White Mountain: The California 14er You Could Technically Drive Up

  • Updated: June 25, 2016
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

June 25th, 2016

This was a free weekend between a buttkicker 3 day backpack to Tehipite Dome and a planned 5 day trip near Sonora Pass over the 4th of July.  I was tempted to stay home on account of aching knees but in the end it seemed like a good opportunity to pick up two of the stranglers I had left on the Sierra Club Desert Peak Section list ahead of my planned December glow in the dark list finish.

White Mountain is the highpoint of the Whites and one of 11 peaks above 14,000 ft in California which makes it a popular peak to visit.

It's also the easiest.  While Mount Whitney has a trail all the way to the top White takes it one step further and has a drivable jeep road all the way to the summit.  The only thing preventing this from being the other other DPS drive up other than Navajo Mountain is the gated research station along the way.  This turns it into a 15 mile and 3400 ft of gain round trip stroll.

Another interesting fact is that name White Mountain was originally given to the actual white ish colored mountain at the north end of the range now called Montgomery Peak.  In 1917 they renamed that and gave the name to the high point for some reason calling it White Mountain Peak.  Because who wants a name that makes sense...

Montgomery Mountain aka the old White Mountain from Benton Hot Springs
We drove up late and camped along a forest road that split off from White Mountain Road a few miles past the entrance gate near the 168.  There were a lot of cars and tents visible on the first few turnouts we looked at but we found a forest road that was a little less passenger car friendly and soon had a nice place to camp.

First stop in the morning was Sierra View to make coffee and show Kristen the view of the Sierra.  There's a plaque up there that labels all the peaks you can see which is kind of neat.

Then it was off down the road.

It's a surprisingly long drive and the road isn't in the best shape.  Passenger cars can make it to the gate at the end but we saw people pulled over a few miles short of the end gate where you have to get up some steeper hills.  Mostly it's just really washboarded.

The area where the road is blocked by the gate is actually decent camping and even has a pit toilet.

A pit toilet that warns about the marmots Mineral King style.

There's a gate here which is opened twice a year allowing you to cut 2 ish miles off the 15 mile round trip by driving to the Barcroft Research Station.

The gate was actually the least secure gate I'd run in to this side of that Mexico trash dump you pass through to reach Pescadores.  But I guess there's not really anywhere to hide if you did try and drive past it.

Since this wasn't one of the open gate days we walked the easy road to the station.

The station is currently changing hands and wasn't overly busy.  And we saw no sign of the goats I've heard they keep up there.

Past the station you get a look at White a short distance away.

There are some minor dips and detours along the way that make you wonder what the people who built it were thinking.

The jeep road continues all the way to the top but it was covered with snow a few hundred feet from the top.

A few other hikers on the mountain were a little perturbed by this but we just cut up the rocks and rejoined the road right under the summit which like Whitney is a flat area with a hut on it.

White Mountain summit hut

We also met a guy who was training for Rainer after a double knee replacement.  He'd brought a sleeping bag and was there to spend the night on the summit.  Kristen and I were both a little short on sleep after the drive and were envious of nap he was enjoying.

Requisite summit shot.

We glissade down the slushy snow on the way down then picked up the road and strolled out.

This middle section felt long but was entertaining due to the sheer number of marmots all around us.

Once we reached the cars we chatted with a few people looking to do the peak the following day and set off with the plan to camp at the trailhead for Waucoba off Saline Valley Road.

We picked up a hitchhiker a short way down the road and gave him a ride a few miles to where he'd left his Prius not wanting to risk the last few big hills.  Chatting with him he was able to explain the new looking SUV we passed that was pulled over to the side of the road in an awkward place.  Apparently it was brand new with not even 200 miles on it and had died suddenly at that spot leaving the two women inside to hike the peak and hitchhike back down to town.  We passed the tow truck driver on his way to pick it up about an hour later.

The road out was long and we were tired and hungry so we started looking for a pullout to camp.  Every spot we checked had cars and tents so eventually we settled for returning to our previous camp, making BBQ chicken camp pizza, and passing out.

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