My first fourteener February 5, 2009Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature.
Tags: bristlecone pines, California Fourteeners, Sierra, White Mountain Peak
White Mountain Peak, 14,246′. An oddball of California fourteeners because it is not in the Sierra, but rather on the east side of the Owens Valley looking across at the Sierra—looking across at the great eastern wall of the Sierra, all spikes and turrets and ramparts. (There is one other non-Sierra California fourteener: Mt. Shasta.)
An easy mountain, apart from the altitude. A desert mountain, on the California-Nevada border. On the long dirt road from Westguard Pass, you go past the famous Schulman Grove of bristlecone pines, the oldest trees in the world (the oldest, “Methuselah,” is more than 4,000 years old). We got two flat tires on that road, and had to give up on our first attempt to reach the trailhead. We did a short hike up to Lake Sabrina in the half day after the tires were fixed, and came back the next day to try again.
The group: Bob, Steve, Jay, Mike, and Jenny. First problem for Jenny: as we walked across a wide undulating treeless plain punctuated with a few boulders, I needed to pee. I tried to get out of sight of the group, but when I thought I had reached a depression of sufficient depth to have my moment of privacy, I looked back and I could still see them all and even wave hello to them. We reached an understanding that they would just look the other way.
Actually, I enjoyed being part of this masculine group. We had all flown into Vegas two nights before. It was wonderful coming down late at night into the sea of neon in the middle of the desert blackness. The next morning we drove west, crossed Death Valley, and spent the night at the Grandview campground at 8,600 feet. The stars in that high, dry air were the best that I ever have seen—so many of them that the sky had far more luminosity than darkness. Under the beautiful stars, there was a lot of male joviality and perhaps a bit of general male stupid stuff. These fellows have known each other for a long time.
Our hike through the lunar landscape started at 11,700 feet. After a couple of miles we passed the Barcroft weather observatory buildings. It was a bit later, when we climbed up to a saddle, that we got our first actual view of the summit. Even though it was August, there was snow in the gullies. It looked very stark. I even felt a touch of fear, looking at this giant mountain. Fortunately, I was able to realize that it was a matter of perspective. Once you got up onto that giant peak, there would be comfortable ways of getting to the top.
There had been great numbers of blubbery little marmots galloping across the plain, but they seemed to peter out above 13,000 feet. When Bob and I reached a point just below the summit, we made a steep ascent straight up over talus to the top. We were gasping in the thin air. Soon the others joined us. Beside a small building operated by the Barcroft Lab, we found a stone wall for protection from the wind. We signed into the register in a canister that we found. There happened to be a frisbee sitting next to the canister, and we started throwing it back and forth. Unfortunately, Steve made an overzealous throw, and the frisbee sailed off to the east and landed probably in Utah.
The view from the top was what Bob calls an “airplane view.” There are drops of more than 10,000 feet on both the east and west sides. That is a very great vertical rise!
The trip continued, and the next major event was the climb of Mt. Hoffmann with terrible hangovers. But that’s another story.