White Mountain Trip Report

Report courtesy of Stan Rohrer, W9FQN

Our White Mountain Hike started in the planning stages when Sarah N9ZZT mentioned that she wanted to climb Mt. Rainier next year in the snow which is about 14,410 feet high.

I thought that she should try a somewhat easier peak at +14,000 feet first to gain experience in hiking at that altitude.

The usual peak one thinks of at +14,000 is Mt. Whitney which is at 14,494 feet but this peak requires permits which are not easily obtained for groups on weekends.

The next peak that came to my mind was White Mountain which Glenn KE6ZLY has climbed several times.

White Mountain, about 6-7 miles East of Bishop CA (on road 395) is easily reached from the 168 turn off at Big Pine to the east.

Our hiking group likes to discuss our proposed hikes on Tom KF6PAZıs "San Diego County Hikerıs Reflector" and we immediately received interest from many of our group on doing the White Mountain hike.

Since the altitude of White Mt. is about 14,250 feet (250 feet less than Mt. Whitney), several hikers cautioned the group on the dangers of of high altitude hikes and high altitude sickness (High Altitude Cerebral Edema).


So for the next few weeks, everyone was bombarded with e-mails on altitude sickness to the point of almost scaring people before the hike started but we certainly did learn a lot about altitude sickness and the medicine you can take to help your body contend with the problems.

I went so far as to devise a "high altitude chamber" by blocking off a bedroom closet with plywood and drilling four holes to connect up four vacuum cleaners to "suck" air out of the closet to simulate an altitude of approximately 5,600 feet as measure by a GPS although my wife, Barbara KA6FPS, objected to sleeping in the same room with four vacuum cleaners blasting all night.

Enthusiasm in the group brought out some friends of Colleen who immediately contributed Scott, Shawn, and Leo to the hike.

Bernie N6FN decided that he would go up to the area early and do some trout fishing above Bishop until the rest of us arrived.

Colleen on her trips north was able to fly by White Mountain and gave us reports on the snow cover and she reported snow only on one side in the draws so it looked like we had a "clean" mountain on which to hike.

So on Thursday June 20, 2002, Sarah N9ZZT, her friend from Indiana, Elisabeth, John KT6E, and I took off in my Ford F-150 heading towards White Mountain which was about 6.5 hours away from San Diego County. John and I met Sarah and Elisabeth at a Park-N-Ride at the NW intersection of I-15 and 91 near Riverside.

We left the parking lot around four p.m. and started our mad dash up I-15 and then to 395. The trip up was uneventful although the group was exposed to my six CDıs of Mexican love songs and "flutes from the Andes."

We arrived at Grandview Campground in the White Mountains around 10 p.m. where we met up with Jeff KG6AXR and Julie KG6BPP who had arrived there much earlier in the day. After exchanging greetings and setting up tents, we all went to bed trying to get in a good nights sleep at 8,600 feet, our first night at "altitude" although I in my homemade altitude chamber had been "sleeping" at about 5,600 feet for the previous two nights.

Friday morning Sarah, Elisabeth, John, and I took off to see the Bristle Cone pines, some thousands of years old, and get in some hiking at altitude. We also wanted to see the White Mountain Peak trailhead later in the afternoon.

Our hiking in the Bristle Cone pines was most interesting and after lunch we took off for the trailhead to see what it was like in preparation for the big hike on Saturday morning with the rest of the group.

It is a rather long distance, mostly on gravel roads, from the Grandview Campground to the White mountain trailhead but we arrived there in the early afternoon.

Upon arriving John and Sarah immediately starting pushing for an "early" start and wanted to begin the climbing that afternoon rather than waiting for Saturday and the rest of the groups to arrive.

The discussion went on for over an hour talking about the pro and con of starting before the rest of the group.

While the discussion raged on, it started to hail. The hail covered the front windshield and required us to turn on the windshield wipers to take off the hail which was now getting pretty thick. The hail was quite strange in that it was sort of cylindrical and sort of like plastic foam. At sometime during the discussions it appears that the hail turned to snow and before we knew it the ground was covered in almost two inches of snow.

At that time we wondered if the weather was going to be "more of the same" on Saturday although weather reports never did indicate what we were seeing on Friday afternoon.

After much discussion, it was decided that Sarah, Elisabeth, and John would take off, hike up the two miles past the Barcroft high altitude experimental station and a mile or so further to set up camp. So with that decided, Sarah, Elisabeth, and John took off into the white stuff leaving nothing but their footprints in the snow.

While sitting in the truck at the White Mountain Trailhead, I counted at least five of those nasty marmots running around which we had been warned about previously.

We were told that these fluffy large squirrel like animals just loved to crawl into motor compartments where they would chew on the electrical wiring and radiator hoses making your car inoperative.

I spent an hour in the cold car watching the marmots. There seemed to be 5-6 running around alone and separated by several hundred feet. I did not see any family groupings.

