Thursday, October 17We’ve known for some time that we could hike the trails up at the Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains. All services have been closed, once again because of the shutdown, but we knew the trails were all open. We’ve put it off, waiting until the temperatures on the valley floor got hotter. While it might be in the high 70’s down here, up there at nearly 10,000 feet, it will be much colder. We also a little concerned about lingering snow on the trail from the storm a couple of weeks ago. An icy trail is a dicy proposition.
Thursday dawned and quickly grew warm. The perfect conditions we required. We set out around 11:30 for the trip up to the forest. It is a long winding road to the turn off – mostly unremarkable, but today, as we reached the most narrow 1 lane point in the road, we saw Lazy Daze coming our way. We squeezed over to the side and had enough room to stop and chat for a few moments right there in the roadway. It was Ron & Mary Tribbett from Seattle (please forgive if I have your names wrong). They were on their way to meet friends Charlie & Marti Tiebout (ditto on the names) in Bishop. We’d met both couples at the Baker City GTG last spring, and these chance meetings are always a fun surprise.Once we hit the turn-off, the road really begins to rise. Toward the top, we began to get wide views of the Owens valley and Sierra’s looming above. No one was manning the entrance station, and as we passed the campground it too was still closed. Just at the point where the road turns to dirt is the turnoff for the visitor center and the Schulman Grove. Mary was grateful the bathrooms were now unlocked, but not so grateful when she entered. We take for granted much of the dirty work the park service preforms. This was just one example. Mounds of paper on the floors, none in the dispensers. The visitor center was also still locked up.
It was chilly up there. We had our lunch in the warm sun, but the wind often negated the warmth. By the time we started hiking, my hands were icy cold and I was glad I brought a pair of gloves with me. Fortunately the entire trail was wind protected and as soon as we started walking, it was calm and very quiet. We ran into only one other hiker. It is a special experience walking among the oldest living things on earth. I must say, they look it too. The literature we had said the trail rose and fell 800 feet over 4.5 miles on this our chosen hike – Methuselah, named for one of the ancient trees. At nearly 10,000 feet it sounded daunting, but we had completed the Whitney Portal hike to Lone Pine Lake not long before, so we felt confident of success.
In fact, this trail was decidedly easier, though a good 1.5 miles of the hike was covered in trampled snow. Pretty much whatever part of the trail that was in shade, was still snow-covered, but it was slushy enough that it really wasn’t that difficult, and we now both had hiking poles to work with (thanks once again J & G). After first dropping maybe 50 feet, the trail began a gradual even accent up the steep mountainside. It was actually quite like the Portal hike in that regard, with the exception that the duration of the rise was much shorter. It soon leveled off for a good while before rising and falling at intervals.
All alone the trail, twisted tortured looking bristlecones showed their stuff. Because this first part of the hike was snow-covered, we had difficulty photographing. Stepping off trail was largely out of the question. One little slip could mean a lost pole, or camera, or body. This northern exposed part of the trail eventually curved around the mountain and now we were in full sun and the trail was clear and dry – easy walking. The gloves came off and soon beads of sweat actually could be felt on the brow. There were fine views of what I think is the Saline Valley off to the east.
We walked and photographed all along the trail. We probably could have finished it in maybe 2 hours, but of course it took us more like 3.5. Jut gotta photograph. After about the 3 mile point, the trail began it’s final rise. Again it was gradual and eventually snow covered again. But even here, there was enough sun peaking through that some interesting were possible. I took a liking to the delicate grasses poking through the sun streaked snow.
This will stand as one of our favorite hikes just for the unusual tree shapes if nothing else. I wish we could have had more time to check out the Patriarch Grove even higher in elevation, but it was nearly 4:30 and beginning to get cold again. On our way out, I noticed the barrier to the campground was now down. Open for business again I guess.