The White Mountains Crest Hike

This is one of the most amazing hikes of its length in the country. This is also a rugged cross country trip, trail-less except for a couple of miles on a closed road and it takes place at elevations above 11,000′ for more than 95% of the distance. The White Mountains are the first of the Great Basin desert ranges and rise to over fourteen thousand feet on the east side of the Owens Valley. The Whites are home to some of the oldest known living things, the bristlecone pine, which can live for over four thousand years. For a while White Mountain was rumored to be higher than Mt. Whitney -it is not, but is a mere 250 feet lower and is perhaps the “easiest” fourteener in California. The Whites are remote, little traveled and true wilderness and the 2009 designation of them as a Wilderness area recognized these values. We hope that you will join us to explore this area with its fantastic views of the whole Sierra Nevada range from Olancha to the Tahoe area. Golden eagles, mountain lions, and groups of desert bighorn sheep are amongst the wildlife here and we hope to be lucky enough to see them.

Return to Sierra Backpacking & Hiking

Camp elevations are high (higher generally than those in the Sierra Nevada) on this trip so it is essential that you get at least one night and preferably three nights sleeping at 9,000′ or higher prior to this trip.

Day 1

We will meet at the Sierra Mountain Center office for the pre trip meeting. We will have a pack check prior to getting shuttled up to the trailhead near Crooked Creek in the Whites. The shuttle takes nearly three hours with a stop for a short hike at the Schulman Bristlecone Grove. From there an easy hours walk will bring us to our first camp at 10,600′ in Cottonwood Meadow.

Day 2

This day we walk on informal use trails and ancient Paiute routes as we make our way to an unnamed pass near Mt. Barcroft. Camp this night is at 11,600 with snowmelt for our water source. This is a relatively short day but is important for acclimatization to the high elevation. It does allow time for a walk unencumbered by our large packs to get the outstanding views back to Cottonwood Basin and to the east out to Fishlake Valley

Day 3

This is a very long day and requires a pre dawn start as we head into the heart of the range. Ascending animal and Native American trails towards Mt. Barcroft we may come across a group of desert bighorn sheep as we’re now entering their habitat high above tree line on open rocky slopes. We briefly intersect the now closed White Mountain road and breathing hard, we ascend to the summit of White Mountain Peak to the last vestiges of civilization at the old research cabin on the summit. We leave the developed world for the remaining days and head north off the peak to a short 3rd class ridge. This is the most difficult section of the hike but before long we are on the stunning wide open slopes and plateaus of the range. We travel along the ridge crest to a camp (elevation 11,200′) at the headwaters of Cabin and Birch Creeks with their year round springs.

The hike today begins with a long but gentle uphill through improbable grasslands and wide open meadows, with lots of running water. The five mile walk along remarkably flat terrain of 12,000 foot Pellisier Flats with its alpine tundra and miniature wildflowers is a highlight of the trip. Our final camp is just past Mt. Dubois at over 13,000′. The campsite location will depend upon the condition of the springs or the ability to locate snow patches for our nights water supply

Day 4

The hike today begins with a long but gentle uphill through improbable grasslands and wide-open meadows, with lots of running water. The five-mile walk along Pellisier Flats is one of the many highlights of the trip. The area is entirely above 12,000′ and is alpine tundra, with miniature wildflowers and remarkably flat terrain. Our final camp is just past Mt. Dubois at over 13,000′. The campsite will depend upon the condition of the springs and snow patches since we are dependent upon locating a water source.

Day 5

This is a big day with a several route options, all involving a lot of elevation loss. We may go over Montgomery and Boundary Peaks and drop east into Trail Canyon. Or we may choose to avoid the peaks and head due east off the “Jump Off”. Much of this is second class so be prepared for scrambling.

This is a pristine and little traveled area. We must do our utmost to minimize our impact on the land and leave no evidence of our presence. This means a higher than normal awareness of our potential impacts and doing what we can to leave no trace of our passage. Your guide will brief you thoroughly on our “Leave no Trace” practices. This is a trip to extreme high elevations. Our itinerary takes this into account but the terrain limits where we can reasonably hope to camp. We’ve done our best to place camps in the lowest spots available but we still will wind up with a camp above 13,000′. It is essential that you have at least one night and preferably three nights immediately prior to the trip at high elevation. Look at this as an investment in your trip and in your health.

Program Prerequisites:

High level of physical condition and prior backpacking experience.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.

Local accommodation is not included.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details, itinerary and equipment list
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

White Mountains Crest Hike Map

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.