White Mountain Wanderings

Across the Owens Valley from the mighty Sierra Nevada peaks is an often overlooked range: The White Mountains in the Inyo National Forest.

View of the White Mountains

[Photo by Jeffrey Pang from Madison, NJ, USA /Wikipedia]

Among my adventure friends, there’s a favorite camping spot up there and being summer it was time for the annual outing.

In this age of GPS way-points, digital maps, online step-by-step instructions, it'd be easy to provide the exact location. But consider the fact of constant connectivity and a multitude of satellite based devices. It’s actually a pleasure to get lost these days. So instead, I say:

Get lost. Have fun. Get found then get lost again. For the extra curious: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Mountains_%28California%29

The rough terrain requires a 4x4 and Tod & son joined me in my Toyota. It’s a long drive from Los Angeles so a stop at Bishop was a welcome break. We pulled over at a small stream outside of town to eat lunch then reduce air in the tires (for additional traction and control) for the next leg of the trip.


The views of the Sierra Nevada are astounding from this rugged track as it climbs sharply upward.


After cresting over the very top, it was on to the high plateau. We are now at about 10k feet.


A few last double checks to make sure our navigation is correct, we confirmed we were on the correct track to the camp.

The dry and arid terrain gave way to green chaparral, flowing grasses and full running creeks, the result of being on the western flank of the crest with many drainage points.


The camping here is primitive. No facilities. No reservations. No red tape.

Water runs high in the creek. Bring everything you need to be comfy for extreme temperature changes. Yes, in August it can get to down to the mid 30’s overnight.

It’s neat to arrive to find all the people that are already there – are all your friends. A good turnout!


Not to crowd the others, we set up camp around the bend a bit.


The stars here are something awesome to see. The Milky Way appears as a giant misty blanket across the black.

At one point I saw – what I assume to be – the ISS (International Space Station) steadily pushing across my vision as a bright white ball, until it lost its proper angle to the sun that had set hours ago. I will never forget that.

A terrible night shot [above]. But you can see the brightness of Mars above my tent.


[Photo by Ed]

The next day we hiked a giant loop that started out the back of the camp area to return from the opposite direction.

Wilderness is the main theme here. There are no official trails, trail signs, mile markers. Navigate using your own skilled sense of direction, line of sight reckoning or perhaps you’ve got a digital or paper map.

But the main idea for us is to follow a creek upstream. Turn away to follow several meadows divided by rocky outcroppings in a large circular arc.


[Photo by Ed]
I was the last one to make it back to camp late that afternoon. Not because of any difficulty or problem, but because of adventure.

Our main group purposely was divided into two groups. Then my group accidentally got split into two: Tod & Reeve, then me.

On a high overlook I was scoping out a large meadow that seemed to offer good passage in the right direction.

At the far end I saw two hikers exiting the last of the low grass and into yet another wooded area. Ok two things confirmed at that moment: -I’ve found my group.  -And I’m heading the right way.


Those issues settled, I meandered through the terrain. I admired the different vistas and imagined setting up a camp here or there.

Wind. Birds. Gurgles from streams. Your existence has no reference to city noise, pavement or crowds.

Hiking boots crunching
Walking poles tapping
Shoulder straps
Stretch and moan
Life is good
On the trail

-my words from a hike in Joshua Tree N.P. with Virginia


[Photo by Russ] 

Meanwhile back at camp, life is indeed a simple beautiful thing. Flowing soft grass. Flowers. Creek song. Ed’s dog chasing endless throws of the slobber ball.

Russ and Scheherazade performed a waltz in the matted meadow – to the live duet of Ed on guitar and Brook on violin.

This is such a great video of them. (Opens in a new Window)

[Photo and Video by Ed]


I was able to get a shot of a white-lined sphinx , a type of hummingbird moth.
He was flitting and pollinating among the desert paint brush.


You can be sociable or simply sit among the Aspens.


The next day, Tod and I hatched a plan for an overland hike from the Patriarch grove of Bristlecone trees (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinus_longaeva) high up at 11k feet.

We’d hike down a specific canyon to some meadows near camp then walk the two-track back to camp itself at 9k feet.

Two puzzle pieces:
-    Getting a drop-off ride to the Patriarch Grove
-    Finding the right canyon.

Solving for the first piece, Curtis had mentioned that he’d be leaving this day instead of hiking. 

We made our pitch to perhaps grab a lift, and soon enough three of us (Tod, Reeve and I) were squeezed in the back of his quad cab truck.

In true adventurous “what could possibly go wrong” fashion, the second puzzle piece would be figured out once we got dropped off.

We scouted the area to find a high point at the grove. The views were amazing. I got a shot of Curtis in his truck just before he disappeared into the massive landscape:

We found our canyon. As a bonus, Tod discovered it had an abandoned road that lead down the steepest section.

Before heading down we walked the established trails that wind among the most prevalent trees.

We eventually peeled away from the established trails, towards our canyon.

Steep shale and talus was the required terrain to get to the old road. You can see it as a faint line above.


Eventually the road ended, but not until after several switch backs providing easy going in the steepest part of the canyon.

We kept descending along the ever widening bottom. The downhill overland route wasn’t too difficult.


Rocky for sure, and a few felled trees to navigate, but often we had a soft layer of pine cones and needles under foot.


At some point there was lots of blue sky and the canyon walls had mostly disappeared.

A familiar meadow (from the day before) appeared through the trees. We’d done the bulk of the route. We traversed the long meadow then walked the two-track back to camp.

The old trees up there are precious and magical. The oldest is over 4800 years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methuselah_(tree)

The next day was busy with breaking down camp, loading the vehicle and the drive back to pavement. On the way out we caught a bighorn sheep sighting:

It took some research to figure out what type these were. Of all types, these look closest to either Sierra Nevada or Desert bighorns.



Have you been to this area? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. The comment password is: Life is Good

Comments (5) -


Beautiful trip.  I wish I could have been there alongside you all.  Your photos are beautiful and along with your commentary place me right there in that meadow!


Thanks Lyz, may we all have more time in places like this.

Anthony Mikkonen
Anthony Mikkonen 8/27/2019 6:55:17 PM

Well documented. Amazing pics. I’ve been there years ago, The White Mountains.

Thank you for this gift!


Glad you liked it, it's truly an inspiring area. I want to go back soon!

Douglas Moore
Douglas Moore 5/16/2020 10:45:20 AM

Here is my test comment

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