White Mountains (California): Wikis


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White Mountains
White Mountain Peak from access road
Country United States
States California, Nevada
Part of Basin and Range Province
Borders on Sierra Nevada
Coordinates 37°34′59.743″N 118°16′3.392″W / 37.58326194°N 118.26760889°W / 37.58326194; -118.26760889
Highest point White Mountain Peak
 - elevation 14,252 ft (4,344 m)
 - coordinates 37°38′02″N 118°15′20″W / 37.63389°N 118.25556°W / 37.63389; -118.25556
Length 60 mi (97 km)
Width 10 mi (16 km)
location of White Mountains in California [1]
The White Mountains along the east side of the Owens Valley
Bristlecone Pine, White Mountains, California.

The White Mountains of California are a triangular fault block mountain range facing the Sierra Nevada across the upper Owens Valley. They extend for approximately 60 mi (97 km) as a greatly elevated plateau about 20 mi (32 km) on the south, narrowing to a point at the north, with elevations generally increasing south to north. The range's broad southern end is near the community of Big Pine, where Westgard Pass and Deep Springs Valley separate it from the Inyo Mountains. The narrow northern end is at Montgomery Pass, where U.S. Route 6 crosses. Fish Lake Valley, Nevada lies east of the range. The range lies within the eastern section of the Inyo National Forest.



Ecologically, the White Mountains are like the other ranges in the Basin and Range Province; they are dry, but the upper slopes from 2,800 to 3,500 meters hold open subalpine forests of Great Basin Bristlecone Pine on permeable dolomite and certain granite substrates and Limber pine on less permeable rocky substrates. Middle slopes from 2,000 to 2,500 meters have somewhat denser stands of Piñon pine and Utah juniper. These upper and lower conifer zones are often separated by a zone of Mountain-mahogany brush. Various subspecies of sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) extend from surrounding valleys to the lower alpine zone.

A bristlecone pine in the southern part of the range is the oldest known living tree in the world, about 4,700 years old, nicknamed Methuselah after the biblical figure who is said to have lived 969 years. Pine nuts from Piñon pine stands were harvested as a winter staple food by Paiute Indians whose descendants still live in adjacent valleys.

The White Mountains also have small remnant groves of Lodgepole pine, Jeffrey pine, Ponderosa pine, Sierra juniper and Aspen including an unusual dwarf variety. These species are common in the nearby and wetter Sierra Nevada range west of the Owens Valley and must have been more widespread in the White Mountains until Holocene droughts extirpated them in most of this drier range. A number of plant species are endemic to the White Mountains, including the White Mountains horkelia, Horkelia hispidula.

Fauna include two herds of Bighorn Sheep, mule deer, marmots and feral horses. Permanent streams have no native fish, but there are naturalized populations of trout including rare Paiute cutthroat trout which is protected from angling. Birds include Clark's Nutcracker and other Nutcracker Corvidae which eat and cache pine nuts.


Cattle from ranches in surrounding valleys are still grazed under permit as high as the alpine zone. Historically sheep were also grazed in large numbers, introducing diseases from which the native Bighorn Sheep populations are still slowly recovering. Before European colonization of surrounding valleys in the mid 19th century Paiute Indians occupied summer hunting camps up to about 4,000 meters, leaving ruins of archeological interest.


The highest point in the range is White Mountain Peak, which at 14,252 ft (4,344 m) is the third-highest summit in California. This peak is actually an extinct volcano rising about 1,600 ft (490 m) above the plateau surface. The summit is composed of Mesozoic metavolcanic rock - lava lifted and melted by rising granite. The volcano itself is long since gone. The White Mountains are the highest range completely inside the Great Basin, although the adjacent Sierra Nevada Range along the basin's western edge has two higher summits.

The entire range is within the Inyo National Forest.


A four-wheel drive road reaches the summit from the south to service the summit laboratory of the White Mountain Research Station. The road is normally gated seven miles from the summit at an elevation of 11,680 ft (3,560 m), making this California's easiest 14,000 ft (4,300 m) summit. North of White Mountain Peak, two sharp arêtes alternate along the crest with broad "whalebacks" and high plateaus with about six more summits over 13,000 ft (4,000 m). The crest crosses the California-Nevada state line just south of a final high summit Boundary Peak 13,147 ft (4,007 m), Nevada's high point. Boundary Peak is the "prow" of the triangular fault block. It has views directly down into valleys to the west, north and east that are hidden by the increasing width of the high plateau to the south. North of Boundary Peak the range rapidly loses altitude and ends at Montgomery Pass.

