White Mountain Peak (Big Pine) Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

16.4
FIETS
44.7 mi
DISTANCE
12,160 ft
GAINED
4.3 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

Page Contributor(s): Greg Matherly, Encinitas, CA, USA; Dan Magaw, Auburn, CA, USA; John Berude, Berkeley, CA, USA.

INTRO

This is a monster bike climb from Big Pine in the Owens Valley to the highest road in the US.  The first 21 miles of the climb are on pavement and the final 24 are dirt and rock along rolling terrain.  
4.3% average grade (6.6% climb only).  44% of the climb is at 5-10% grade, 9% is at 10-15%, and 1% is at or above 15%.  The steepest quarter-mile is 17.7%. 

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button.
Roadway:  The first 10.6 miles are on Highway 168 which is a two lane roadway in good shape with no shoulder.  The next ten miles are on White Mountain Road which is a two lane road in average condition.  The final 24 miles are on rough dirt and rock. 

Traffic:  On Highway 168 traffic is light, but it does pass at 50-60 mph at times.  There is minimal traffic on White Mountain Road, and 0 to less than a handful once you enter the dirt. 

Parking:  On Death Valley Road just before the climb start (Map; Street View). 
Gear:  Road bike on the pavement for the first 21 miles.  You can ride the gravel road from the end of the pavement to Bancroft Station at mile 39.2 on a road bike with 28 to 32mm tires - it is rough, but you can do it.  However, past the gate at Bancroft Station you need a mountain bike and over the last mile you will be walking in spots as the road is very rough and steep in places. 

Provisions:  This is a self supported trip from start to finish - there are no provisions along the way. 
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
Another route (shorter, steeper, and requiring a mountain bike) is White Mountain Peak (Bishop) - 32 miles gaining 12,026' at 6.1% average grade (9.3% climb only). 

Be sure to do the wonderful Methuselah Trail hike out of Schulman Grove Visitor Center at mile 21 of our bike ride (AllTrails Methuselah Trail hike) - four miles gaining 761'.  Spend some time at the Visitor Center (Google Map + Reviews) and Patriarch Grove at mile 33.5 (the grove is about a mile off the "main" road - Route mapGoogle Map + Reviews). 

Owen's Valley has the greatest concentration of HC climbs in the US and is one of the greatest climbing areas in the world - see PJAMM's Owen's Valley, CA climb area page. 

We would suggest staying in Bishop at the Creekside Inn.  Don't miss out on pastries at Schat's next to the Creekside Inn. 

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CLIMB SUMMARY

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - Bancroft Field Station

Cycling White Mountain to its peak from Big Pine

Ride 45 miles gaining 12,160’ to elevation 14,252’ at 4.3% average grade.

Photo:  Greg Matherly

This is a MONSTER bike climb - it would be #5 US/#26 World if ranked[1].  The climb begins in Big Pine by riding pavement for 21 miles to the Bristlecone Forest Visitor Center.  From the Visitor Center parking lot, we ride 24 rolling miles at 3.2% average grade (misleading figure due to 1,890’ of descent along the way).  The steepest quarter-mile is 18% and steepest mile averages 13% - you get the picture - ouch!

We start the climb in Big Pine (4,166’) on road bikes and ride for 10.6 miles at 5.8% to elevation 7,440’ on Highway 168 to White Mountain Road on the left.

Cycling White Mountain Peak from Big Pine - roadway, meadow, mountains and clouds

That is good circumstantial evidence of the weather to expect at the start of the climb.

For the next ten miles we climb paved White Mountain Road to the Visitor Center parking lot at 10,290’ and 5.2% average grade.  

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - cyclist rides on roadway, high desert landscape, blue sky and white clouds in background

The final 24 miles are gravel, at 3.2% average grade, and with many rollers (1,890’ descent) to elevation 14,252’.

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - one lane dirt and gravel roadway

Photo:  Greg Matherly 

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - Ancient Bristlecone Pine Scenic Byway

The pavement ends at mile 21 (Schulman Grove Visitor Center).

Continue twelve miles to Patriarch Grove (can be done on road bike) . . .

. . . or 24 miles to White Mountain Peak - the highest road in the US (requires MTB).

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - Patriarch Grove

Patriarch Grove - at mile 33.

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - Patriarch Grove from above

Aerial view of Patriarch Grove.

“This is a great ride and climb toward White Mountain out of massive Owens Valley.  The first section along Route 168 is scenic and along fairly shallow grade to begin.  Soon the grade increases and becomes rolling as you enter a wide canyon which gradually narrows.  Along a steep ramp the road eventually passes through a unique one-lane section within dark rock walls and semi blind corners.  This section is short however and you quickly emerge to find more shallow grade.  You then exit the drainage and the grade flattens out for a stretch.  At mile 12.7 turn left on White Mountain Road (toward the bristlecone pine forest).  After another somewhat shallow section the grade slowly increases and the road begins to twist across the terrain and roll up and down as you ascend.  There are two descents in this stretch as well.  The last few miles are steep and at high elevation which may test some riders but the finishing stretch along a ridgeline offer great views of Owens Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains beyond.  The hill crests at over 10,000 feet just before the pavement ends (clowed in winter - Inyo National Forest - 760-876-6222).  There is a seasonal visitor’s center on top in the summer.  A rough dirt road continues for quite a few miles to actual White Mountain.  It’s descent is a tough one due to length and the narrow and twisty roadway in places.  Its flat sections knock down the average grade of White Mountain so keep in mind this is a long and difficult climb; make sure you are prepared before you tackle this one.” (This quote is presented with the approval of John Summerson, from his book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (by Bike), 2nd Edition, pg. 137.)

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - aerial view of the road from White Mountain Peak

Aerial view of the road to White Mountain Peak.

