Saturday, October 1, 2016

Bighorn Sheep And White Mountain Peak

Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge
White Mountain Peak 14,252'

Well, it was another epic day for photographing bighorn sheep with Steve (aka ‘sheep whisperer’) Yeager. We began on the Silver Canyon Road out of Laws (near Bishop). The morning sun was in our eyes as we headed east but Steve was able to locate a small group high above us glassing with his Swarovski binoculars. They were continuing to climb and would soon be out of sight over a ridge.

Sheep Making Their Way Over The Ridge And Out Of Sight

I was able to get several photographs with my 70-300mm lens at 300mm but the images needed cropping to appear large enough. There were 4 ewes and 1 lamb. We did not see any other signs of sheep as we headed east to join White Mountain Road. Steve’s aging 4X4 Tundra aged another year as we bounced over the sharp rock “road” that was really a trail.

After joining White Mountain Road the route heads north as the relentless climb continues. I must add that White Mountain Peak is one of the most colorful mountains I have ever seen. The trail passes the Patriarch Grove of Ancient Bristlecone Pines to the east and eventually arrives at the White Mountain Research Center, Barcroft Station (elevation 12,500’). The station is just east of Mt. Barcroft (13,046). There is a locked gate and trailhead parking with a potty for those who want to hike the 12 miles round trip to the top of White Mountain Peak. At 14,252’, it is the 3rd highest mountain in California. It is rather ironic to me that Mt. Whitney and White Mountain peak have buildings on top.

Steve helps the California Department of Fish and Wildlife with bighorn sheep census as a volunteer and thus has access beyond the gate. He has magnetic signs that he puts on each side of his truck so folks don’t think he is a trespasser. We came upon the next group of about 28 bighorn sheep at about 13,200’ just as I was about to run out of courage with Steve driving on such a narrow and steep trail. I was also feeling a little dizzy having driven from my home in Fresno that morning, which is less than 300’ in elevation. Steve said, “There they are. Can you see them?” I said, “No”. He asked three times and I said “No” three times. Finally, I did see them as Steve parked the truck. The sheep were east of us along a steep ridge with a nearly sheer cliff to the east of that.

We walked slowly up to the group from below so as not to frighten them. Steve said that sheep don’t like it when you are above them but tolerate you if you carefully come up from below them. I was taking photographs almost immediately and forgot all about the elevation. We were close enough to the sheep that I went back to the truck and got a Zeiss 85mm lens, which made for smaller but tack sharp photographs. We were there for at least an hour and I took so many photographs that I needed to put a fresh battery in my camera. Steve noted that one of the ewes had mucus on her nose and thought she was pretty sick. Eventually, the sheep began heading below us along the ridge.  We didn’t know it at the time but there were other sheep that they were joining down below.

 White Mountain Wilderness
 Colorful White Mountain Peak With Building On Top 

 Steve Counting Sheep

 Sheep Elevation

 Palisades And Clyde Glaciers In The Sierra Nevada

 Young Ram And Ewe
 Sierra Glaciers To The West
Sick Ewe

Steve said, “Shall we go to the top! I timidly said, “Yes”. I finally ran out of courage as the truck struggled to climb even in low range and said, “Let’s park and walk the rest of the way.” We were on a high saddle about 350’ below the top and it was a ‘relatively’ easy walk the rest of the way. It was quite a view knowing that we were higher than the Palisades in the Sierras west of us. All of the glaciers were visible from our vantage point. Steve located the USGS elevation marker behind the building installed in 1913 with an updated higher elevation stamped in later.

Where Did Those Sheep Go?

We finished the day with a brief visit to the Patriarch Grove and back down Silver Canyon. What an epic day topped off with some homemade soup at Steve’s place. Thanks again Steve!

I have a YouTube video with photographs and video clips here:  


  1. Dale--what an epic day! The great photos and video clips doa great job of documenting this adventure. Dave

  2. Dave,
    Thanks for you kind words.