Ascent of White Mountain Peak

13 Aug 1995 - by Tony Cruz

One other climber and myself bagged White Mountain on Aug. 12. We camped on the summit and hiked out on Aug. 13.

We began our journey at about 7 p.m. from the Bay Area on Friday evening. Given our late start and a moonlit side trip to the Yosemite Valley (the falls still looked great!), we only got as far as Toulomne Meadows on Friday nite. The Toulomne Meadows campground was closed, so we camped next to a hiker parking lot at the edge of the meadow.

Like clockwork, we got a wakeup call from a ranger on Saturday morning. She uttered the obligatory phrases, with just the right amount of outrage . I replied with just the right amount of humility. We survived this encounter with the wilderness police without incident.

Due to the heavy snowfall and runoff this year, the White Mountain road is much rougher than it was even last year, according to the rangers. They recommend not venturing farther than the Patriarch Grove (of Bristlecone Pines), without a high clearance vehicle. I found the condition of the road much worse than I observed on my drive a few summers ago. However, following the rangers' advice would have meant walking 3 1/2 more miles, each way, so we struggled to the gate (trail head) with my Civic. We had to chuck stones in a couple of sections, but we made it unscathed.

We did not make it to the trail head on White Mountain and begin our hike until 1 p.m. The trail is actually a continuation of the White Mountain Road and it goes the way to the summit! There was no naturally available drinkable water on the trail, except for a clean patch of snow on the summit ridge. We took 4 liters a piece, just in case. This was more than enough. The few, lower patches of snow that remained were filthy or contaminated with red algae. I am told that potable water is available at the U. C., Bancroft research lab which is on the trail, two miles in.

According to a ranger at the visitor center, the currently accepted elevation for White Mountain is 14,243 feet. She said that some visual measurements made from the summit a few years ago made some people excited with the possibility that White is higher than Whitney. However, these measurements did not take the curvature of the earth into account.

The views from both the White Mountain Road and the summit itself are unique in that the panorama of the Sierra escarpment is nowhere else so dramatic from the ground. For hours, I enjoyed fabulous views of the Palisades and beyond, and the Ritter Range and beyond (and everything in between). The vantage points on White allow you to see over the foothills and beyond the canyons into the glacial high country.

During the late afternoon, a gigantic triangular shadow extended from the peak for miles across the haze to the east of the mountain. In the morning the shadow reappeared and this time it seemed to extend beyond the Sierra Crest. This jarred a forgotten memory of a similar apparition I saw on Orizaba a few winters ago.

The night on the summit was nearly windless and did not feel cold; however some of our water bottles partly froze. We were on the peak at the peak (no pun intended) of the annual August meteor storm, but the moon was too bright for us to see any shooting stars. My companion, who is a visitor from France, said that he "left his liver on the peak." The French often blame ailments on their livers; in this case my companion referred to a bit of elevation- induced nausea. He felt better after we returned to the car and checked out the Ancient Bristle Cone Forest, a few miles south of the summit.

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