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - bike parked in front of locked gate at Bancroft Facility

Locked gate (end of SAG, if any) about seven miles from the peak.

Photo and ride article:  TheRadavist.com.

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - Bikes parked on roadside in front of Bancroft Field Station 

Photo:  John Berude

This is a fully unsupported climb over very difficult challenging terrain that becomes nearly impossible to ride over the last mile or so.

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - mountain bike parked in front of sign reading White Mountain, gravel roadway

Photo:  John Berude

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - gravel pathway lined with large stones

Photo:  John Berude

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - cyclist rides on mountain bike up gravel roadway

Photo:  Greg Matherly

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - steep portion of roadway covered in thick, large gravel and stones

Some sections are tough even on a mountain bike.

Photo:  Greg Matherly

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - Cyclist Greg Matherly stands at White Mountain peak holding elevation sign, next to his bike

It’s worth it!!!

Photo:  Greg Matherly

We can see ancient bristlecone trees on this ride which are considered the oldest living non-clonal[2] organism.  The Methuselah Tree in Methuselah Grove near the start of the paved section is the oldest non-clonal tree in the world, going on 4,852 years old.

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - Methuselah Tree

The glorious Methuselah Tree.

SUMMARIES FROM PJAMM CONTRIBUTORS:

Greg Matherly (in response to the question “Can I do this on a gravel bike with 43mm tires?”

If you choose to go up White Mountain via Route 168/White Mountain Rd…most of that ride is perfect for a road bike with 28-32mm tires. Just make sure you have plenty of gearing…there are a few very steep se

 

However, if you choose to go up via Silver Canyon, I’d highly suggest a MTB. Silver Canyon is very steep and slick in many sections. It’s super cool but it’s a bitch (physically).

 

Either way, when you get to Barcroft Station (~6 miles from the summit) it gets very rough, rocky, and technical. You can ride most of the 6 miles on a MTB if you are very skilled but it will be tough going on a road/CX/gravel bike. You’ll end up hike-a-biking most of it. Doesn’t matter what you’re on for the final 1-2 miles. It’s a rock field (no soil). You’ll be carrying the bike.

 

BTW, I’ve done BWR several times. 28mm is best if you want to go fast. There is nowhere on the course where you need more than 28mm unless you have sketchy bike handling skills. And…there are a LOT of extended road sections. I wouldn’t go any fatter than 32mm.

John Berude (following up on Greg’s response):

I agree with Greg. 43s would get you all the way to Barcroft, but from there the trail is rough double track with large rocks and deep sandy sections. I feel that an MTB is necessary beyond this point, and you’ll definitely be walking a bit in the last mile regardless of your bike choice. Especially given the fact that you’re at 13,000’, and have been above 10,000’ for 20+ miles. The gravel road beyond the pavement gets progressively bumpier, so I actually felt that it was nearly as efficient to ride my MTB back out. It was nice to just slay the road instead of having my eyes rattled out of my head on the way back.

FWIW I rode the paved section on 25s and switched to 40s for the gravel and to a full suspension MTB with 2.6” tires from the Barcroft gate onwards and back to the pavement. If all you want to bring is 43s, then I think it would go with a few miles of walking. Though I think a road bike/XC hardtail combo would be the ticket for this beast.

It truly is a world class ride. Like nothing else. If you’re going in May, be aware that the road may not be melted out. It was still snowing there until early June last year and was barely clear of snow by early July... Silver Canyon looks burlyyy, and I’m looking forward to giving it a go next year!

Dan Magaw:

Hi John. From the beginning of the dirt to the locked gate it is 2WD graded road (though at times I have read the washboard is worse at some times than others. Luck of the draw there). You will hit some 19% ramps but it is still rideable. If you have done some of the Grasshopper series (I have only done Kings Ridge Supreme in a mud year on a CX bike) then you will have few issues until you get to the base of the last climb to the peak. On our assault the double track past Barcroft was very dry so often loose and rocky. A little recent rain would have been a blessing. Immediately past Barcroft there is a short nasty section. Don't lose heart. It gets better. It is hard to remember all the numbers (not enough oxygen?) but I think you are above 13K before things get really rocky. Sometime after that I felt really challenged on a 29er with 2.3 front and 2.1 rear. Gearing 22X36 low end. I had just done Leadville 3 weeks prior on higher gearing. Your adventure bike will be much easier to carry than me pushing my rig. At one point I was required to carry it but that was because of a wrong choice in single track at the top. I was very glad for my large volume tires and full suspension on the way down but I also rode from Bishop and was returning there so needed all the help I could get. We were also over cautious as help was a long way away. If you are starting at the end of the pavement then you can afford a little extra weight. Good walking/hiking shoes would not be a bad idea if you want to make the peak. If you go, I would love to know and see your post. There is a detailed and useful blog at White Mountain Epic. Windinmyface.com under White Mountain Peak MTB Good luck. P.S. If you do entertain the thought of routing up Silver Canyon on anything other than an MTB. Don't.

Dillon Sharlet:

Up to the research station is a pretty good dirt road, but near the observatory there are some pretty rough sections, and the last 1-2k feet are pretty rocky. Here is a video of parts of the descent from the top down to the last gate.  There's another 15-20 miles of dirt road similar to the last part of the video to get to the pavement.

SCHULMAN GROVE AND METHUSELAH TRAIL

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California - views inside and outside of the Schulman Grove Visitor Center

Schulman Grove Visitor Center at the finish of the climb.

White Mountain Peak from Big Pine, California -  Methuselah Trail views

Methuselah Trail - Starts at Schulman Grove Visitor Center

AllTrails - Methuselah Trail + Reviews.


[1] It has over 10% paved (53% is unpaved) which is our rough criteria for inclusion in our ranking system.

[2] Basically, growing from a seed (in this case, a pinecone).