Biking to Barcroft

16-18 Jul 2003 - by Ken Krugler (view roster page)

My best friend Schmed (Chris Schneider) dreams of climbing all of the 13,000ft peaks in California. Being an engineer, he's had a lot of fun creating the definitive list of said peaks, with supporting details ad nauseam. Unfortunately he's also got an arthritic knee, with cartilage transplant surgery scheduled for August. So I took it upon myself to find some "easy" 13ers for him to bag in July.

White Mountain Peak is the definition of an easy 14er, so I searched in the vicinity and found two unclimbed peaks on his list, both right off the dirt road to White - perfect! Hey, we could even ride our mountain bikes to the top of White and Barcroft, and maybe even UTM882683, though the ridge heading north from White looked a bit narrow on the topo. What a great way to save what little cartilage was left in his knee!

So that was the plan, and then there's reality. We drove up to the Grandview campground (off White Mtn Road, a few miles from Highway 168) on Wednesday night, arriving after midnight. This got us a late 9am start riding from the locked gate located about 2 miles from the Barcroft research station. Biking up a shadeless dirt road at 12,000ft with a full load (including 12 lbs of water) isn't the same as your typical afternoon single-track ride through the forest.

We made it to the research station without much trouble, but the road past it was steep, rough, and had recently been poorly graded by a rookie backhoe operator. We wound up pushing our bikes to the small observatory, where we ditched most of our gear and then were able to continue riding, as the road improved for a bit. At around 13,000 ft we left the bikes behind, as the rest of the road looked very steep. At 14,000 ft we headed north off the road (this is the last big switchback up to White) and descended a short scree slope to the start of the ridge. You traverse right around the first spire, then stay left of the ridge. After two short 3rd class down-climbs you can slog up to the flat summit of unnamed peak 13908, then drop 700 ft down to another notch, traverse right on animal trails, and finally climb 400 ft to unamed peak 13615 (UTM882683). None of this, by the way, was rideable, at least by mere mortals.

The peak itself was nice, with a register placed in 1940, and about 10 entries (most from the 1960s). We didn't spend much time, since dark clouds were gathering over White Mtn., and we could see rain fingers reaching down all around us. On the way back to the road we spotted a group of desert sheep on the ridge above us, and some hawks soaring the ridge, sharing the updrafts with a sailplane.

With the 4+ miles of cross country and ridge scrambling, we didn't get back to our bikes until 7:00pm, which meant dinner at 8:30pm and a deferral on Mt. Barcroft until the following morning. The walk up and down this little bump the next day was uneventful, unlike the bike ride back to the gate. I managed to bury my front wheel in a large hole, resulting in a full forward endo. Even with that small interruption, it only took 8 minutes to get from the observatory back to the car. We then took turns riding down to Big Pine, with one person in the chase car and the other trying not to die on the bike.

To summarize - if the road and the riders were in better shape, it would be possible to bike to the top of White Mtn. Peak. There is no road to the top of Mt. Barcroft, no matter what the ranger says. Biking to UTM882683 would be difficult, given the 3rd class ridge, scree, talus, etc. I'm hoping the surgeon doesn't open up Schmed's knee and say "Whoa, we're going to need to grow some more cartilage!"


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