White Mountain — Page 2

Barcroft Research Facility


Past the gate we go, and we're on-trail, or, more accurately, on-road, first stop California's Barcroft Research Facility. The road climbs a quick 800 feet over the next mile or so, and soon Barcroft's buildings are in view.

White Mountain's Barcroft Station is one of several nearby University of California research facilities, permanently occupied by scientists engaged in various high-altitude experiments—or so goes the official story. Looking around the area, one can't help but notice how remote and private it is. A perfect place for researching Alien technology far from prying eyes, no?

Trevor at the Gate Barcroft Research Facility

Once a year, Barcroft unlocks its gate and its secretive doors for a public open house, welcoming visitors for lectures and even refreshments.

Of course, they don't let you see any of the facility's vast underground levels, unless you happen to be one of those unlucky solo visitors randomly chosen to replenish the ranks of the human test subjects—so eye those cookies and soda cups with care!

Today, with Trevor pushing the pace beside me, I'm not worried about any abductions, but I am a bit concerned about the elevation.

Despite my preparations, I'm already feeling a little light-headed, and, disconcertingly, pretty colored sparkles are manifesting at the corners of my vision. Trevor and I call a short lunch break at the edge of the Barcroft complex to refuel and chew a few ibuprofen tablets. Truth be told, these sea level-to-summit jaunts are a tremendous strain to body and brain.

Recent research (some of it perhaps conducted right here) suggests the brain can suffer permanent damage at elevations far lower than previously suspected. In fact, brain scans of Mont Blanc climbers have found irregularities associated with brain damage. These irregularities were most prevalent in unacclimatized mountaineers.

If brain damage can occur at Mount Blanc's 15,774-foot elevation, it would seem reasonable to suspect it can also occur around 14,000 feet—especially when dashing up from the lowlands as quickly as White Mountain permits. So I find myself regularly checking the color of my fingernails and pushing my respiration rate—the poor man's acclimatization strategy. The sparkles persist.

next: McAfee Meadow

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.