
for the hike, this place is quite remote and less likely that I will be here
again soon where at the area of the trees near the visitor center I for sure
I’m in a good
shape, just finished 4 days, 70 mils long backpacking hike in the Sierra and
running 4 times a week. This hike looks like as a doable one, and not less
important this will be my first 14000+ ft summit….
Decide to do the hike:
I start thinking
when I need to start my hike: My hiking past is around 2.5 miles/hr (when I’m
not stopping for taking pictures 😊) and here
there is also a 3500 ft climb, so I planned to hike about 7-8 hours (take into
my plan one hour spare). Another 8-9 hours to drive back home. If I want to be at
home by 9pm in the evening the following day I need to start walking early,
started to get dark, and it started to get windy, the temperatures dropped quickly,
and it got cold. The sun sank quickly into the cloud of smoke in the west that
covered the entire Sierra ridge.
Despite the remoteness
of this location, because of its height there is probably a relay station on
one of the peaks, there was a good cell phone reception. At night I downloaded
the hiking route to my phone app + notify family on my plan change.
I organized myself
a light dinner and prepare a coffee in a thermos for tomorrow morning.
I arranged the
bag I had with me so I will carry only what I needed for the hike and no more. Emergency
kit including a satellite phone I always carry with me, enough water for half a
day hiking, few power-bar for food and all my photo equipment (I have a lot). I
want that my bag to be fully prepared for the morning so I will not forget
As in most of
my long road trips, I went to sleep in the back of my Toyota 4runner, it is
very organized and comfortable and much better than a tent.
It was quite
cold that night, about freezing point but it was OK in my sleeping bag, and I
did not have any headache (good for me).
The early morning hike:
I got up at 5 am
in the morning using alarm clock, it was cold and complete dark, I immediately
saw from the vehicle window all the stars, there was no smoke in the sky at all,
the night wind clears them away.
It took me
about 5 minutes to get out of the sleeping bag, after that I got dressed
quickly, I did not have gloves or a good walking jacket (as explained, I did
not plan to hike) but luckily, I had a good wool beanie with me.
I pack my bag and immediately start the hike at complete darkness. I wanted to start
walking and get warm-up a bit, I just wanted to start moving and I even forgot
to drink the coffee I prepared the previous night.
For the first dark
hour despite the brisk walk and the ascent up the mountain it was quite cold,
mostly from the face wind, it is what it is, I kept going.
The entire hiking
route is on an old 4x4 road so there is no chance of making a navigation mistake
on the route even in the dark. After walking for about 2 miles from my starting
point I reach few buildings. This is a research station that belong to University
of California, this is the highest research facility in North America. Half a
mile later I passed the small star observatory on the top of the hill.
About an hour into
the hike, I start to see a light at the east, just after 7am it was sunrise,
the sky was completely clear of cloud or any smoke.
The trail keeps
ascending and with the first light I can see the top of the high mountain
rising above the ridge in front of me.
The whole area
looks very special, completely exposed and with relatively round mountains, unlike
the jagged mountain ranges that you used to see in the Sierra mountains.
it started to get warm up a bit but there was also a cold wind. I continued up
the trail, getting closer to the last steep climb section on the mountain side.
The climb of the last hike section to the summit looks steep but the trail
ascends and winds in a zig zag, so it seems OK.
walk so far, I have not seen anyone but at that viewpoint before the last ascent
section I saw someone about half a mile in front of me, he was already in the
steep section and seemed to be walking quite slowly, he probably starts to hike
I started to climb;
this section of the hike is about 1 mile straight up to the mountain summit.
twenty minutes walking uphill, I stopped for arranging my breaths and saw
something with a prominent brown color in front of the black color background of
the rocks. It was quite far, and I did not see what it is exactly, but it looks
like it is moving. I replaced the camera lens and put on my 150-600 zoom, with
the camera zoom I saw it was a group of mountain goats, Desert Bighorn Sheep to
be more exactly.
thinking too much, I cut straight off the trail and started to climb the ridge,
it was easy to find a way on the exposed rocks, it was straight up the steep slope,
it was a killer climb.
As I progress,
they moved farther away from me, at one point only two young mountain goats stay
still and looked at me.
arrange my breathing and not move like a leave in the wind, I finally managed
to take some pictures, then the sheep decided it was enough and disappeared on
the other side of the ridge.
I can’t chase the
sheep, so I head back to the trail direction, once I was back at the trail I keep
progressing to the top of the mountain.
On my way up I pass
the hiker I sawn earlier, it turns out that this is an older woman who walked
with her dog, she progresses quite slowly but consistently up the trail, she
said she is fine, well done for her.
The ascent was
quite challenging but a reasonable effort for such a climb and high altitude.
In total, including my chase after the sheep it took me a little over three
hours to get from the parking lot to the summit, it was just after 8am in the
At the top
there is a small area with big and locked research station stone house and
nothing more than that.
I was at the
summit alone, I rest drink and eat something, and after about 10-15 minutes I
started my hike back, this time, most of the route is descent.
The pace on the
descent was good and after about 1.5 miles of walking back I reached the level
section of the trail. At some point I raised my head and saw a group of mountain
goats at a distance of about 100 meters from the trail. I can't really explain
what made me stop and look up and around at this specific point. The seep completely
blends with the yellow/brown background, and they were in the direction of the
sun but apparently something caught my eye.
I do not know
if this was the same seep group I saw up in the mountain, probably yes.
This section of
the trail was relatively flat, so I made a big circle and approached the goats
from the direction of the sun.
The goats saw
me but did not get too excited and continued to eat the low grass.
I stayed at a
reasonable distance where they felt unheartened and looked at them for about
20 minutes. It was peaceful, the sheep, the mountains, the breeze, the hot sun warming
my back and me, it was peaceful serene experience.
I would have
stayed with them even longer, but I had to keep going.
When I got back
home, I searched a bit, and it seems that what I saw are not goats but rather
sheep 😊, probably the more common type, Desert Bighorn Sheep.
encounter with the sheep’s my hiking pace down was fast, I met about 3 other
groups of people who were on their way up.
I went through
the university research buildings, this time at daylight and reach my starting
point where my car was waiting for me.
I arrived a
little before 12 noon, i.e., six and a half hours, quite a reasonable pace if
you take into account the serious ascent, and the chase after the sheep.
Overall, the hike
is not so challenging except for the last mile ascent the summit, with beautiful
mountain views to Nevada and the Sierra when there is no smoke, a highly
This hike is
considered to be the easiest hike to a mountain peak above 14,000 feet in
California and that is also my impression (even though this is my only one so
The long way back home:
At the parking
lot I quickly got organized, changed my shirt, eat something light, number 2,
and then start driving back on the dirt road down the mountain ridge towards
I did not stop
at any point on my way, I did not have time.
I refueled in
the first place I can (Bishop) and continued driving, passing east through the
mountain pass that crosses Yosemite Park (Route 120 is an amazing mountain pass),
I did not stop for anything along the road in the park, I have no time and it
drive from the park, at eight in the evening I arrived San Francisco Bay area.
It was a long
day, 5am wake up, 7 hours hike, 15 mils and 3,500 ft elevation gain and additional 8 hours of driving back home, I
was very tired but happy
I really glad
things rolled out as they did, If I stick to my original plan, I was able to
photograph few more places with yellow autumn colors, but this White Mountain summit
hike was probably on-time opportunity.
this story until the end of it deserves a prize ... more pictures from this