Blown Away In California's White Mountains - Self Rescue Off White Mountain Traverse in the Winter

A forum that'll feed your need for exploring the limitless adventure possibilities found in "other" places. Post trip reports or ask questions about outdoor adventures beyond the Sierra Nevada here.
Post Reply
User avatar
MichaelRPetrick
Topix Acquainted
Posts: 86
Joined: Sun Apr 21, 2013 7:06 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer
Location: Mill Valley, CA

Blown Away In California's White Mountains - Self Rescue Off White Mountain Traverse in the Winter

Post by MichaelRPetrick » Thu Apr 09, 2020 3:54 pm

Here's a great entry on a podcast called the Sharp End.

Mountaineer started the White Mountain traverse from White Mtn to Boundary Peak last November.

Right before the bomb cyclone blew in a few days early... this is an astounding epic. Give it a listen:

https://soundcloud.com/the_sharp_end/bl ... -mountains

You can give his write-up of it a read here as well:

http://hmix.org/








User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Docent
Posts: 5026
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Experience: N/A
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Contact:

Re: Blown Away In California's White Mountains - Self Rescue Off White Mountain Traverse in the Winter

Post by Wandering Daisy » Thu Apr 09, 2020 6:17 pm

My first thought is "poor judgement".

First, wrong time of year. I have climbed in the White Mountains four times and would NEVER choose late fall, beginning of winter for the traverse let alone a climb of any single peak. Water is the number one consideration in the White Mountains; it is quite plentiful in spring to early summer, much less so in the Fall. It is not that there is no water, but the water is not easy to reach. The White Mountains are known for severe weather, particularly wind. There is an "arctic research station" on the ridge! You can search the historical weather records. By November, the first blast of real winter is bound to happen, regardless of the forecast. It does not even have to be a "bomb cyclone" to be really bad. It is always cold on the ridge; more so in November. And very little daylight.

Second, I never would have bailed out the California side. The Nevada side is not bad. Once down to the dirt roads, it is a fairly short hike to the highway. One should have considered, in detail, exact bail out routes before starting on the traverse. Basing my bail out on availability of SAR and cell coverage is not my practice because I do not carry communication devices.

To give the fellow a break, though, most people totally underestimate the seriousness of the White Mountains. The weather is unique, something I was totally unfamiliar with when I did my trips. There is such a sudden elevation rise on both sides that storms form in a minute, as well as dissipate just as fast. I found it almost impossible to "read" the weather. When I did a partial traverse of the north section, the snow was also like none I had dealt with. I started out walking on a solid frozen surface only to sink to my hips in airy "Styrofoam" once the crust melted. I really wallowed my way back from the end of my traverse, fighting the wind as well as the snow! There was actually a little lake on the top when I did it. In the White Mountains I felt more remote than in the more remote parts of the Sierra. Travel is harsh, no matter how you do it (other than the walk on the road to climb from the south). Lots of sticker brush. Very steep slopes. Rattlesnakes down low. Nobody there. I have never been on the ridge without a stiff wind. The kind that picks up dirt and pelts it into your face.

A good mountaineering bivy sack is actually better than a tent in the White Mountains, because you just jump in it, and it performs better in a high wind. You can also hunker in a very small space behind a rock for shelter.

For those interested in the traverse, I would highly recommend to do several smaller trips first to get a good feel for the conditions. Boundary Peak is a really nice climb. Several come-and-go trails go up the canyons from the east.

User avatar
MichaelRPetrick
Topix Acquainted
Posts: 86
Joined: Sun Apr 21, 2013 7:06 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer
Location: Mill Valley, CA

Re: Blown Away In California's White Mountains - Self Rescue Off White Mountain Traverse in the Winter

Post by MichaelRPetrick » Fri Apr 10, 2020 9:22 am

Wandering Daisy wrote:
Thu Apr 09, 2020 6:17 pm
My first thought is "poor judgement".