Earlier, while the four of us were sitting in the truck, a lady came out of the closed gate running to her car which had chicken wire wrapped around it. John got out to ask her some questions but she said she had to drive up to the Barcroft station and pick up her husband who had an "emergency" which we assumed was possibly altitude sicknesses. Some one from the station brought her down in a car and opened the gate for her.

When her car left the parking lot, I picked up the chicken wire that they had around the car in a complete circle and gave it to Jeff and Julie on Saturday to wrap around their truck.

I decided to go back to camp and tell the rest of the group that three of our group had started the climb already.

On the way back I met up with Jeff and Julie who had been hiking in the Bristle Cone Pine area. We decided to return to the trail head but I was not able to get up the last hill with my truck because of the snow so we turned around and headed back to Grandview Campground where we found Colleen, Scott and his wife Karen, and Leo already there in a different campsite from what we had the previous night.

Julie, Jeff, and I pulled in with them for the evening and soon Bernie arrived from his fishing expedition.

Saturday morning we all broke camp and headed for the gate to the trail head which was two miles below the Barcroft experimental station.

At the trail head Jeff and Julie wrapped the chicken wire around their truck and I put two COSTCO vibrators in my engine compartment where they vibrated at about 170 cps ever 15-20 seconds. In this mode, they would last for 3-4 weeks.

Placing one of these vibrating units down near our cat, Silky, caused the cat to get up and leave the area immediately so I am not sure how effective they might be for the marmots. These units look like miniature rockets and when placed against the engine sent a vibration through the entire truck which I hoped would not set off the F-150 car alarm!

While climbing up the trail to White mountain I was able to see these little animals really up close on several occasions. Some of them were within 5-6 feet of me ducking in and around some rocks so they seemed to be used to humans more than I would have liked.

For me, the hike up White mountain was most interesting because the mountain was spread out before us and you could see the peak and the trail we had to take to it for miles and miles. While this was not a great problem on the way up it certainly was somewhat discouraging on the way down to see miles and miles of trail that you needed to transverse to get back to the trail head. It was almost like coming up over a hill on road 395 and seeing the road stretch out straight for miles and miles ultimately disappearing off into the distance.

My first drink of water came around +12,000 feet when I realized I had not been drinking water which is necessary for not becoming dehydrated. I stopped, took three long swallows and after the last one I took a breath of air and almost died on the spot!

During the three swallows I was not breathing and my lungs were really needing oxygen badly. It took 5-6 breaths to get back to where I was before taking the drink of water. From then on I really got into the "sipping" mode.

About half way up I decided that I had too much water and so I buried one bag of water under five inches of snow for use on my return trip.

I always like going up hill and hate going down hill so the trip up towards the peak was uneventful but somewhat slow. We started at almost 8 a.m. that morning when I would have been happier starting at seven a.m. so during the last stage of the hike I decided on a turn-around point which was near the 14,000 ft altitude at my one p.m. turn-around time. From where I was, I could see the last switch back.

As it neared one p.m. and 14,000 feet, I could see that I was not going to reach the last switch back corner in time so I turned around and headed down the mountain hoping to arrive at the trail head about the same time as the faster hikers in the group.

Several times on the way up during steep sections I was only able to record a maximum heart beat of 90 beats/minute. At no time did I seem out of breath except for that first drink of water that really hit me hard between the eyes and in the chest.

Sarah, Elisabeth, and John were about 3-4 miles ahead of us on Saturday because of the distance they traveled Friday afternoon to their evening campsite so they were the 1st ones on the peak.

Bernie, Colleen, Scott, Leo, and Shawn made it to the top with only one person having altitude impairment at the top which prompted the group to immediately start down the mountain as soon as possible.

The trip down was uneventful although tedious because of seeing how far we still had to hike. I found my "hidden" water easily because the snow had melted and I could see the bag from some distance off.

We all made it off the mountain by 5 p.m. The cars were not devoured by the marmots so the hike was very successful.

I did apologize to the group about misleading everyone with my silly unbelievable closet altitude chamber and I finally admitted to really driving to Palomar Mountain each evening (Tuesday & Wednesday) to sleep at the PARC Amateur Radio Club Repeater site which is at 5,600 feet. So much for my "high altitude" chamber!

We all returned to Grandview Campground for supper and telling stories around a roaring campfire. We also had an opportunity to visit several amateur radio operators who were participating in the annual emergency Amateur Radio Field Day exercise.

The trip home for Sarah, Elisabeth, John, and I was broken up with a stop at Fossil Falls which I had visited last year. It is where a long extinct large lake drained out through lava beds cutting a falls with steep sides which John discovered was being used by rock climbers to practice rock climbing. He was able to pick out several climbing rings imbedded in the rock and white chalk marks on the steep sides where climbers were placing their chalked hands.

John and I were reluctant to part with the charming company of Sarah and Elisabeth, at the I-15/91 Park-n-Ride and John and I parted at the Park-n-Ride at I-15/76. I think that we all went home after a very interesting three days of a "White Mountain" experience which really started out whiter than expected and really made White Mountain a White Mountain..


Stan Rohrer