White Mountains (California)

White Mountains (California)

name=White Mountains

image_caption=White Mountain Peak from access road
country=United States
parent=Basin and Range Province| border=Sierra Nevada
highest=White Mountain Peak

map_caption=The White Mountains along the east side of the Owens Valley

The White Mountains of California are a triangular fault block mountain range facing the Sierra Nevada across the upper Owens Valley. They extend for approximately 60 miles (100 km) as a greatly elevated plateau about 20 miles (30 km.) wide on the south, narrowing to a point at the north, with elevations generally increasing south to north. The range's broad southern end is near the community of Big Pine, where Westgard Pass and Deep Springs Valley separate it from the Inyo Mountains. The narrow northern end is at Montgomery Pass, where U.S. Route 6 crosses. Fish Lake Valley, Nevada lies east of the range.


Ecologically, the White Mountains are like the other ranges in the Basin and Range Province; they are dry, but the upper slopes from 2,800 to 3,500 meters hold open subalpine forests of Great Basin Bristlecone Pine on permeable dolomite and certain granite substrates and Limber pine on less permeable rocky substrates. Middle slopes from 2,000 to 2,500 meters have somewhat denser stands of Piñon pine and Utah juniper. These upper and lower conifer zones are often separated by a zone of Mountain-mahogany brush. Various subspecies of Sagebrush extend from surrounding valleys to the lower alpine zone.

A bristlecone pine in the southern part of the range is the oldest known living tree in the world, about 4,700 years old, nicknamed "Methuselah" after the Biblical figure who was said to have lived to be 969 years of age, which would have made him the oldest human ever. Pine nuts from Piñon pine stands were harvested as a winter staple food by Paiute Indians whose descendants still live in adjacent valleys.

The White Mountains also have small remnant groves of Lodgepole pine, Jeffrey pine, Ponderosa pine, Sierra juniper and Aspen including an unusual dwarf variety. These species are common in the nearby and wetter Sierra Nevada range west of the Owens Valley and must have been more widespread in the White Mountains until holocene droughts extirpated them in most of this drier range.

Fauna include two herds of Bighorn (mountain) sheep, mule deer, marmots and feral horses. Permanent streams have no native fish, but there are naturalized populations of trout including rare Paiute cutthroat trout which is protected from angling. Birds include Clark's Nutcracker and other Nutcracker Corvidae which eat and cache pine nuts.


Cattle from ranches in surrounding valleys are still grazed under permit as high as the alpine zone. Historically sheep were also grazed in large numbers, introducing diseases from which the native Bighorn Sheep populations are still slowly recovering. Before European colonization of surrounding valleys in the mid 19th century Paiute Indians occupied summer hunting camps up to about 4,000 meters, leaving ruins of archeological interest.


The highest point in the range is White Mountain Peak, which at 14,252 feet (4,344 m) [http://www.ngs.noaa.gov] is the third-highest summit in California. This peak is actually an extinct volcano rising about 1,600' (500 meters) above the plateau surface.

The White Mountains are the highest range completely inside the Great Basin, although the adjacent Sierra Nevada Range along the basin's western edge has two higher summits.

The entire range is within the Inyo National Forest.


A four-wheel drive road reaches the summit from the south to service the "Summit Laboratory" of the White Mountain Research Station. The road is normally gated seven miles from the summit at an elevation of 11,680 feet, making this California's easiest 14,000' (4,268 meter) summit. North of White Mountain Peak, two sharp arêtes alternate along the crest with broad "whalebacks" and high plateaus with about six more summits over 13,000' (4,000 meters). The crest crosses the California-Nevada state line just south of a final high summit Boundary Peak (Nevada) 13,147' (4,007 meters), Nevada's high point. Boundary Peak is the "prow" of the triangular fault block. It has views directly down into valleys to the west, north and east that are hidden by the increasing width of the high plateau to the south. North of Boundary Peak the range rapidly loses altitude and ends at Montgomery Pass.

The west face of the White Mountains rises steeply out of Owens Valley. Climbing to any summit from this direction is a scramble with about 8,000 feet of elevation gain. Eastern slopes are somewhat gentler and have numerous cirques left by Pleistocene glaciers and even a few snowfields persisting through most summers. Most of these cirques are entered or approached by jeep roads and offer scenic yet non-technical routes to the crest.

External links

* [http://www.peakbagger.com/range.aspx?rid=13354 Peakbagger info about the range]
* [http://www.summitpost.com/show/mountain_link.pl/mountain_id/38 White Mountain Peak climbing info]
* [http://www.wmrs.edu/ White Mountain Research Station homepage]
* [http://www.summitpost.org/trip-report/347400/counting-sheep-on-the-whites-traverse.html Traverse of White Mountains crest]
* [http://tom.grundy.tripod.com/basedir/whitetraverse.html Another traverse]
* [http://www.calwild.org/photos/content/es/whitemtnsmap1b.jpgProposed wilderness area under Boxer-Solis California Wild Heritage Act of 2006]

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