The west face of the White Mountains rises steeply out of Owens Valley. Climbing to any summit from this direction is a scramble with about 8,000 ft (2,400 m) elevation gain. Eastern slopes are somewhat gentler and have numerous cirques left by Pleistocene glaciers and even a few snowfields persisting through most summers. Most of these cirques are entered or approached by jeep roads and offer scenic yet non-technical routes to the crest.


  1. ^ "White Mountains". Geographic Names Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. http://geonames.usgs.gov/pls/gnispublic/f?p=gnispq:3:::NO::P3_FID:274473. Retrieved 2009-05-03.  

External links


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

The White Mountains is a region in California and Nevada states of United States in North America.

  • Benton, California - town near Nevada state line. Gas, cafe, small motel. Small reservation for Paiute Indians. Junction of U.S. 6 and State Route 120 to Mono Lake and Yosemite.
  • Big Pine, California - Gas, stores, fast food, and cafes. Junction of U.S. Route 395 and State Route 168 to Westgard Pass, Fishlake Valley and U.S. 95.
  • Bishop, California - Largest town in Owens Valley. Fairly wide choice of gas stations, fast food and local restaurantes and stores. Ranger station for White Mountain district of Inyo National Forest. Junction of U.S. Routes 395 and 6 on north side of town.
  • Dyer, Nevada - only town in Fishlake Valley east of White Mountains. Gas, general store, cafe/bar, post office.
  • Montgomery Pass, Nevada - elevation 7,167'/2,185 m. at northern end of White Mountains. Motel, gas, possibly a cafe. Small casino, reportedly closed. Casino is closed, as is everything else there. There is a state road department facility next to it, but no services otherwise. As of 4-6-09.


A north-south fault block range about 60 mi. (100 km) long. On the south it begins as an elevated plateau about 20 mi. (30km) wide at Westgard Pass where the lower but geologically related Inyo Mountains end. Northward, the plateau gradually narrows and rises in elevation to a 'prow' above 13,000' (4,000m) at Montgomery and Boundary Peaks, then the range drops and ends at Montgomery Pass. However the high point of the range --- White Mountain Peak (14,252'/4,344m) --- is essentially an extinct volcano piled on top of the triangular plateau some 15 miles (25 km.) south of the prow.

This is the highest mountain range totally within the Great Basin of the western United States. The Sierra Nevada range along this basin's western border has two slightly higher summits, making White Mountain Peak California's third highest, or the twentieth highest peak of the U.S. outside Alaska.

The White Mountains are separated from the Sierra Nevada by downfaulted Owens Valley. On the east side the the California-Nevada state line nearly parallels the range and crosses the crest near its north end so that Boundary Peak (13,147'/4,007m) is Nevada's highest summit while all other high summits are in California.


While the Sierra Nevada to the west have conventional mountain scenery of the type familiar in advertisements and calendars, the White Mountains offer a less cliched experience. Viewed from the Owens Valley the lower southern part of the White Mountains has a gentle aspect contrasting with the precipitous spectacle of the facing Sierra Nevada. Evidently these are desert mountains with a sprinkling of pine trees but no dense forests. Then heading north through an upper valley (Chalfant) the range's crest rises from 10,000' to 14,000', becoming an intimidating wall reaching far into the alpine zone. At the northern end, Boundary and Montgomery Peaks are perfectly satisfactory mountains: cliffy, sharp-peaked and often snowcapped.

Around to the east in Nevada's Fishlake Valley departed glaciers have left a dozen cirques separated by massive ridges. Except for steep cirque headwalls, slopes on this side are gentler and the range has a wide alluvial skirt traversed by green ribbons that turn out to be thickets of birch along permanent streams. Dirt roads follow many of these across the alluvial fans up into canyons above, invited exploration. In fact most of the cirques can be hiked to the crest, given enough fortitude to push through brush or clever routefinding to circumvent it. South near the town Dyer, the eastern slopes of White Mountain Peak assume the contorted look of desert mountains, until the upper cirques and summit finally break clear.

