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  1. #1
    Scottish Canuck in the US blue_nose's Avatar
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    White Mountain ride report

    I should probably post this in the mountain biking board, but I am definitely not a mountain biker. I almost exclusively stick to my road bike, but I do on occasion ride a mountain bike when traveling and camping. This past week I spent several days camping up in the Sierra Mountains while many of you were climbing Mt. Baldy. I thought I would share my ride report of my ride to the summit of White Mountain just east of the Sierra’s. This is the third highest peak in California (ed.) and reaches 14,246 feet. Anyway, like I said, I usually stick to the asphalt, but I thought some of you would get a kick reading how a sea level road bike rider got destroyed attempting the ride a bike up past 14,000’ feet. Excuse the long post…

    We camped just south of the Ancient Bristlecone forest on the HWY 168. If you have not check this national park before, I would highly recommend. This park contains the oldest trees (actually the oldest living things) on Earth. Some of the trees are over 4000 years old. Here is a picture of one of the cool looking Bristlecone trees:



    The Bristlecone forest is about 22 miles from Big Pine on the 168 and is at approximately 10,000 elevation. The road ends at the park and we turned onto a pretty bumpy dirt road and drove for about an hour and parked at locked gate which is the start of the route up to the summit. We arrived just after sunrise and it was definitely quite chilly. A few cars were parked at the gate, as some hikers had camped there to also get an early start. I threw on a warm fleece under my cycling vest and started the ride wearing my winter hat and carried my helmet.

    There is a rough road that takes you most of the way to the summit and is approximately 7 miles from the gate. I am pretty strong roadie and have completed many very hilly routes and climbing specific events over the years. However, I had never ridden higher than 10,000 feet and I live at sea level, so I was curious going into the ride to see how I was going to respond to the altitude. The ride starts with a pretty steep climb right past the gate. I quickly found out that I was not going to adjust well to the high altitude. I switched into a low gear and found a rhythm and started the climb. My heart rate started to spike immediately and I was quickly gasping for air. This was not exactly a very challenging climb and something I would be able to handle quite easily at normal elevation. By the end of the climb, I was panting, feeling dizzy and quite concerned about how difficult the small climb was for me.

    Here is a snap of the start of the climb.



    The dirt road continued to climb for another two miles and we arrived at a research station run by UCSD. I think they do some high elevation research here. There was a small pen with a bunch of sheep – strange to see them so high. The two mile ride was rough. I just couldn’t seem to find my legs and I was suffering on a grade of climb that should have been easier. I was drinking lots of water and trying to keep an even pace.

    We took a little break at the research station and talked to a couple of people who were hiking to the top. The sun was starting to get a bit higher and things were warming up a bit. We then rode for another 2 miles or so and continued to climb more. I actually felt a bit better and seem to be able to catch my breath a bit better and able to ride at a steadier pace.

    Continued in next post...
    Last edited by blue_nose; 09-12-06 at 03:32 PM.

  2. #2
    Scottish Canuck in the US blue_nose's Avatar
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    ...continued from previous post

    After the longish climb there was a bit of a descent and that was pretty fun. The dirt road was not too technical, but I had to avoid and hop over some sand and loose rock. After the decent we could see the route up to the summit. I stopped for a bit, sucked down a Gu packet and took this picture of the remainder of the route. As the pictures illustrates, there was sort of a flat section before a pretty hefty climb up to the summit.



    Another picture from a little further towards summit:




    We traveled along the flat section and went down a pretty steep decent that was quite difficult for me. There was lots of loose rock and think I bailed at least once trying to get down. We then arrived at the last part of the climb that has a series of very steep switch backs all the way up to the summit. I started the climb and after the second switchback I was struggling big time. I took a couple of breaks and tried to ride some more, but it was no use. I had nothing. Zilch. Destroyed…I just couldn’t get any energy to push the peddles or suck in enough air. I got off the bike and decided to push it the rest of the way up the steep and loose switchbacks. After pushing for some time, I decided it was pointless to bring the bike any further, at this altitude I just was not able to ride anymore. I left my bike leaning up against a rock and would walk the rest of the way, I would guess about half a mile and 500’ from the summit.

