Right Place, Perfect Time: An Oasis in California's Desert Peaks

Peakbag in the White Mountains—without lugging in water.
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Peakbag in the White Mountains—without lugging in water.

Lofty summits with boundless views, the world’s oldest living organisms, near guaranteed solitude. Anywhere else, this trifecta would be a backpacker magnet. But harsh winters, hot summers, and a lack of water make extended trips a dicey prospect most of the year—with June the welcome exception.

Camp at 12,000-foot Barcroft Gate trailhead to acclimatize and stage for an early start the next day (check out ancient bristlecone pines at Schulman Grove on the 26.5-mile drive up White Mountain Road, off CA 168). Water up and ascend seven miles to 14,246-foot White Mountain Peak, highest in the Great Basin. Continue north cross-country, following the ridge to 12,676-foot Headley Peak. Seven miles from White Mountain Peak, descend to Chiatovich Flats at 11,000 feet (spring nearby) and set up a basecamp. On day three, ascend 12,559-foot Mt. Dubois, some six miles to the north. Backtrack to the car. Alternative: Strong hikers with a shuttle (end at Trail Canyon trailhead) can scramble over 13,140-foot Boundary Peak, Nevada’s highpoint.

Maps USGS quads: Mount Barcroft, White Mountain Peak, Juniper Mountain, Boundary Peak ($8 each, store.usgs.gov) Info (760) 873-2400; fs.fed.us/r5/inyo