Driving into the range via Westgard Pass, the state highway climbs steeply through sage and boulder fields to a plateau with fairly dense stands of Pinyon Pine and Juniper. This is the pass and the state highway continues down the other side, but a mountain access road heads north, climbing past Grandview Campground which offers expansive views across the Owens Valley to the Sierras, but no water. The road leaves the Pinyon/Juniper zone for brush - sage and Mountain Mahogany. Then it levels out at about 10,000' along a curious floristic boundary. The brush zone is confined to shaley brown rock. Off to the right the substrate turns white - dolomite, a carbonate rock like limestone, only with manganese as well as calcium, and it is thinly forested with trees growing to perhaps 30'/10m.

Flora and fauna

Semi-desert with sagebrush up to a lower timberline at 6,500' (2,000m), then Single-leaf Pinyon Pine and Utah Juniper to about 9,000' (2,700m), Mountain Mahogany brush for the next 600' (200m), then Limber Pine and Bristlecone Pine to an alpine timberline at 11,000' (3,300m). Sagebrush and grass reach 12,000' (3,700m), scattered alpine plants reach 14,000' (4,300m). Birch and Aspen, including some dwarf Aspen along streams. Small residual stands of Ponderosa Pine, Jeffrey Pine, Lodgepole Pine and Sierra Juniper.

Mule Deer wherever there is herbaceous browse, Bighorn Sheep on steep, rocky slopes, feral horses, Marmots, Pika. No native fish in mountain streams, but introduced Brook, Brown and Rainbow Trout have established reproducing populations. Rare Paiute Cutthroat Trout were introduced to parts of Cottonwood and Cabin Creeks, and have established limited populations, protected from angling.


Cold winters with storms from Pacific Ocean, rainshadow effect of Sierra Nevada lessens with elevation so snow cover increases. Subject to late spring storms called Tonopah Lows bringing snow through June. Dry and warm in July, with occasional thunderstorms in August and September caused by warm, moist airmasses from the Gulf of California. Clear, mild weather alternates with occasional high elevatioin cold and snow through October, increasingly wintry in November.

Get in

Mainly by road. From the northern outskirts of Los Angeles via State Route 14 and U.S. Route 395. From the San Francisco area via State Route 120 over Tioga Pass (summer only), or other passes via California routes 108, 4 or 88 further north. U.S. 50 alongside Lake Tahoe is the southernmost pass open all year. Usually you will need to take U.S. 395 south for an hour or more. 120 east from route 395 at Lee Vining to U.S. Route 6 at Benton offers a shortcut to the north end of the range, or to the eastern canyons via Nevada route 264.

California Highway 168 leaves U.S. 395 at Big Pine and crosses Westgard Pass at south end of range. A Paved access road from the pass reaches Schulman Grove at about 10,000', then a gravel road climbs past the higher Patriarch Grove into the alpine zone. It is carefully driveable by most cars to the Barcroft Labs research complex at 12,500' but is usually gated two miles below.

U.S. 395 follows Owens Valley from Big Pine to Bishop. U.S. Highway 6 begins north of Bishop, following the Chalfant and Queen Valleys immediately west of the range, then crossing Montgomery Pass at the north end of the range. Just north of the Nevada State Line, a gravel road departs and can be driven by ordinary cars to Queen Mine at about 8,000' (2,400m). A rough extension requiring 4wd reaches the crest at about 10,000' (3,000m) elevation north of Boundary Peak, a recommended trailhead for climbing Nevada's high point.

On the eastern (Nevada) side of the range, paved Nevada route 264 crosses Fish Lake Valley, but gasoline and services are only found in the town of Dyer. Gravel roads branch off into most eastside canyons. They can be carefully driven fairly high by 2wd vehicles with reasonable clearance, and somewhat higher up by 4wd vehicles. Topographic maps should be consulted before setting out and getting local opinions never hurts. Travel in convoys is a good idea, and iffy stretches should always be scouted on foot.

