A National Geographic Day! Thursday, 10/16/14

I'm not kidding, either.  Seeing a write-up, with amazing photos, of a Bristlecone Pine forest's ancient trees, in a glossy monthly like Nat Geo, or any other eminent publication, fostered a desire in me ... to see these ancient trees in person. Yet they seemed to grow in remote or inaccessible places, and I never, ever thought it would happen.  In fact, when Jimmy and I camped in Great Basin Nat'l Pk two-and-a-half years ago, the bristlecone pine forests were buried in snow, and were inaccessible!  This year when we asked at the Park's Visitor Center, we heard the word, "Yes!"  Here, then, is our day, our hike to visit a "bucket list" grove of trees.

Smartie drove us to the Summit Trailhead parking lot ... which, it turned out, was not where the Bristlecone Pine Trail began.  Rhodes Scholars we ain't.  But, you could get there from here -- we merely added an extra mile or two to our hike, and were treated to beautiful views of 13,063 ft Wheeler Peak and a glacier nestled beneath, as well as two sparkling sub-alpine lakes.  At 10,160 ft, the trailhead (where we started) temp was a chilly 49°.  Good thing we dressed in layers!  Jimmy wore gloves much of the way.

Heading up the Summit Trail, at 10,000+ ft aspen trees have already dropped their leaves.  We hiked alone thru aspen, spruce, doug fir and limber pine; the crowds had all gone home.  I couldn't stop myself from saying, "Wow!" 


Resting after an uphill climb to Teresa Lake, shallow this late in the year.  We weren't cold during our hike, but we shivered at times when a chill wind blew down from the alpine glacier.

Couldn't resist -- a perfect fit, and no worries about spiders at this elevation!

Bristlecone pines grow on glacial moraine consisting of quartzite, which we clambered over to reach the grove. These trees grow in isolated groves below the treeline in harsh conditions:  Cold temperatures, a short growing season and high winds.  Their ability to survive adverse conditions seems to be one secret to their longevity.  The Wheeler Peak grove is on an unusual northeastern exposure, and by the time we made it to the trees, clouds had moved in bringing an added nippiness to the air ... and we could really appreciate the harsh conditions.

Reluctance to Die
Born:  1300 B.C.
Died:  1700 A.D.
"This 3,000-year-old remnant has been dead for 250 years.  It has two buttresses.  The one on the left died about 1100 A.D., the other continued growing for six more centuries.  This great reluctance to die is common among bristlecone pines; they may cling to life for centuries after reaching old age."

Walking among gnarled trees 2,000 - 3,000 years old ... we didn't hurry, why would we?  It was awesome! The trail views and the short self-guided nature trail passing thru a portion of bristlecone pine grove were too good to rush.  Also, rarefied air played a part in us taking our time.  Since we managed to hike on three different trails to get to the old grove, we figured our hiking distance to be about five miles.  Of course, with lots of elevation gains and losses.  It was worth every step.

Several times on the trails, Jimmy and I encountered an energetic, younger-than-us woman from Boise named Kathy, sharing info on what we'd seen and where we'd been, etc.  Bristlecone pine trail ended at Wheeler Peak campground, and so did we ... about a mile away from Smartie, and a relentless uphill return to feet already tired and bodies ready to quit.  We may not have it altogether all the time (insert smiley face, here!), but we aren't stupid -- I asked her for a ride to Smartie parked at the Summit Trail lot.  She graciously assented.  Before we left, she wondered if we'd like our photo taken?  Sure, and here we are!

Another Grand Adventure!


  1. Now that is really neat!

  2. Wonderful hike with great pictures! Beautiful!

  3. I love that trail... really, I love the entire park. Remote, eh? :) I wonder what would be the right time to catch the aspen in color. I have rather an urge to see the Bristlecones in the White mountains down in the Bishop, CA area. Would make a fun fall trip, a few overnights (3-4?) to hike among the pines and maybe catch some of the fall color on some other high country trails. You could camp, we could stay in a motel. Let's think about it!

  4. Love those trees ... all gnarly ... such character.

  5. We didn't make it to the bristlecones on our visit this year. So nice to see your photos. Next time!


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