Hiking Stats as of 11/19/2019
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Nov 16, 2013 - White Mountain


Partners: (None)

Distance: 12.03 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,243 feet

Trip Time: 5:33

Trip Report  |  Trip Photos  |  GPX: (1)
Summitpost | Bob Burd's TR
Maps and Stats:
Although we are halfway through November, all of the trans-Sierra highways were still open, with only a few minor snow events having so far made their way through the high country. I hadn't planned on having access to the peaks south of Highway 50 this late in the year, but I certainly wasn't going to let a late season opportunity to visit the high Sierra pass me by. Adding to my desire to head to the higher peaks further south was the fact that I was flying solo for the day, and the southern peaks are a much further drive for Kyle. While the roads may be open, the days are still getting really short, meaning I would have to find something relatively easy to attempt in order to avoid hiking by headlamp by myself. I quickly settled on White Mountain, a peak that I have had my eye on for over a year now, since I first saw it when I climbed nearby Sonora and Stanislaus Peaks last summer. White Mountain would be my 21st Western States Climbers (WSC) ascent, with 25 being the number needed for WSC emblem status.

I left Tracy after at 7:30, following an abbreviated dog walk (actually I just put leashes on both of them and, as is usually the case before 9AM, the park next door was completely empty allowing me to let them loose to run freely). I arrived at the Sonora Pass trailhead at over 9,600 feet at 10:30 AM, ready for what I had figured would be a 12 mile hike that shouldn't take me any longer than 6 hours. While there may not have been many snow events yet this year, that didn't mean it wasn't quite cold outside. I had come in long pants and 2 long shirts, but as soon as I got out of the comfort of the car I was shocked at the cold temperature. I hadn't bothered to look at the exterior temperature display in my car (although I did check when I got back to the car at 4:15 and it was a crisp 30 degrees at that time). I had brought my gloves and balaclava thinking that I might encounter winds up higher, but I immediately put them on as I set out. I regretted not bringing my windproof jacket and neglecting to wear my thicker winter pants, but I figured that I would warm up once I got moving.

I set off under cloudy skies which obscured the summit of nearby Sonora Peak as I made my way up the PCT. White Mountain is not visible from the TH, instead one has to hike the PCT over the eastern ridgeline of Sonora Peak before being able to see the objective. Because I was hiking up the south face of Sonora Peak (which is exposed to the sun unlike the north face of the peaks across the highway)the trail was largely free of snow. I figured this would hold true for White Mountain as well, as I had planned to leave the PCT and hike up the southwest ridge. But a lack of snow should not be confused with warmer temperatures - the sun couldn't keep this stream from freezing over, as if a sudden chill froze it in mid-flow. The PCT, as it typically does, offers a relatively gentle grade by winding its way back and forth uphill. As I got higher up, the views of the wintry look surrounding mountains had me awestruck. Its hard to believe that one side of a mountain can look like that, while the southern slopes were only covered in patchy snow. Once I hit the ridgeline, I could finally see White Mountain ahead...rather I could see some of it, as the top was buried in the clouds. I'm not sure if there is a name for what I was watching, but low clouds were continually flowing over the top of Sonora Peak and over to White Mountain, but once they passed White Mountain they dissipated. This would go on all day.

My plan was to follow the PCT all the way down to the low saddle between the Sonora Peak ridgeline and the White Mountain ridgeline (not much of a saddle, as they both are north-south ridgelines), from which point I would leave the PCT and head up White Mountain. The descent to that saddle was a mix of rock and snow, with the PCT largely converted into a snow chute that was a bit difficult to navigate. Because the trail here was hard to see, I paid particular attention to the layout so that I would be able to follow it back out (I did not bring my gps, as this trip was not expected to be anything difficult). As I left the PCT and started up the SW ridge of White Mountain, the views to back towards Sonora Peak and nearby Stanislaus Peak opened up nicely, with clouds continuing to skirt over the upper reaches of the peaks on their way over towards to top of White Mountain. The trip up White Mountain is as easy of an off-trail hike as I had been on in the high Sierra. Not too steep, and little vegetation to cause any problems. Rather than go straight up to the ridgeline, I began to circle towards the north, knowing that White Mountain was actually a ways away, seen as the summit on the far left of this shot. I wound up cresting the ridgeline about a quarter mile south of the lower south summit of White Mountain, which I decided to climb up just for the heck of it. From there it is little more than a class 1 ridge walk over to the higher north summit. The slope on the western side is quite gentle, allowing one to basically walk right on the ridgeline without fear of disaster. The summit of White Mountain is loosely guarded by a series of rocks that are easily navigated, which then give way to a series of fractured rocks where the actual summit is located. The rocks were about has much of a class 2 hike as was to be seen on this day, however, and I was on top in a matter of seconds.

