The White Mountains of California / Nevada are the little known cousin of the High Sierras.

Most folks visiting the funky town of Bishop, California are heading up into Yosemite or Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park. Some might see the sign on the east side of the US-395 for the “Ancient Bristlecone Forest” which leads you up into the White Mountains.  Some might even go up there to see these 5,000 year old magnificent trees. But beyond a couple groves, this mountain range is pretty much overlooked by most folks.

hug a bristlecone
Nastassja being hugged by a super ancient Bristlecone Pine

As far as backpacking trails go, aside from a short seven mile trail along an old road up to White Mountain Peak near the south end of the crest, and a rough use trail up to Boundary Peak on the north end of the crest, the rest of the White Mountains has next to none.

Each year,  less than a few dozen folks hike this crest (if the trail register at Mt. Dubois is a reasonable indicator), despite it being only about 35 miles from Cottonwood Basin below White Mountain Peak to Boundary Peak. And that’s probably for the best. Why? Water is the biggest issue, unless you feel comfortable plunging down 2,000ft of scree every day to get your water fix. At least that’s what we were anticipating. And it’s a sensitive ecosystem, as all alpine areas are, so less traffic means more protection for the biota.

ledge camp
Our tiny ledge camp on the pass between Jump-Off and Montgomery Peak.

Why did we go?  Alpine wildflowers along huge limestone and granite plateaus over 13,000 ft (4,000m) that stretch for miles. A series of granite plutons pushing up through the limestone, cracking plates, creating hanging basins – such as the Triassic Park-esque landscape of Cottonwood Basin at 11,000ft. Tribes of Mule Deer and Big Horned Sheep. And the opportunity to not encounter any other humans for five full days, and no human trails or roads for nearly two straight days..

This series of blogposts follows excerpts of Jason’s field notes, giving insight into the lichens we encountered during this trek. We hope it gives some information for the lichen lovers out there, as well as for our friends and family who are never really sure what we’re up to.

Chugging along at 13,000ft a few miles north of White Mountain Peak.

Up next: Trip Report: White Mountains or Bust! (California /Nevada, USA) Setting up

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