Want to get into high altitude game? Start here
White Mountain Peak near Bishop is one of the region's most accessible 14,000-foot peaks
(If you're camping at Grandview campground, hiking White Mountain Peak or just going to the visitor center at Schulman Grove be sure to bring plenty of your own water because the entire area from Big Pine, Calif., in the Owens Valley to the top of White Mountain is extremely dry.)
White Mountain Peak is dry, barren and windy.
It's not going to make many "best day hikes" lists given the complete lack of trees and water along the 7.5-mile route from trailhead to peak.
But for people looking to up their hiking and backpacking game with some high altitude adventure White Mountain is an almost mandatory destination.
That's because at more than 14,250 feet in elevation at the peak White Mountain is one of the most accessible 14ers for people in California and western Nevada.
It's located just east of Bishop, Calif., in the White Mountain Range.
We hiked it recently as a training exercise for my upcoming trip to Mt. Whitney, elevation 14,505 feet.
I'd never hiked much over 12,000 feet and wanted to make sure I was up to the task before tackling Whitney from the backcountry at the end of a five-day hiking and camping trip.
My hiking companion had hiked White before and recommended it as a great place for people to test their high altitude game.
He was right.
We started hiking from the trailhead located about 15 miles from the Schulman Grove Visitor's Center, which is the main stopping point for information on the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
The trailhead is located at about 11,700 feet in elevation. There's a vault toilet, a gate blocking the road, a few parking spots and not much else.
The hike goes up the road at a relatively easy grade. After about two miles hikers reach the Barcroft Research Station.
That's a University of California-owned facility for high altitude research. The road is accessible to research workers who you might see driving in the area.
After about another half-mile of uphill hiking you'll reach an observatory on the top of a ridge. In the distance ahead of you White Mountain Peak towers over the rest of the range. If you turn around you'll get views across the Owens Valley and the Sierra Nevada.
From there and for the next three miles or so the trail drops down into a valley. It's relatively easy hiking across the valley.
But as you get closer to the destination you'll start to notice another big dip in the terrain at the bottom of the peak.
At that point you'll probably wonder if that means you're going to have to descend and then climb again to finish the hike.
Yes, you will.
The top of the small ridge is at about 13,200 feet and descends to about 13,000 feet before heading back up.
The final two miles of the hike are also the most difficult.
From the bottom of the ridge the road goes up several large switchbacks and gets progressively steeper and rockier.
It then wraps around the north side of the mountain and turns back toward the peak. The final stretch is steep very rocky.
When you reach the peak there's a stone structure that serves as another research station. There's also a large, green box that contains a sign-in sheet for hikers and a board with stickers spelling "White Mt 14252" that hikers can hold while posing for photos.
It's technically possible to drive from Reno, ascend White Mountain and return on the same day. But it would require at least six hours of driving plus around seven hours of hiking in one day, which is probably a bit much for most people.
We made the three-hour drive from Reno the day before the hike and set up camp at Grandview Campground in the Inyo National Forest.
The sites are free and include fire rings and picnic tables. The campground has pit toilets but no running water. With water in short suply in the White range it's best to bring all you'll need for your entire stay in the area. We brought five gallons each which was enough for cooking, hand washing and drinking for two days.
Grandview is also about a 15-minute drive to the newly built visitor center. (An arsonist burned downt he previous center a few years ago.)
The new center is bright, airy, has a wide selection of items in the gift shop and copious information on the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, which has trees that in some cases are approaching 5,000 years old.
Outside the visitor center there are a number of well-marked hiking trails through the ancient forest and past historic mining structures.
The trails are also a nice place to get some light exercise at about 10,000 feet in elevation in advance of ascending White Mountain.
White Mountain Peak: By the numbers
Distance: 7.6 miles (one-way, trailhead to peak, 15 miles round trip)
Elevation gain: 3,015
Maximum elevation: 14,250 feet (approximate)
Minimum elevation: 11,700 feet (approximate)
Total time: 7.5 hour, round-trip.
Know before you go: Altitude sickness
Altitude sickness, which is the result of the affect of low oxygen levels on the body, is a risk for people hiking at high altitudes.
Altitude sickness is unpredictable and can affect anyone, although people who have experienced it in the past are considered at higher risk.
There are varying levels of symptoms from mild to life-threatening.
Mild symptoms include: Headache, malaise, loss of appetite, vomiting and disturbed sleep.
Left untreated the symptoms can progress to high altitude plumonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE).
The best treatment for any altitude illness is to descend to a lower altitude.
Learn more about prevention and treatment here BEFORE you hike or camp at high altitude. CLICK HERE.