Tuesday, July 7, 2009

White Mountain

On August 9, 1993, my brother-in-law, David Kenison, my brother, Matt Cannon, my nephew, Rick DeLong, and I left Redlands at about 3:30 p.m. for a drive to White Mountain. We arrived at the locked gate, just short of the Barcroft Research Facility, at about midnight. This was the beginning of a trip that was to include a backpacking trip across the Owens Valley in the Sierras to climb Mounts Langley, Muir and Whitney, all fourteeners (mountains over 14,000 feet). The map to White Mountain, from Big Pine, is below.
I still had never been to the top of a fourteener. Dave and I had been to Colorado, outside Ouray, to climb Mt. Sneffels, a fourteener, but were stopped short because of snow, and because we were climbing the wrong mountain! Our attempt on White Mountain, at 14,246 feet, the third tallest mountain in California and the 17th tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S., was also to be stopped short because of snow, on August 10! I was starting to get a complex about my ability to do a fourteener. Fortunately, later in the week I successfully climbed Langley, Muir and Whitney. It was not until three years later, on August 31, 1996, that I was able to summit White Mountain, this time with my family. This post on White Mountain will deal with both the 1993 and 1996 White Mountain trips.

Now that I have spent quite a bit of time in the Sierras, I am amazed at how little wildlife I have seen in them, particularly when contrasted with my experience in the White Mountains. On our 1993 White Mountain trip, we caught a large gopher snake on Highway 168.

I put it in a tied up pair of trousers, but it got out and created some added excitement. We were not able to find the snake until the next day (I found it under the back seat in the car), after our attempt on White Mountain. We then let it go in the same spot on Highway 168 on the way out. On our 1996 trip, we saw a coyote carrying a squirrel or rabbit.

On both trips we saw numerous yellow-bellied marmots. I have seen a few marmots in the Sierras, but nothing compared to the numbers in the White Mountains.

On our 1993 trip, we talked to a researcher at the Barcroft Research Facility, run by the University of California at Berkeley. He told us that the marmots go into hibernation when they have reached a certain weight. Even at that time in August, some marmots had already gone into hibernation. He also said he had eaten marmot and that it was very fatty meat.

On our 1993 trip, we also saw at least one black tailed jack rabbit
and a golden-mantled squirrel.
We saw other wildlife, including chukar partridges, but time has faded my memory of the specifics. On both trips, we spent some time in the Patriarch Grove, viewing the wonderful bristlecone pines. The picture below, of White Mountain, as seen in the distance from the Patriarch Grove, is an illustration of one issue we grappled with on our trips: why White Mountain is called White Mountain? From the picture, you can see why the White Mountain Range could get the name. The mountains near the Patriarch Grove are white. However, White Mountain itself is not white. In fact, it is black and brown.
From the locked gate, at about 12,000 feet, where we parked our car and camped on both trips, we began the approximate two mile hike to the Barcroft Research Facility, at about 12,467 feet. The picture below shows the facility in the distance and the small hills just beyond it.

Below, Matt and Dave stand in front of the facility. I know one researcher, Charlie Ducsay, a professor at Loma Linda University, who does research on the effects of high altitude on sheep at this facility.

The map below shows the Patriarch Grove, the locked gate (L.G.), Barcroft and the trail to White Mountain.

Beyond Barcroft, you get another view of White Mountain, again illustrating the contrast between the white mountains around it and its darker color.

The picture below, of me, Rick and Dave, shows how dark and cloudy it was getting on our 1993 trip, the prelude to the snow storm.

The following pictures show the ever changing face of White Mountain. The first, from our 1993 trip, shows White Mountain as dark and forboding. It reminds me of the mountains of Mordor from the Lord of the Rings. That image was only enhanced in my mind when we were cut short of the summit by the snow storm.

The next picture shows more color variation, including some stripes on the ridge in front, giving the ridge the appearance of a dragon tail (in keeping with the Mordor imagery).

The next pictures, from the 1996 trip, in better weather, give the mountain a more inviting appearance. The stripes are still evident and there is still significant color variation.

Below, cloud shadows add some color variation.

From our 1996 trip, me, Andrew, Rachael and Sam pose in front of the beast.

Andrew, Sam, Judy and Rachael pose in front of the summit block as we got closer. You can see the trail in the distance. From this spot, there was still a fairly significant drop before beginning the climb upward. Note the snow in the upper right of the picture.

Sam and Andrew play in that snow, near the summit.

On our 1993 trip, we were stopped short of this point. We turned around at about 13,500 feet, as the rain, which turned to hail, which turned to snow, started to cover the ground, eliminating the trail, and the fierce 50 mph wind threatened to rip off my plastic poncho and made the 25 degree temperature feel even colder than that.

I stand successfully on the summit on the 1996 trip. Pictures on the summit of Judy and the kids will follow on later blogs dealing with their exploits.

There is a little research facility on the summit. It was closed with a sign indicating hantavirus had been found there. Sam managed to get himself on top.

A view of Boundary Peak in the distance, the tallest mountain in Nevada (but less than 14,000 feet), also in the White Mountains.

Looking back at the family coming down from the summit.

And a view of them as they got ahead of me, nearing the bottom of the summit block.

As far as fourteeners go, White Mountain is a great place to get started. There is very little exposure and not much altitude gain from where you park the car. But it is still a pretty long hike and you are rewarded with a wonderful view of the more spectacular Sierra range across the Owens Valley.

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