Cycling White Mountain (paved)
#10 US/#86 World
20 miles gaining 6,390’ to 10,120’ at 5.8%
We have done the White Mountain bike climb five times and would do it every year if we had the chance. We love this climb and the area around it. This is a beast of a climb -- long, steep in spots, and extremely hot in the lower third during the summer. We start at the intersection of Highway 168 and Death Valley Road, after all!
That is good circumstantial evidence of the weather to expect at the start of the climb.
Neat direction sign at the beginning of the climb - October, 2019
The White Mountain bike climb ranks #3 most difficult in California, #9 in the U.S. and #72 in the World, and is one of the nine Top 100 U.S. climbs that begin in the Owens Valley, on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the central/eastern portion of California. You can check out other Top World Climbs in Owens Valley here.
When to climb White Mountain by Bike: The average high temperatures for the summer time frame are 92° in June, 98° in July, and 96° in August. On the table below, note that Bishop equates to Big Pine. We suggest May or September as you could encounter snow during the months just before or after, since the finish of this climb tops out just over 10,000’.
How to climb White Mountain by Bike: Pick the right time and train well as this is an extremely challenging bike climb: 20.3 miles, 6,509’ gained at 5.8% average grade (with a ¼ mile stretch at 11.3%, and a ½ mile stretch at 10.7%). This climb begins at the intersection of Highway 168 and Death Valley Road, Big Pine, CA 37 (37.18501, -118.25297 latitude/longitude). We commonly stay in Bishop, which is 15 miles north of Big Pine and the start of the White Mountain climb, at the Creekside Inn, next to Erick Schat’s Bakery.
The first of two segments of this climb begins at Highway 168 (10.5 miles, 3,347', 6.3%).
Enter Inyo National Forest at mile 4.5.
Highway 168 tiny canyon at mile 8.
Hwy 168 - the first 6 miles from beginning just east of Big Pine.
The second segment of the climb begins at White Mountain Road (9.5 miles, 3,029', at 6.2%).
Turn off Highway 168 at mile 10.
There was no charge for entry on the five times we climbed this mountain.
Aerial drone view from Serra View Overlook at mile 18.
View of Eastern Sierras across Owens Valley (Bishop center left)
Last 2 miles of the climb.
Serra View Overlook center right; Schulman Grove center left (cannot be seen from this photo)
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest on White Mountain Road --
home to the oldest trees in the world, bristlecone pines.
National Park Service - Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
The second highest paved road in California at 10,119’ (114’ lower than Rock Creek).
End of the line . . .
. . . unless you brought your mountain bike! White Mountain Peak.
The climb ends about 0.3 miles south of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest Visitor Center, home to the world's oldest living tree, and there are some breathtaking views of the Eastern Sierras to the west as you near the summit. The lower portion of the climb is arid and desert-like, as you would expect for a ride that begins at Death Valley Road, but it gives way to a more high sierra alpine setting as you climb into the Inyo National Forest.
In June 2013 we rode four of the Top 5 California climbs in a day: first Horseshoe Meadows, then Whitney Portal, next Onion Valley, and finally White Mountain. It came in at a total of 22,000’ and was a very difficult day. In July 2015, we reversed the route: 1. White Mountain, 2. Onion Valley, 3. Whitney Portal and 4. Horseshoe Meadows.
Thanks Julie and Steve -- that hurt!
In 2015 we started at White Mountain . . . but . . .
. . . Didn’t look so spry 15 hours later!
Traffic and Roadway Surface Report: The roadway surface is excellent. The first 10.5 miles are on U.S. Highway 168 which has moderate to light traffic, although it can whiz by at 50-60 mph. The final 9.5 miles on White Mountain Road are very safe and low traffic. We have encountered very little traffic during our five ascents of this mountain.
Note: From the end of the paved road to White Mountain Peak is possible by mountain bike and is the highest ascent in the US on a bike. Here is our web page for that - White Mountain Peak from Big Pine.
That’s a wrap.