Mam­moth Crest Loop

Inyo Na­tional For­est, Cal­i­for­nia

Backpacker - - Public Lands | See It -

WHITEBARK PINES have been fight­ing the good fight for a long time. Most of these gnarled trees are 600 to 700 years old—that’s a lot of time do­ing bat­tle with the weather in the harsh­est high-el­e­va­tion zones across the West. But though they can with­stand the end­less lash­ing of icy winds, white­barks are prac­ti­cally de­fense­less against pests like pine bee­tles and fungi like blis­ter rust. Un­for­tu­nately, both have reached epi­demic lev­els thanks to re­cent warm­ing trends, spurring die-offs from Wash­ing­ton to Wy­oming. With no white­barks, ex­pect smaller plants and an­i­mals that use the trees for shel­ter or food (like Clark’s nut­crack­ers) to fol­low suit.

Some of the health­i­est of the re­main­ing white­barks live in Cal­i­for­nia’s south­ern Sierra, where the arid cli­mate dis­cour­ages pests. To wan­der among their wind-twisted limbs, head to Mam­moth Lakes and fol­low the 13-mile Mam­moth Crest Loop, which spends most of its time be­tween 10,400 and 11,200 feet, where white­barks still thrive. Start at the overnight lot on Lake Ge­orge Road and climb for 6 miles along the crest of the Sierra, tent­ing in the rock-stud­ded meadow be­tween Lower and Mid­dle Deer Lake. Next day, con­tinue coun­ter­clock­wise on un­main­tained trail to Sil­ver Di­vide and down to Bar­ney and Skel­ton Lakes, just south of the trailhead.

TRAILHEAD Lake Ge­orge (37.6035, -119.0112) SEA­SON

July to Oc­to­ber PER­MIT Re­quired for back­pack­ing (free for walk-ins, $10 + $5/per­son for reser­va­tions); ob­tain at the Mam­moth Lakes Wel­come Cen­ter. CON­TACT

A hiker ap­proaches Deer Lakes on the Mam­moth Crest Loop.

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