Hiking White Mountain in California

Notes by piero scaruffi | See Travel resources | See Other California hikes

White Mountain Peak, the highest point in the White Mountains range, is the third highest peak in California, just 80m lower than Mount Whitney. The hike to the summit is a relatively easy 12km (by far the easiest to hike of all the 4000m mountains in California) because the trailhead is already at 3.800 meters of elevation.

Trail description

White Mountain Peak, the highest point in the White Mountains, rises to about 4,342 meters. It is the third highest peak in California, just 80 meters lower than Mount Whitney. The trailhead is at the closed gate before the White Mountain Research Station, at about 3,800 meters of altitude. The elevation gain is therefore only about 600 meters (compared with the almost 2000m of Whitney and more than 2,700m of Mt Williamson). The hike can be strenuous because of the altitude, not of the grade.
The hike to the summit is about 12 kms from the closed gate. First you hike to the research station (45'), then you hike to the observatory (the dome). From the observatory the trail goes down and then up again with a very mild grade. After this second pass (2h), the trail plunges down and crosses over to White Mountain Peak itself. At this point the house at the summit is clearly visible. This last part of the hike is a series of switchbacks that feel steeper than they are.
Expect about 3-4 hours to go up and 3 to come down. My 2006 time:
  • Station: 46'
  • Dome: 66'
  • Second Pass: 2h10'
  • Top: 3h 11'
  • Station: 5h15'
  • Gate: 5h45'

The White Mountains

The White Mountains receive very little rain year-round because the Sierra takes the majority of moisture from the Pacific storms. Most of the times, only strong dry winds reach the White Mountains. Annual precipitation is less than 30cm (mostly in the form of snow in winter). The White Mountains have the lowest amount of moisture in the air ever recorded anywhere on earth (0.5mm in the summer).
The mountains feature some of the oldest trees in the world, surpassing the giant sequoia of the Sierra by more than a millennium. August is the best month to see the wildflowers.
The White Mountains are mainly made of quartzitic sandstone and granite bedrock, with extensive outcrops of dolomite (limestone). The White Mountains are studied by geologists because of rocks as ancient as 500 million years. Fossils abound.

Directions from the Bay Area:


Take the I-580 EAST towards (I-880)/STOCKTON
Merge onto I-580 E. 47.1 km
Take I-205 E towards TRACY/STOCKTON. 1.6 km
Merge onto I-205 E. 20.2 km
Take the I-5 NORTH exit. 1.5 km
Merge onto I-5 N. 2.0 km
Take CA-120 RAMP towards MANTECA/SONORA. 0.4 km
Merge onto CA-120 E. 9.5 km
Take the CA-99 NORTH/CA-120 EAST exit on the left. 1.3 km
Merge onto CA-120 E. 1.4 km
Take the CA-120 EAST/YOSEMITE AVE exit towards SONORA. 0.3 km
Turn RIGHT onto CA-120. 257.6 km
Stay straight to go onto US-395. 162.3 km
Drive south to Bishop
From Bishop it is about a 1 hour drive to the White Mountains. Get gas before you leave Bishop.
Travel south 23km on hwy 395 to Big Pine, then 21 km east on hwy 168. Turn left onto White Mountain Road (in 2006 the sign said "Bristlecone Forest"). Drive 11km up to Schulman Grove (3048m). Drive 21km beyond Schulman to reach the gate (after the ranger station, the road is bad gravel and steep, but can be done with a car: when you reach the fork to Patriarch Grove, turn right and follow signs for the closed gate). It takes about one hour to do the unpaved section to the gate. This is the highest road in California at 3,800 meters.

Links:

Pictures of these hikes
Weather forecast for White Mountain
National Parks
Bishop chamber of commerce
Highway 395
The road to the traihead:

The road to the traihead:


Camping

Camping is free at the Grandview campground (2621m), on a first come basis (36 sites), open may through october. There is no water.
You can camp right at the gate. A sheltered meadow is a perfect spot for camping.

Western Route

White Mountain can also be hiked from the west, starting in Jeffery Mine or Milner Canyons. It is a 16 km hike, and much steeper than the southern route (almost 3,000 meters of elevation gain).
Inyo National Forest rangers: (760) 873-2400.

For the record...

Check how White Mountain compares with other mountains