First, wrong time of year. I have climbed in the White Mountains four times and would NEVER choose late fall, beginning of winter for the traverse let alone a climb of any single peak. Water is the number one consideration in the White Mountains; it is quite plentiful in spring to early summer, much less so in the Fall. It is not that there is no water, but the water is not easy to reach. The White Mountains are known for severe weather, particularly wind. There is an "arctic research station" on the ridge! You can search the historical weather records. By November, the first blast of real winter is bound to happen, regardless of the forecast. It does not even have to be a "bomb cyclone" to be really bad. It is always cold on the ridge; more so in November. And very little daylight.

Second, I never would have bailed out the California side. The Nevada side is not bad. Once down to the dirt roads, it is a fairly short hike to the highway. One should have considered, in detail, exact bail out routes before starting on the traverse. Basing my bail out on availability of SAR and cell coverage is not my practice because I do not carry communication devices.

To give the fellow a break, though, most people totally underestimate the seriousness of the White Mountains. The weather is unique, something I was totally unfamiliar with when I did my trips. There is such a sudden elevation rise on both sides that storms form in a minute, as well as dissipate just as fast. I found it almost impossible to "read" the weather. When I did a partial traverse of the north section, the snow was also like none I had dealt with. I started out walking on a solid frozen surface only to sink to my hips in airy "Styrofoam" once the crust melted. I really wallowed my way back from the end of my traverse, fighting the wind as well as the snow! There was actually a little lake on the top when I did it. In the White Mountains I felt more remote than in the more remote parts of the Sierra. Travel is harsh, no matter how you do it (other than the walk on the road to climb from the south). Lots of sticker brush. Very steep slopes. Rattlesnakes down low. Nobody there. I have never been on the ridge without a stiff wind. The kind that picks up dirt and pelts it into your face.

A good mountaineering bivy sack is actually better than a tent in the White Mountains, because you just jump in it, and it performs better in a high wind. You can also hunker in a very small space behind a rock for shelter.

For those interested in the traverse, I would highly recommend to do several smaller trips first to get a good feel for the conditions. Boundary Peak is a really nice climb. Several come-and-go trails go up the canyons from the east.
Thanks WD! Interesting to hear about your trips traversing up there being also fairly brutal.

Can't help but agree with your assessment - (though of course not based on any specific knowledge of the route.) This seems to be another manifestation of Amundsen's quote about how "Adventure is just poor planning." especially insofar as he 1.) Didn't check the weather with locals or appeared to have sounded out anyone that had done the trip before, and, 2.) Didn't have bailout options. Thank goodness for him he was enough of a stud - and just plain lucky enough - that he could downclimb what he got himself in to.

Now that this kind of trip is on my radar, what time of year makes sense for a feeler trip up Boundary say? April/Mayish after the snowpack has consolidated? (Am most definitely not seriously considering a full traverse it in the immediate future, am just sort of idly wondering when the most pacific weather/conditions would be.)

User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Docent
Posts: 5026
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Experience: N/A
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Contact:

Re: Blown Away In California's White Mountains - Self Rescue Off White Mountain Traverse in the Winter

Post by Wandering Daisy » Fri Apr 10, 2020 11:56 am

I did the traverse from Mt. Hogue to "The Jumpoff" memorial day weekend 2005. I did two routes on the same trip later, cannot remember exact year, but in June; one flat to the south in hopes of climbing White Mountain and bailed out at about 12,000 feet due to weather (which cleared up when I thought it was going to storm) and then Boundary Peak from the east side approach (ice axe and crampons were used). Here are two photos from the 2005 trip. Of course, each year is different. The 2005 (160% snowpack year) trip actually was too early with a bit too much snow.

WhiteMtn2.JPG
WhiteMtn1.JPG
You must be registered and logged in to view the files/photos attached to this post.

User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Docent
Posts: 5026
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Experience: N/A
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Contact:

Re: Blown Away In California's White Mountains - Self Rescue Off White Mountain Traverse in the Winter

Post by Wandering Daisy » Fri Apr 10, 2020 5:24 pm

Here is the trip report I did. This was not particularly unusual weather either. Note that we were north of that weather station and 2000 feet lower.

