Heavy, hot air fills the car. Summertime in Bishop at the north end of the Owens. Four-thousand feet separate my home in June Lake and here. In winter, the snowline falls somewhere in-between.
Hang a left at Big Pine. Worn, white parellel lines contour up and up, narrowing to a choke in a canyon to a single lane. The trees—Bristlecone—look to be shriveling, but consider the parched alpine ground an adequate home. Asphalt turns to dirt.
Gusts of wind blow dirt across folding terrain. This afternoon, Mono County sent out a wind advisory. On an average day it might be calm in the valley and a gale above on the Whites. A howling range.
Mono County Weather Alert
Wind Advisory issued August 31 at 12:58PM PDT until September 1 at 8:00PM PDT by NWS Reno NV
CHANGES...Issued a Wind Advisory for Friday. * WHAT...For the Lake Wind Advisory today, southwest winds around 20 mph with gusts up to 40 mph. For the Wind Advisory on Friday, south to southwest winds 25 to 30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph expected with higher gusts in wind prone areas. * WHERE...For the Lake Wind Advisory, Topaz, Mono, Bridgeport, and Crowley Lakes. For the Wind Advisory, all of Mono County. * WHEN...For the Lake Wind Advisory, until 11 PM PDT this evening. For the Wind Advisory, from 10 AM to 8 PM PDT Friday. * IMPACTS...Gusty winds could blow around unsecured objects. Tree limbs could be blown down and a few power outages may result. High profile vehicles may blow over. Boating will be hazardous. Small boats, kayaks and paddle boards will be prone to capsizing and should remain off lake waters until conditions improve. Instruction: Now is the time to secure loose outdoor items such as patio furniture, holiday decorations, and trash cans before winds increase which could blow these items away. The best thing to do is prepare ahead of time by making sure you have extra food and water on hand, flashlights with spare batteries and/or candles in the event of a power outage. Consider postponing boating activities for another day.
We continue, until we can’t—the road terminates at a trailhead, a couple cars spaced unevenly around a privy. Cold wind turns opening the car door into a real effort, threatening to blow loose wind jackets clear into Nevada.
A large group has pitched for the night by the road, planning to begin tomorrow morning. “Going to be miserable trying to sleep in tents being battered by wind all night,” I think. One of them sees us preparing to head off. “You’re starting now? Going to be miserable!”
Perspective is everything.
We reach Barcroft Station. I didn’t realize how much of this run I had done last year. That trip ascended the west ridge of White Mountain, followed the spine for a few miles, then descended the west ridge of Barcroft Peak.
I had aimed directly for Barcroft Peak, so hadn’t visited the research center. There is a user-controlled webcam I frequently visit from the comforts of my house. Visiting a remote camera location always gives me some satisfaction. Creating a physical connection to a familiar perspective.
A flock of sheep, used for research on the long-term effects of high altitude, looked on suspiciously as we put the heavy jackets on. As the sun sank closer to the horizon, it was getting cold.
The turf is indecisive. Or maybe we are. The dirt road, smooth at times, becomes washed out and rocky. Winter erosion did it‘s damage.
The sun sneaks through a gap, striking the glowing base of a dense layer of stratus clouds, and outlining the striated spine of the Minarets.
We’re racing against the rising moon. Obscured by two horizons. The eastern side of the spine we are running. And some nondescript north-south line, presently somewhere in the center of Nevada.
Not wanting to miss the big event, I try eliminating one obstruction—the Whites—to gain a clear sightline. Going cross country and picking through pre-Cambrian sedimentary boulders swallowed in alpine grasses is slow going.
We aim for a high-point before a saddle between here and the summit of White. We begin scrambling up the east side above a massive bowl. “This would be an incredible line to ski,” Ethan suggests.
A point in the distant cirrus begins glowing.
You only notice how fast the Earth is rotating when two reference points are in close proximity. After a few seconds it’s up. Tonight the moon is close to us—222,043 miles. The light took 1.189 seconds to arrive after bouncing off the moon and landing in the back of our eyes.
The wind, piercing from the west, can’t reach us, tucked neatly between boulders on the east. After a reasonably long cosmic stare we pop over the top, nearly falling backwards when entering the slipstream.
After descending a couple hundred-feet to a saddle, the final climb to the summit of White begins. Intuition isn’t helping determine how far away we are. The moon is low, and the soft light diffuse. Approximating distance isn’t possible—could be a few miles, a couple thousand feet.
The sustained noise of the wind is deafening, nylon hoods flapping on the ears. The cold is really starting to bite now. Oxygen is thin at this elevation, and I’m always surprised by how draining it is on energy.
“Should we head back?”
Having run the switchbacks down before, I know we’re close. Closer than it seems. Final push.
After traversing a small snow field, we’re on the summit. A small structure stands at the top. We circle it in search of a break from the wind. It’s disappointing—the turbulent flow wraps around in all directions.
But the views are huge, illuminated by the bright blue moon.
We don’t linger. The cold gusts convince us to keep moving along, and each of us begins our descent back into the night. The miles pass quickly. While it’d be nice to return quickly, it’s more about keeping the body temperature up.
I pop in noise canceling earphones. It’s like magic. The noise of the wind against my eardrums becomes silent. The mental crux calms, and I can enjoy myself again.
Behind us, White Mountain disappears.
The Barcroft Observatory provokes looking up, the Milky Way stretching a galaxy-sized expanse of the sky. We lay down for a minute to appreciate it all; the night, our health, our legs, this place. Passing the Barcroft sheep, they’re understandably terrified to see us.
“It’s the middle of night!”
The last few miles pass quickly, the generous grade suggesting we get back home and tucked in. Seeing the car is double-edged.
The trip is over, but we’re gonna warm up.
Kevin pulls out leftover Japanese curry. We begin the multi-hour drive home and pass around the aux. A bull appears in the road and our screams echo over the bass.
The blue moon climbs.