White Mountain Peak Unicycle climb

Over Labor Day weekend, 9 of us took a trip to Eastern California to climb
White Mountain Peak, the 3rd highest peak in California, on unicycles. At
14,246’ (4342m), it is the only 14,000’ peak in California where wheels of
any type are allowed. In fact, it has a road up to the summit (the highest
road in North America supposedly) which makes it perfect for unicycles or
mountain bikes. The road is so rocky and steep that it’s difficult to
imagine even a jeep making it, but it was driven once, almost to the top,
a month ago. Every year, on Sunday of Labor Day weekend, the gate just
below 12,000’ is opened and people can drive their cars a little higher to
the high altitude research lab run by the University of California. There
is an open house at the lab, and typically over a hundred people take
advantage of this and attempt the climb on that day.

From Barcroft Lab, the climb is 6 miles each way, with over 2000’ of
climbing. In order to get used to the altitude, we arrived at the
campground at 8,500’ on Friday night, and had a relaxing day Saturday
hiking and riding at up to a little over 11,000’. We went on a great hike
through a forest of Bristlecone Pine trees, the oldest living things on
earth (some over 4000 years old).

Sunday morning, we were up at 5:30am and made it to the lab a
little before
8. By chance, the weather on this special day was the best of the whole
season. Maybe the weather gods like unicyclists? After a tour of the
lab and some preparation, we started up the trail. The first few miles
are mostly rideable, but the last section to the summit is steeper and
much rockier so we could only ride short parts. There were many people
climbing, mostly hikers, some bikers, and even one guy with an oxygen
tank in his pack (I could keep up with him while he was pushing his
bike, but after he ditched it near the top, it was impossible to keep
up). We were spread out but all reached the summit and spent quite a
while enjoying the amazing view of 2 vertical miles of air down to the
Owens Valley. We ate lunch on the aluminum roof of the summit lab
which was nice and warm from the sun. Amazingly, it was comfortable in
shorts up there!

A famous outdoor photographer and climber, Galen Rowell, ran(!) up past us
on the climb, and before we were up, ran past us on the way down. We were
really surprised when he showed up again on the summit, but we spent some
time with him, and he shot a couple of rolls of film of us (mostly Kris).
He was shooting Kris as we started down, and the two of them ended up in a
race: Kris riding down the switchbacks of the road as fast as possible,
with Galen running on a direct route, initially getting way ahead. But
Kris caught and passed him on the flatter sections below. Finally very
close to the cars, Galen cut more switchbacks to win by about 40 feet.
Their time was 51 minutes which is really impressive considering the
altitude and very rocky terrain.

The rest of us went slower, but had a lot of fun. At one point, Beau
yelled to me, “This is better than Mr. Toads!” By the end, he was pretty
tired and I had to carry his unicycle up the last little hill. We hung
around with some of the researchers at the lab for a little while then
drove down to camp - about an hour in the heavily loaded van with 7 people

  • quite a bit less for Bruce in his 4WD. We had another nice dinner and
    watched the full moon rise, then went to bed feeling great. Beau and
    Bronson both were really feeling the altitude right after the climb, but
    dropping down 4000’ cured them 100%.

The next morning we visited Galen Rowell’s new gallery in Bishop, an
incredible space. We spent over an hour hearing his stories about photos,
getting autographed books, etc. If you ever go to Bishop (or Emeryville
near San Francisco) check out his gallery. After that, we stopped at one
of the many hotsprings in the Owens Valley, isolated on an unmarked dirt
road, with a beautiful view of the Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains,
and the incoming storm. Driving through Yosemite, we were treated to a
lightening and thunder show, complete with blasting hail. But it let up
for us to play around bouldering, and spend the late afternoon down in
Yosemite Valley. We hiked up to the base of El Capitan and hung out until
after 7pm so as to miss the bad Labor Day weekend traffic.

We got up early Tueday morning because Kris had time before flying home to
go ride a new trail in the Santa Cruz mountains, “Better Than Northshore”.
He amazed us by riding every section - including some optional bits I’m
sure have never been ridden before! Now we know it’s all possible I guess.
I’m working on getting some video clips of this and other recent
activities onto the web.

Some links you might be interested in:

35 of my photos of the White Mountain Peak trip:
http://www.movaris.com/nathan/photos.html The “Better Than NorthShore”
album has 4 new pictures added too. White Mtn Pk info, w/summit log:
http://www.peakware.com/encyclopedia/peaks/addapeak108.htm Galen Rowell’s
website: http://www.mountainlight.com/ Barcroft Laboratory:
http://www.wmrs.edu/ Topo map showing our climb:
http://movaris.com/nathan/maps/whitemountaintop.jpg

The riders: Beau Hoover, age 9, his first peak over 12,000’ Bronson Silva,
his first time over 10,000’ Bruce Bundy, blasted up and down the peak
Geoff Faraghan, ditto Kris Holm, his 3rd unicycle ascent over 14,000’
Nathan Hoover, ditto Plus: Marie-Helene from Grenoble, very strong and
fast Megumi, her first peak over 13,000’ Shannon McLaughlin from
Vancouver, her first time over 8,000’

STAY ON TOP!

—Nathan

Wow! What a story. What a weekend! I regret that I couldn’t go. I was
getting over a cold or something, and a 2000’ climb starting at a higher
altitude than I’ve ever been didn’t seem like a good test for it.
Unfortunately Brett Bymaster had something come up that kept him from
being able to come, and John Hooten was going to ride with us so he didn’t
make it either. I’m glad it worked out so well for the rest of you!

> We went on a great hike through a forest of Bristlecone Pine trees, the
> oldest living things on earth (some over 4000 years old).

I recently read an article about ‘famous California trees’ which included
one of the Bristlecones called Methuselah. Though they showed a picture of
the tree, they said its exact location is not given out for protection of
the tree. It would have been fun to try to spot it from memory. Methuselah
is very gnarled and doesn’t look very tall.

> He was shooting Kris as we started down, and the two of them ended up in
> a race: Kris riding down the switchbacks of the road as fast as
> possible, with Galen running on a direct route,

Guess that’s why there aren’t many pictures of the ride down… :slight_smile:

> initially getting way ahead. But Kris caught and passed him on the
> flatter sections below. Finally very close to the cars, Galen cut more
> switchbacks to win by about 40 feet. Their time was 51 minutes which is
> really impressive considering the altitude and very rocky terrain.

Wow. Extreme athletes trying to out-extreme each other!

> a beautiful view of the Sierra Nevada and the White Mountains, and the
> incoming storm. Driving through Yosemite, we were treated to a
> lightening and thunder show, complete with blasting hail. But it let up
> for us to play around bouldering, and spend the late afternoon down in
> Yosemite Valley.

Glad the weather cooperated. I was worried when I saw the forecasts.

Thanks for the great story and posting the photos so quick! Now I will
always wish I’d gone…

Stay on top, John Foss, the Uni-Cyclone jfoss@unicycling.com
www.unicycling.com

“The difference between a winner and a loser is character.”