After a warm night and leisurely breakfast, we studied the maps. We headed up past Post Meadows. With about 1,000 feet of gentle elevation gain behind us we chose to turn south following an aspen choked drainage until we were forced us onto the steep rocky hillside and finally able to intersect the ridge. In retrospect, staying on the ridge to the west from the start would have been better. We reached the 11,100-foot plateau at 3:00 PM, found water and having enough elevation gain for one day sipped tea, read, cooked dinner and hit the sack by 7:00 PM! Clouds built up and it rained lightly most of the night.

At the crack of dawn I headed for 13,500 foot Mt. Dubois. Data from the White Mountain Summit station provides an interesting record of conditions. Dressed in wool underwear, two layers of fleece, softshell and two hats, I soon reached the 13,000-foot Pellisier Flat (8:00 AM; 24 mph average wind, 30 degrees F). Abundant snowmelt pools were frozen and the Styrofoam snow had a firm crust providing easy passage over intermittent snowfields. Too cold to stop, I quickly walked the 6 miles to Mt. Dubois in awe of the grand vista of the Sierra to the west and the wind to my back (11:00 AM, 34 mph wind, 34 degrees F). The rocky summit provided shelter. Should I continue 2 miles onto 12,500-foot “Jumpoff”? I knew the snow crust was deteriorating requiring post-holing on my return trip. Fortunately the route to Jumpoff was primarily on exposed sandy slopes, so I decided to go. Close to noon I was tagging every hump on the ridge, not sure which one was summit! Time to return and fight the headwind. When I again reached Mt. Dubois, weather had deteriorated and I had to put on my Goretex parka and zip up the hood (1:00 PM: 44 mph, 36 degrees F). Now I had to walk long zig-zags to avoid the soft corn snow. I was unable to avoid it all and waded agonizingly slowly through thigh-deep drifts fighting the ever-increasing wind (3:00 PM; 57 mph wind, 37 degrees F). Things were getting a bit epic by the time I reached the south end of Pellisier Flat (5:00 PM; 58 mph average wind with gusts to 86 mph!). The sun had disappeared and it was getting cold (31 degrees).

Dave chose to climb 12,712 Mt. Hogue and wisely descended before the worst part of the afternoon gale. When I arrived we compared notes on the misery of soft snow. Dave got his share of wading too! At 8:00 PM, on White Mountain, the wind peaked with an average of 80 mph, gusts to 99 mph! Overnight temperatures dropped to 26 degrees F.

Our little campsite was protected from the worst of the wind, however, by dark the wind had picked up and fine silt sifted through the mosquito netting of our little 3-season tent. The tent rocked and we were covered with dust.

By the next morning water bottles had a film of ice but the sun was shining and the wind subsided to a gentle breeze. We decided to go back down Chaitovitch Flat and intersect the trail to the Mollini mine. We did not find any evidence of a trail until we headed down the steep slopes off the north side of the flat. Eventually we the trail turned into a rough 4wd road, becoming better as we descended. We were back at our car by 1:00 PM.

The top of the White Mountains can be an inhospitable place, but what a view! Oddly, the only wildlife I encountered was a jackrabbit on the slope of Mt. Dubois! There was abundant running water during the warm part of the day camping is dictated more by wind protection than water sources. By running out of energy, we had fortunately camped at an ideal site. Had we continued on to Pellisier Flat, we would have had epic conditions. The routes we chose were basically walks. The steeper snow slopes appeared to us too dangerous to attempt. The snow was very unstable. I do not know if this is typical of the White Mountains or an anomaly of this year. I was impressed and am ready to explore more of the east side canyons. This is truly a little used wilderness area.