  • Camp at Grandview and get up before dawn to watch the Sierras turn pink with alpenglow before the sun reaches them
  • Visit Shulman Grove, which has hiking trails out to the very oldest Bristlecone Pines and an interpretive center.
  • Hike or drive (4wd) down into upper Cottonwood Basin and explore it on foot. This area has an interesting mixture of carbonate and granite geology. Besides subalpine Bristlecone and Limber Pines, the basin has extensive groves of Aspen and a few large Sierra Junipers looking like mineature Sequoias. Streams have abundant trout populations. Fishing is prohibited in the North Fork because it is a refuge for rare Paiute Cutthroat Trout.
  • Visit Patriarch Grove - a thousand feet higher, at the upper timberline. Trees are larger due to more precipitation, but less old. A favorite with photographers. You will pass several other groves of Bristlecones on the road from Shulman to Patriarch, some highly photogenic.
  • Drive to the access road summit above Patriarch Grove, then climb 12,000'/3,700m Paiute and Sheep Mountains. The easiest way to hike into the alpine zone in lunar dolomite barrens.
  • Park at the locked gate and hike up to Barcroft Labs at 12,500'. This is a large high altitude research station operated by the Univeristy of California.
  • Hike the jeep road 5 more miles to the top of White Mountain Peak, where there is a smaller research station. This is an easy hike, but for the altitude, potential snow on the trail near the summit, and the possibility of getting caught in a storm a very long way from shelter. Camp overnight at the locked gate (11,700') to acclimate to the altitude. A permanent pit toilet is at the locked gate.
  • For an acclimation hike, you can hike around the upper headwalls of four different cirques: the North and South forks of Perry Aiken Creek which are northeast of Barcroft and involves hiking up the summit jeep road to about the 13,000' level. Or the North and South forks of McAffee Creek which are east of Barcroft. The south fork has an interesting stand of dwarf aspen.
  • Backpack north from Barcroft Gate or Lab, over White Mountain Peak, across a short class 3-4 knife-edge ridge to the broader ridgetop beyond, and on to a saddle with streams in it about 10 miles north of Barcroft, which is a pretty long day. The next day continue north over Mounts Hogue and Dubois, the Jumpoff above a narrow pass, and then (class 3-4) scramble up to Montgomery Peak, perhaps with rope and protection, then over Boundary Peak. Pack water or plan on melting snow from semi-permanent snowfields at the tops of eastside cirques. Plan on a second night out, then on the third day exit via Trail Canyon (where you have left a vehicle) or continue along the crest to a 4wd road just north of Kennedy Point around the 10,000' level. West down this road, you arrive at Queen Mine which is the roadhead if you don't have 4wd. See [1] and [2]for accounts of this traverse.
  • Climb Boundary (and Montgomery) Peak via Trail Canyon or the road up to the crest from Queens Mine.
  • Afternoon backpack up Middle Canyon. Unless there are enough snow patches above, get 2 gallons from creek at bottom of Mountain Mahogany Ridge, then climb this ridge to top at 11,000' level and camp. Dayhike up to narrow pass, then south along crest to Jumpoff and Dubois. Continue S of Dubois to viewpoint overlooking Mt. Hogue and lower parts of Pelissier Flats. Backtrack and return to camp via top of prominent ridge S of Middle Canyon, descending sandy slope into Middle Canyon and back to camp. Exit via Middle Canyon next morning.
  • Drive 4wd to roadhead near cowboy cabin on Chiatovich Creek and set up camp (not too near cabin -- it looks snakey). From here you have three cirques to explore
    • N Fork Chiatovich, due west hikable to crest near summit of Mt. Dubois
    • S Fork Chiatovich - take cow trail SW up old moraine, then west into cirque. Headwall is a little steep, but can be climbed on left. This brings you out on lower Pelissier Flats between Mts. Dubois and Hogue
    • Davis Creek - as for S Fork, then on top of moraine look for cow trail to left. Follow it up to a saddle, then climb over steep but not very high ridge on right (west). This brings you into the Davis. It can be followed up to the crest near Mt. Hogue.
  • Indian Creek - rough road can be driven in 4wd nearly to headwall. Hiking SW brings you up to Chiatovich Flats overlooking upper Birch Creek. This stream is probably permanent. Go upstream to climb Mt. Hogue and Dubois or downstream to reach a curious saddle drained west by Birch Creek and east by Cabin Creek.
    • Branch road off Indian Canyon goes SW to a mining claim. The road may be gated, but it ascends to the top of a high, brushy ridge west of Chiatovich Flats. A better route up to the flats is to follow a prominent gully departing to the right from this road, which leads straight up to the flats.
  • a rough road up Leidy Canyon can be driven within about 1/2 mile of a cow trail up to Perry Aiken Flats. This broad ridge can be hiked to the crest in the vicinity of peak 13,908 (feet) north of White Mountain Peak. From a point just below treeline on this ridge it is possible to contour south into the Northwest Fork of Perry Aiken Creek, a scenic glacial cirque with a rock glacier and small tarns east of White Mountain Peak.
  • Perry Aiken Creek's north fork is the largest glacial cirque in the White Mountains. It is possible to hike up it from Fishlake Valley near the town Dyer, but the canyon is brushy and with no access road into the canyon the elevation gain to White Mountain Peak is about 10,000'/3,000m.


