During last summer’s two week peak bagging extravaganza, I took a few ‘rest’ days with easier peaks. On one of those days I decided to head up into the White Mountains to climb Mt Barcroft, one of the few 13k+ peaks in California that is not within in the Sierra Nevada range. On its own, Barcroft is a rather boring side trip along the way to White Mountain (one of the two California 14ers that is also not part of the Sierra), but it was just the right amount of peak I wanted for this easy day. Plus, the views across Owens Valley to the Sierra are pretty spectacular and make this a worthy peak despite the rather simple route.
The drive from Bishop to the trailhead for White Mountain/Barcroft is not a short trip. The paved stretch to Schulman Grove is kind of fun to drive, but that is where the road deteriorates to washboarded dirt and gets much more annoying. My Subaru handled it like a champ and I finally reached the end of the road at 11,700 ft after what seemed like an eternity. Along the way, I spotted several deer hunters patrolling the hills around Piute and Sheep Mountain, so my idea of hiking them in the afternoon was scrapped.
The route to Barcroft from the trailhead is simple – start by hopping over the gate and walking the road. Road, you say? Why yes! Two miles up the road is the Barcroft White Mountain Research Station, a University of California facility that studies the physiological effects of high elevation. They have open house weekends where you can drive all the way to the station – cutting four miles round trip off the hike to White Mountain.
Past the station, climb the road to the saddle with an observatory off to your right. This is where you leave the road and head cross-country to Barcroft. The terrain is open and straightfoward, unless of course it is storming (in which case, turn around. This is no place to be in bad weather). Another half mile of easy cross country leads you to the summit of Barcroft and the amazing views of the Sierra to the west and White Mountain to the north.
I had fun browsing the summit register. Many, many logs from scientists at the research facility studying ibuprofen as an effective remedy for altitude sickness. Vitamin I to the rescue!
There is nowhere to hide from the weather up here, and the wind was whipping pretty good so my time on the summit was short. Instead of retracing my steps past the research station, I decided to beeline back to the road on a straight line to the south. I knew there were hunters in the area but I was in bright colors and visible enough that I felt safe on the short off-trail stretch.
Back down at the trailhead, I warmed up in the car before heading back down the long washboarded dirt road. Along the way I took the side trip to the Patriarch Grove, home of the oldest tree on earth. I took my time wandering among the ancients, enjoying being in the middle of nowhere away from cell phone service, crowds, and noise. As my two week long trip was coming to an end I truly enjoyed this peaceful day!