It seems that every summit I go to has amazing views, and this time was no different. Impressivew views abound, back to the north summit, Stanislaus Peak, Sonora Peak covered in clouds, north towards even more clouds, and east towards the warmer sunshine and the imposing Tower Peak to the South. As cold as I was, I spent a half hour on the summit, taking pictures and just enjoying the views. Walking around looking for a summit register I came across the unfortunate debris left behind by the Mountain Warefare Training Center, but couldn't locate a register. I knew it was time to go as the clouds began an all out assault of their own. I went to take a shot of myself on the summit when my camera suddenly ran out of power. I always pack a spare universal USB battery, however, so while I would have to deal with the inconvenience of using my iPhone for a half hour it wasn't too big of a deal. Well at least it wasn't until my iPhone suddenly showed that it was dead too. This made no sense at all, as I had just looked at it and it had about 60% of a charge left. I tried to turn it back on but it kept telling me it needed a charge. Now thoroughly annoyed, I began my descent absent any type of camera. I switched to charging my iPhone instead of my camera, as I figured that shouldn't take too long since it really was already 60% charged, and a few minutes later it turned on for me. Then it died again. At this point I guessed that maybe the cold was too much for the device, and I breathed some hot air into the USB port. And it worked! I switched the charger back to my camera, and was able to use the iPhone for shots for a little while (it died a few more times, it couldn't be out of my pocket for more than 30 seconds without dying).

Anyway, I wasn't able to get all this worked out until I had completed a most enjoyable glissade down the sandy west slope of White Mountain, by staying roughly a quarter mile north of where I came up I was able to essentially ski halfway down the mountain which was quite fun. Of course that also meant that I had to do a bit our route finding to get back to the correct track, resulting in some good old bush whacking which looked harder than it actually wound up being, as it was only thick for a maybe 30 yards or so. I came out on the wrong side of some frozen tundra, complete with little frozen lakes that were easy to navigate around. I was ever so slightly concerned that I may not be on the correct trajectory back to the PCT - with the clouds obscuring the peaks it was a bit more challenging to find familiar landmarks to aim for. I knew I had to go downhill though and eventually I should find either the trail or Wolf Creek Lake, which had been quite prominent on the way over. I was happy to soon recognize the snow chute that I had come down on the PCT and was all set to begin the routine trip back when I came across something that, well, was strange. Now I am no expert in bones or animal skulls, but these things sure looked real to me. I had thought maybe it was plaster or wood or something but these pieces were pretty heavy. I had no idea what kind of beast this once belonged to, and fearful that I might be depriving the world of the archaeological find of the ages I left the skull on top of the rock in the hopes that someone more knowledgeable than myself would find it.

Leaving my discovery behind, I continued on, making my way back up the snow chute and up to the ridgeline where I would then descend back down to the TH. One last look at White Mountain showed the clouds were not going to let up, as it looked to be a most uncomfortable place to be at the moment. By this time, my regular camera was back in action, and I was able to use it the rest of the way. And I was glad to have it too, as the views south as I descended the PCT were simply awesome. I resisted the urge to shortcut the winding PCT, and was soon back down to level ground as the sun lowered in the afternoon sky. A few minutes later I was back at the car, where I quickly turned on the heater and the seat warmer to thaw myself out. Another most enjoyable day in the soon-to-be wintry Sierra!

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