This is no route des gourmands. Rural cafés serving a western version of country cooking and local ethnic specialties may be the most interesting gastronomic opportunities.

Along U.S. 395, Big Pine has rustic cafes. Bishop has a wider selection of eateries, including fastfood chains and limited ethnic food such as Mexican, Chinese, and possibly Basque.

On U.S. 6, there is a cafe in Benton, California where U.S. 120 ends. Benton has a Paiute population so it may be possible to try fry bread and other Native American specialties, and to mingle with local folks -- ranchers too. A cafe in the casino at Montgomery Pass, Nevada is more of a truck stop serving people passing through.

In Fish Lake Valley, cafe food may be available in Dyer, Nevada. Another chance to mingle with local people.

Up in the mountains you must be self-sufficient. Selections are limited in local grocery stores, with the possible exception of Bishop. Most visitors will want to bring along groceries and backpacking food.


At bars and taverns in Big Pine, Bishop, Montgomery Pass and Dyer. These are important social centers in the rural west, except where Mormon influence is strong. A good way to meet local people.

Stay safe

Venomous rattlesnakes are never found about 10,000 feet (3,000m) and seldom found at high altitudes. However, in desert areas they are common and should be treated cautiously - in general they won't strike unless startled. Wild horses and domestic cattle should not be approached or harassed. Bears and mountain lions are extremely rare but possible to upper limits of subalpine zone.

Gentle slopes give way to narrow ridges advising ropes and protection along the crest immediately north of White Mountain Peak and on Montgomery Peak at north end of the range. Hikers in the alpine zone should always be prepared for cold and snow, except in the summer.

Most canyons have permanent streams, but water can be scarce along the crest by late July, except in a saddle midway between White Mountain Peak and Pelissier Flat that is drained by Cabin and Birch Creeks. There may also be semi-permanent snowfields above 12,500' (3,700m), but this should be confirmed visually from Fish Lake Valley east of the range before relying on them for water.

CA State highway 168 should be driven conservatively. It is narrow with steep grades and sharp curves.

Off-highway drivers should carry enough water, food, tools, parts, towlines, gasoline, and warm clothing to weather minor mishaps. It is prudent to travel in groups of at least two vehicles. Gravel roads must be driven slowly and carefully to avoid damage from flying stones, skidding off the road, and sudden appearance of washouts or large rocks. Although 2wd vehicles can go fairly far on poor roads, those with low clearance are probably too vulnerable underneath. Lastly, be conservative about descending steep downhills on the way in. You might discover you can't get back up them on the way out.

Get out

How much more out do you want to get? OK, you could explore the SilverPeak Range on the east side of Fishlake Valley; views of the White Mountains should be memorable. At the south end of Fishlake Valley just inside California near the intersection of California routes 168 and 266 a dirt road heads southeast and descends into Eureka Valley, famous for large sand dunes. From there you can drive over the next ridge to the northern part of Death Valley. Or you could continue east on Nevada route 266 to U.S. Route 95, then head south to the bright lights of Las Vegas. Do this after sunset and you will begin to see the neon at such a long distance that it blurs into a fantastic mirage, or even a visitation by space aliens. If you are a confirmed desert rat, you may find the White Mountains a little too conventional, so the drier Inyo Mountains to the south may be more your cup of tea.

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