User avatar
MichaelRPetrick
Topix Acquainted
Posts: 86
Joined: Sun Apr 21, 2013 7:06 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer
Location: Mill Valley, CA

Re: Blown Away In California's White Mountains - Self Rescue Off White Mountain Traverse in the Winter

Post by MichaelRPetrick » Fri Apr 10, 2020 7:59 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:
Fri Apr 10, 2020 5:24 pm
Here is the trip report I did. This was not particularly unusual weather either. Note that we were north of that weather station and 2000 feet lower.

After a warm night and leisurely breakfast, we studied the maps. We headed up past Post Meadows. With about 1,000 feet of gentle elevation gain behind us we chose to turn south following an aspen choked drainage until we were forced us onto the steep rocky hillside and finally able to intersect the ridge. In retrospect, staying on the ridge to the west from the start would have been better. We reached the 11,100-foot plateau at 3:00 PM, found water and having enough elevation gain for one day sipped tea, read, cooked dinner and hit the sack by 7:00 PM! Clouds built up and it rained lightly most of the night.

At the crack of dawn I headed for 13,500 foot Mt. Dubois. Data from the White Mountain Summit station provides an interesting record of conditions. Dressed in wool underwear, two layers of fleece, softshell and two hats, I soon reached the 13,000-foot Pellisier Flat (8:00 AM; 24 mph average wind, 30 degrees F). Abundant snowmelt pools were frozen and the Styrofoam snow had a firm crust providing easy passage over intermittent snowfields. Too cold to stop, I quickly walked the 6 miles to Mt. Dubois in awe of the grand vista of the Sierra to the west and the wind to my back (11:00 AM, 34 mph wind, 34 degrees F). The rocky summit provided shelter. Should I continue 2 miles onto 12,500-foot “Jumpoff”? I knew the snow crust was deteriorating requiring post-holing on my return trip. Fortunately the route to Jumpoff was primarily on exposed sandy slopes, so I decided to go. Close to noon I was tagging every hump on the ridge, not sure which one was summit! Time to return and fight the headwind. When I again reached Mt. Dubois, weather had deteriorated and I had to put on my Goretex parka and zip up the hood (1:00 PM: 44 mph, 36 degrees F). Now I had to walk long zig-zags to avoid the soft corn snow. I was unable to avoid it all and waded agonizingly slowly through thigh-deep drifts fighting the ever-increasing wind (3:00 PM; 57 mph wind, 37 degrees F). Things were getting a bit epic by the time I reached the south end of Pellisier Flat (5:00 PM; 58 mph average wind with gusts to 86 mph!). The sun had disappeared and it was getting cold (31 degrees).

Dave chose to climb 12,712 Mt. Hogue and wisely descended before the worst part of the afternoon gale. When I arrived we compared notes on the misery of soft snow. Dave got his share of wading too! At 8:00 PM, on White Mountain, the wind peaked with an average of 80 mph, gusts to 99 mph! Overnight temperatures dropped to 26 degrees F.

Our little campsite was protected from the worst of the wind, however, by dark the wind had picked up and fine silt sifted through the mosquito netting of our little 3-season tent. The tent rocked and we were covered with dust.

By the next morning water bottles had a film of ice but the sun was shining and the wind subsided to a gentle breeze. We decided to go back down Chaitovitch Flat and intersect the trail to the Mollini mine. We did not find any evidence of a trail until we headed down the steep slopes off the north side of the flat. Eventually we the trail turned into a rough 4wd road, becoming better as we descended. We were back at our car by 1:00 PM.

The top of the White Mountains can be an inhospitable place, but what a view! Oddly, the only wildlife I encountered was a jackrabbit on the slope of Mt. Dubois! There was abundant running water during the warm part of the day camping is dictated more by wind protection than water sources. By running out of energy, we had fortunately camped at an ideal site. Had we continued on to Pellisier Flat, we would have had epic conditions. The routes we chose were basically walks. The steeper snow slopes appeared to us too dangerous to attempt. The snow was very unstable. I do not know if this is typical of the White Mountains or an anomaly of this year. I was impressed and am ready to explore more of the east side canyons. This is truly a little used wilderness area.
Jeez, sounds miserable.

Thanks again WD!

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests