Monday, September 23, 2013

August 6, 2013 - Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

August 6, 2013: Bristlecone Pine Forest

Route: Methusela Trail
Peaks Bagged: None!
Highest Point Reached: 10,200'
Mileage: ~4.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 800’ (between 9,500 and 10,200’)
Time Taken: 2.5 hours

For our third day in California, we had no planned hike thanks to the closure of the roads leading to Telescope Peak (2 of the potential hikes we had planned originated from this area). So, we decided to play tourist and head North through Big Pine to the Bristlecone Pine Forest, home of the oldest trees (and oldest living things for that matter) in the world. Some of these trees are well over 4500 years old (that is NOT a typo, they are indeed thousands of years old). We didn’t know much about this place aside from knowing of some sort of center was present in the forest and that it was going to be somewhere around 10,000 feet in elevation (the Bristlecone Pines grow between roughly 10,000 and 12,000 feet in elevation).

Viewpoint on the drive up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Lizard sunning himself in the mid-morning sun

The drive up to the forest is along a long, winding road, passing a terrific viewpoint along the way. High in the mountains, the road to White Mountain (one of the California 14ers) diverges, and it is along this road that the Bristlecone Pine Forest is located (signs guide you to the proper place). Arriving at the Visitor’s Center, we were surprised to find a very modern facility with air conditioning and even a small auditorium playing a short documentary on the bristlecones. It turns out that this site is powered almost entirely via solar panels (makes sense given the large amount of sun the area receives), with a backup generator. There is no running water however, so take note of that if planning a trip up there.

Bristlecone pinecone

Long-dead Great Basin Bristlecone Pine

Baby Bristlecone pinecone

Bristlecone pine needles

There are a total of 3 self-guided hiking/tour trails set up that depart from the visitor's center, with the longest being just over 4 miles long with about 800 feet of total elevation gain. Naturally, this is the one that goes into the Methusela Grove, where the oldest trees are located. I didn't really feel like hiking that day, but I was talked into it anyway, as what else were we going to do that day? And I'm glad we did, it was a fascinating way to spend a couple hours wandering around.

These suckers are big!
The trail (at least the one we took) was well laid-out, and had a series of numbered posts along the path. These numbers on these posts corresponded to short informational paragraphs in a pamphlet that explained various things along the way. These varied from how the bristlecones grow on such harsh terrain where nothing else can, how they grow so slowly, the other plants that grow nearby, and so on. It was all very interesting, and enjoyable. After the hike we returned to Big Pine, where we were able to use some coin-op showers to clean up, and grab a bite before returning to camp for the night.

Click here to see more pictures.

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