Though White-Mountain is known as California’s ‘easiest’ peak over 14000ft to summit, still I would say the hike is long and challenging. If you are just getting into fourteen hiking, this hike is great for you. This hike is comparatively easy than any other California high peak. Over 16 miles and 3400 ft elevation gain, you have to hike and acclimate to the elevation at the same time- which is not quite easy for some people. But the hike is worth it. White Mountain is the third tallest mountain in California, and its location is right outside the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in a desert east of the Owens Valley.
Our actual plan was to hike Mt. Whitney. But due to the wildfire and haze, all the permits were canceled and there were only a few places open at that time. So, we decided to go for White Mountain Hike. The night before the hike, we arrived at the trailhead which is located at Barcroft gate on White Mountain Peak Road, and set up our tent. We decided to acclimatize ourselves before starting the hike. Though the forecast said the weather would be good, you cannot always predict the mountain weather and it always changes. That day, it became super windy and cold. The cold was bearable, but the wind made it worse. All night, I could only hear the roaring voices of the wind and shivering in cold. It felt like one sleeping bag was not enough. Anyway, we woke up very early in the morning and started our hike. We were taking the class 1 South Face trail, which is a comparatively easy trail with some narrow, steep, switchbacks to the final summit. Originally this area was developed for a research facility and is still considered as a research area. That’s the main reason why a huge portion of the trail looks like a 4WD trail, but no vehicles are allowed to drive up the road. About the trail, this trail is well-graded and well-traveled. Good possibility that there will be a lot of people hiking with you.
White Mountain trailhead is really to find. Google map will show you the full way but there is a 17 miles 4WD road at the end before you reach the trailhead at Barcroft Gate. For this last part of the trail, you should take a high clearance car with you. I have seen people struggling with their cars and got flat tires while driving this dirt road. Camping is allowed at the trailhead. You will see a lot of cars, tents camping at the trailhead. Camping here is free but first come first serve basis. If you want to make a campfire, you have to get a campfire permit. From the beginning, the trail is straightforward, and you will descend in two places before ascending again. The surrounding terrain and the landscape are amazing. At around 2 miles, you will cross the UC research station and maybe a flock of sheep which they kept for the research. From that point, you have to go through a few switchbacks to go up to the dome of the observatory. And finally, from that point, you will be able to see the destination of this hike- the White Mountain. The trail continues to ascend and descend another hill and then the switchbacks start. We saw some bighorn sheep near the final switchbacks. I feel like the trail is easy but due to the elevation and thin air, it becomes a bit hard. After hiking the switchback region, we made it to the top. The summit benchmark is right behind the hut, in case you are looking for it. From the summit hut, the view was breathtaking. The only problem we faced that day was the wind. It was extremely windy. We spent some time enjoying the view, signed the register, and then started our way back to the vehicle.
At a glance
- Hike distance: around 16 miles out and back
- Trailhead Location: White Mountain Rd, Bishop, CA 93514
- Trailhead coordinates: 37.5837, -118.2365
- White Mountain Peak Elevation: 14,246 ft
- Total elevation gain: 3400 ft
- Best time to hike: Summer (best months- July, August, September)
- Difficulty: moderate, mostly because of the altitude
- Permit/Reservation: not required
- Amenities: none. No water available along the trail.
- Fourteener hiking is no joke, and it is quite normal to feel exhausted fatigue. If you feel any symptoms of altitude sickness, don’t hike further. Take rest, eat something, and drink water. If you feel better, then start hiking. If you still feel bad, dizzy, nausea, vomit, or lose consciousness, please do not proceed further. Consider moving down to the lower elevation.
- The last 17-mile dirt road needs a 4WD high clearance vehicle. The rocks are small but sharp. You may end up getting a flat tire as many people do. Also, please drive slowly on this road.
- Different trail reports say that marmots at the trailhead can be a big problem as they tend to chew the car wire, hoses that are exposed underneath the car. According to National Park Service from early spring to mid-July, marmots are the worst. Please be cautious about it.
- If anytime, you see a thunderstorm, you should get down as early as possible. Although thunderstorm is not common in this area, still, you should be cautious about it.
- There is no shade throughout the trail. Please keep that in mind and dress according to the weather. Wear Sturdy shoes, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen. Bring a lot of water and snacks.
- Please practice leave no trace principle. Only we can make this world a better place.
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