Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bighorn Sheep on White Mountain Peak

Thick smoke from Yosemite's Rim Fire poured into the Owen's Valley, completely obscuring our view of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Although the smoke was filling the valley and continuing east over the White Mountains, we decided to head to White Mountain Peak (14,252 feet), near the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, hoping to climb above the smoke.

At 14,252 feet, White Mountain Peak is the third highest mountain in California.  It is also reputed to be one of the easiest 14ers to climb because there is a dirt 4WD road all the way to the top, which is a mere 14 miles round trip from the trailhead. The 4WD road is closed to motorized vehicles other than those traveling to the White Mountain research stations.  While we saw several vehicles parked at the Barcroft research station, two miles from the trailhead, we did not see any other vehicles as we hiked.

We did not see any other hikers either.  Then, about two miles from the summit, the floodgates opened as multiple groups of hikers passed by, descending from the summit.  Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and several other princess costumes hiked by, leaving us feeling underdressed for the summit.  We later learned that the costumed hikers and many others were part of a large group of UC Davis ecology students on a field trip.

Climbing above the rapidly descending clouds, we spotted a bighorn sheep, cautiously observing us near the trail.  Continuing on we reached the summit, which was deserted.  Usually climbers enjoy incredible views of the Sierra Nevada mountains from the summit of White Mountain Peak.  But smoke from Yosemite's Rim Fire obscured our views, reducing the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains to a vague outline through the thick haze.

Descending from the summit, we spotted a large flock of bighorn sheep grazing near the trail.  A lone coyote loped along the hillside beneath them.  A few miles farther down the trail, a single bighorn sheep sauntered across our path.

The sun was low in the sky by the time we reached our car.  We enjoyed the bright red hues of the smoky sunset as we slowly drove back on the rough, dirt road, headed for home.

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