White Mountain Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

12.9
FIETS
20.3 mi
DISTANCE
6,392 ft
GAINED
5.8 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

Photos By: Maxfield Bonta

Page Contributor(s): Luke Hise, Phoenix, AZ

INTRO

White Mountain is one of the great ones - an epic, scenic, long and challenging bike climb to the second highest paved points in California. This is one of the Big Four of the Owens Valley (although there are 10 HC in all) - White Mountain, Onion Valley Road, Whitney Portal Road, and Horseshoe Meadows Road.  Half of this climb is on Highway 168 and the second half is on White Mountain Road where we have some spectacular views west of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Range over and across Owens Valley.  White Mountain is the #3 ranked bike climb in California, #10 US and #91 World. 
While this climb averages 5.8% for 20 miles, its true grade (after removing three sections of descent) is an even more challenging 6.6%.  Compounding the challenge of this climb is that we lose 3% oxygen every 1,000' above sea level we travel - thus, at 10,000' we have 30% less oxygen than at sea level.

12% of this climb (2.5 combined miles) are at 10% grade or above.  The steepest quarter mile is 10.7% (at 8,000') and the steepest mile 9.7% beginning at mile 14.6 on White Mountain Road. 
Roadway:  Highway 168 and White Mountain Road were in excellent condition as of 2019.

Traffic:  Traffic for the first 10.5 miles on Highway 168 is light, but it does travel at Highway speeds and can be unnerving to the traffic adverse cyclist. Traffic is very mild and no problem at all for the remaining 10 miles on White Mountain Road.  For those with a fear of highway traffic, you may consider beginning the climb at the start of White Mountain Road - that alone is a big challenge at 9.6 miles gaining 3,023' at 5.6% average grade from 7,300 to 10,000' elevation. 

Parking:  We normally park at the start of the climb - the intersection of Highway 168 and Death Valley Road - Map; Street View. 
You finish the climb over 6,000' higher than you start, so be sure to check the PJAMM weather tool for the forecast at the top around the time you finish and bring gear as indicated by expected weather conditions. 
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 - 4 miles gaining 761'. Spend some time at the Visitor Center (Google Map + Reviews) and Patriarch Grove at mile 12 miles past Schulman Grove VC (the grove is about a mile off the "main" road - Route map; Google Map + Reviews) - note, this is a dirt road, but manageable on a road bike with, preferably, 28-30mm tires. 

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. 

ROUTE MAP

MEMBER RATING

Difficulty: Extreme
3
Road
4
Traffic
3
Scenery

CURRENT WEATHER

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Apr 5, 2021
scenery: 3
traffic: 4
road: 3
Apr 5, 2021
scenery: 3
traffic: 4
road: 3
White Mountain is a giant, two solid climbs in a sense with a flatter section in between. The single lane section is unique, just keep an ear open for traffic. The initial section is a fun descent as well. Certainly worth the effort to get there,
ROUTE MAP
PROFILE TOOL

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CLIMB SUMMARY

Cycling White Mountain, California - photo collage, cyclist riding on paved roadway, high desert landscape, sign for Inyo National Forest, Elevation sign reads 10,000 feet, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner

Cycling White Mountain, California (paved)

#10 US/#86 World

Ride 20 miles gaining 6,390’ to 10,120’ at 5.8%.

Alternative ascents:

  • White Mountain Peak from Bishop (all mountain bike):  This climb is off the charts difficult.  We don’t rank climbs if 10%+ must be done by mountain bike, but if our ranking system were applied to it this climb would be #2 US and #7 World).
    White Mountain Peak from Big Pine (half road/half MTB):  This climb is not quite as difficult as WM Peak from Bishop, but would still rank #7 US and #26 World if half of it did not require a mountain bike.  

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!

Cycling White Mountain - roadway, meadow, mountains and clouds

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

Cycling White Mountain, California - direction sign at the beginning 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.

Cycling White Mountain, California - cyclist rides on roadway, high desert landscape, blue sky and white clouds in background

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 doing this ride in 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’.