    I hiked up a few more switchbacks and arrived at a snowfield that was blocking the road. At this point you pretty much had to scramble up a section of loose rock to get back to the path.



    I was definitely feeling the high altitude and my steps were a bit labored. I pushed up back onto the road and hiked up a few switchbacks and reached the summit. It took almost 4 hours to reach the summit. Even when you consider the rests and picture breaks, we were not exactly blazing up to the summit.

    Here is picture of me at the summit:



    At the top there is a small building and we were able to catch some shade and I tried to eat a half of a sandwich. I had a bit of a headache and had some trouble digesting the sandwich. Trying to eat the solid food was a mistake. On the decent my headache started to get worse and I began to feel a bit nauseous. I hiked down to my bike and then navigated the remaining switchbacks. By this time my head was pounding and each bump I went over started to really hurt. My belly began to churn and I was in the “just get me the “futc” home mode….

    I tried to climb up the hill after the switchbacks and had nothing in the tank, so I pushed the bike up the hill very slowly. I finally reached the flat section and got on the bike and rode some more. My head was pounding and I was really feeling quite green and had to pull over. Resting was not helping and I eventually “lost” my sandwich and most of the fluid I had sucked out of my Camelback over the past couple of hours. Wretching at 13,000’ was not fun. Quite humiliating actually, when you consider that I was passed by a couple of hikers in their 60’s at this point who seemed to be doing quite well. However, this good news is that after I called to the goddess of “chuck”, I did feel much better. As I descended my headache started to subside, and thankfully the last two miles down to the research station was all downhill.

    Anyway, that’s my ride report. Hopefully somebody will get some amusement out of my suffering I would definitely recommend this ride. However, if I attempt again, I will definitely spend a few more days camping near the start of the ride to get more acclimatized to the high altitude. I will also not try and eat any solid foods at the summit. Some aspirin will also be stuck in my pack if I try any additonal high altitude riding as well.

    Thanks for reading
    Last edited by blue_nose; 09-08-06 at 03:59 PM.

  3. #3
    hello roadfix's Avatar
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    Nice report and photos! The barren landscapes almost look like you're in the high plains of Tibet or Mongolia... I haven't been in the Big Pine area for several years but will definitely check out the forest next time I go camping in the area....
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  4. #4
    OMG! i'm a DURT gurl!!!! caligurl's Avatar
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    AWESOME photos... very pretty area.... in a barren... desert-y way!
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  5. #5
    Out of Commission OC Roadie's Avatar
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    Nice report, trip and pics ! Last year I climbed 168 and White Mountain Rd up to 10,000', it's the last climb of the Everest Challenge Stage Race. I'll be doing the same climb again in two weeks . White Mountain is awesome, the landscape is so different from anything else. I think I read that even though it reaches close to 14,000' and is nestled in the Sierras, it has barely any precipitation (that's how those trees can grow for 5,000 years, and only be a few feet tall). Did you hike anr/or ride all the way to the summit? What a great trip, I can't wait for Everest Challenge.

    Oh yeah, just so you know, those last three miles of switchbacks up towards the visitor center, average over 10%!!
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  6. #6
    Scottish Canuck in the US blue_nose's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OC Roadie
    Nice report, trip and pics ! Last year I climbed 168 and White Mountain Rd up to 10,000', it's the last climb of the Everest Challenge Stage Race. I'll be doing the same climb again in two weeks . White Mountain is awesome, the landscape is so different from anything else. I think I read that even though it reaches close to 14,000' and is nestled in the Sierras, it has barely any precipitation (that's how those trees can grow for 5,000 years, and only be a few feet tall). Did you hike anr/or ride all the way to the summit? What a great trip, I can't wait for Everest Challenge.

    Oh yeah, just so you know, those last three miles of switchbacks up towards the visitor center, average over 10%!!
    I know what you all mean about the landscape - it is very moon / "other planet" like.

    I rode most of the way to the top and then hiked the last section of the switchbacks to the summit. Some of the sections of the switchbacks are just not rideble; the hairpin corners are extremely steep and the loose rock would make it hard to ride under normal conditions. At 14,000' it just was not doable for me.

    I am thinking about bringing my road and mountain bike next time. I would love to take the rodie from Big Pine to the Bristecone Park all up HWY 168 - 15 miles and 6,000' + of elevation gain. Then I would switch to a mountain bike and ride the dirt road all the way to the summit - approximately 30 miles and another 4,000' of elevation gain. Now that would be intense.

    Good luck with the Everest Challenge – I would love to do that myself sometime soon.
    Last edited by blue_nose; 09-08-06 at 04:38 PM.

  7. #7
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    Cool pictures. I didn't know it was so barren up there. I always would drive up the 395 wondering what it was like in the White Mountains.

  8. #8
    Dagger Boy Extort's Avatar
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    Great photos and ride report!
    I was up there earlier this year for the Eastern Sierra Double and noticed the barrenness of the range to the east of Benton... I was not able to look at them closely because I was approaching almost 40MPH with a beautiful tailwind and had to watch out for semis coming the other direction as they could knock you over with the amount of wind they were displacing.
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  9. #9
    powerfully luxurious chimivee's Avatar
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    Great stuff, blue_nose! Despite some difficulty, it sounds like you had an excellent ride. Gotta add it to the list.
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  10. #10
    Float, HAMMER, jog markg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OC Roadie
    Nice report, trip and pics ! Last year I climbed 168 and White Mountain Rd up to 10,000', it's the last climb of the Everest Challenge Stage Race. I'll be doing the same climb again in two weeks . White Mountain is awesome, the landscape is so different from anything else. I think I read that even though it reaches close to 14,000' and is nestled in the Sierras, it has barely any precipitation (that's how those trees can grow for 5,000 years, and only be a few feet tall). Did you hike anr/or ride all the way to the summit? What a great trip, I can't wait for Everest Challenge.

    Oh yeah, just so you know, those last three miles of switchbacks up towards the visitor center, average over 10%!!
    Actually White Mountain is the peak of a completely separate mountain range that lies to the east of the Sierra range. It receives so little precipitation because it is in the "rain shadow" created by the Sierras.

    Also, White Mountain is the 19th highest peak in the lower 48 states, not 3rd. It is the 3rd highest peak in California.

    http://www.peakbagger.com/range.aspx?rid=13354

  11. #11
    Scottish Canuck in the US blue_nose's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by markg

    Also, White Mountain is the 19th highest peak in the lower 48 states, not 3rd. It is the 3rd highest peak in California.

    http://www.peakbagger.com/range.aspx?rid=13354
    Thanks for the correction. I received some bad info on a site before the ride. You are correct, there are other peaks a little higher in some other states:

    http://www.americasroof.com/usa.shtml
    http://pweb.jps.net/~prichins/calif100.htm
    Last edited by blue_nose; 09-12-06 at 03:40 PM.

  12. #12
    Out of Commission OC Roadie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by markg
    Actually White Mountain is the peak of a completely separate mountain range that lies to the east of the Sierra range. It receives so little precipitation because it is in the "rain shadow" created by the Sierras.

    Also, White Mountain is the 19th highest peak in the lower 48 states, not 3rd. It is the 3rd highest peak in California.

    http://www.peakbagger.com/range.aspx?rid=13354
    Thanks for the link, I enjoyed reading the additional info on the White Mountains. I just assumed that they were part of the Sierra Range, I always thought of it as Eastern Sierras. I was really intrigued by the mountain last year, and have been looking forward to getting up there all year.
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