Cycling White Mountain, California - climate data for the Bishop area

US Climate Data.

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 quarter-mile stretch at 11.3%, and a half-mile stretch at 10.7%).  This climb begins at the intersection of Highway 168 and Death Valley Road, in Big Pine, CA 37 (37.18501, -118.25297 latitude/longitude).  We commonly stay in Bishop, which is fifteen 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 begin at Highway 168 (10.5 miles, 3,347', 6.3%).

Cycling White Mountain, California - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, two PJAMM Cyclists stand with bikes on roadway, sign for Inyo National forest, aerial view of roadway in valley between two hillsides

Enter Inyo National Forest at mile 4.5.

Bicycle climb of White Mountain  - roadway, center stripe, hwy 168, mountains

Aerial view of Highway 168 as we climb out of Owens Valley into the White Mountain foothills.

Bicycle climb of White Mountain  - roadway, center stripe, hwy 168, mountains 

Highway 168.

The second segment of the climb begins at White Mountain Road (9.5 miles, 3,029', at 6.2%).  

yellow high desert shrubbery on roadside

Turn off Highway 168 at mile 10.

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.

Bicycle ride up White Mountain  - hwy 168 roadway, canyon

There was no charge for entry on the five times we climbed this mountain.

bike climb White Mountain Road - Bristlecone Forest - aerial drone of eastern sierras and owens valley

Aerial drone view from Serra View Overlook at mile 18.

View of Eastern Sierras across Owens Valley (Bishop center left).

Snow capped Eastern Sierras in April

Cycling White Mountain Road - Bristlecone Forest - aerial drone photo of Schulman Grove and Serra View Overlook.

Last two miles of the climb.

Seirra View Overlook center right; Schulman Grove center left (cannot be seen from this photo).

Climbing White Mountain Road by bike - 10,000' elevation sign, road, clouds

The second highest paved road in California at 10,119’ (114’ lower than Rock Creek).

Cycling White Mountain, California - bike parked in front of NPS sign for Schulman Grove Visitor Center, Inyo National Forest

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.  

SCHULMAN GROVE AND METHUSELAH TRAIL

Cycling White Mountain, California - views inside and outside of the Schulman Grove Visitor Center

Schulman Grove Visitor Center at the finish of the climb.

Cycling White Mountain, California - Methuselah Trail views

Methuselah Trail - Starts at Schulman Grove Visitor Center.

AllTrails - Methuselah Trail + Reviews.

PATRIARCH GROVE + WHITE MOUNTAIN SUMMIT

Cycling White Mountain, California - Ancient Bristlecone Pine Scenic Byway

The pavement ends at the finish of the White Mountain ride.

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).

Cycling White Mountain, California - Patriarch Grove

Patriarch Grove - twelve miles past White Mountain road bike climb finish.

Cycling White Mountain, California - view looking down on Patriarch Grove

Aerial view of Patriarch Grove.

Cycling White Mountain, California - aerial view of the road to White Mountain Peak

Aerial view of the road to White Mountain Peak.

Bikes parked on roadside in front of Bancroft Field Station

Bancroft Field Station - five miles from White Mountain Peak.

Photos:  John Berude, Berkeley, CA; Greg Matherly, Encinitas, CA.

White mountain cycling; cyclist on top; cyclist; mountain; road;

On the way to and at the top of White Mountain Peak.

Photos:  John Berude, Berkeley, CA; Greg Matherly, Encinitas, CA.

OWEN’S VALLEY BIG FOUR - IN A DAY!!

In June 2013 we rode four of the Top Five 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.

4 Owens Valley HC's in 1 day - John Johnson on bike White Mountain finish 

June 2013.

John Johnson, Julie and Steve Tiede

 Thanks Julie and Steve -- that hurt!

  Cycling 4 Owens Valley HC's in 1 day - Whiteface Mountain start

In 2015 we started at White Mountain . . . but . . .

Bike challenge 4 Owens Valley HC's in 1 day - John Johnson PJAMM Cycling Horseshoe Meadow - cyclist with bike 

. . . Didn’t look so spry fifteen 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 have 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!