....Oakland, California - Stargazing since 1924

Eastbay Astronomical Society
and Tri-Valley Stargazers

2017 Barcroft High-Altitude Star Party

Sun Sep 17 - Fri Sep 22
$60 per person, per night
10-12 max attendees at any given time
Cutoff date for sign-ups this year is July 31
This event is for EAS and TVS club members only
Memberships and Barcroft reservations are available to purchase via PayPal here

For your own health and safety, please carefully read this entire web page
To sign up, contact Don Saito



The Barcroft High Altitude Star Party is held at the University of California’s Barcroft High Altitude Research Station, located about 4 miles south of White Mountain peak, in the White Mountain Range which runs roughly 60 miles north-northwest to south-southeast on the east side of the Owens Valley in California. The remoteness of the location, plus an altitude of approx 12,450’ above sea level, affords visiting amateur astronomers truly world-class viewing conditions that are yet relatively affordable and easy to access.

Reservations to attend must be submitted no later than 2 weeks before the event, and a maximum of only 10-12 people can be there at any given time. Minors must have their parent(s) or guardian sign a liability waiver. The reservation rate this year is $60 per person per night which includes all meals and snacks, plus dorm-style sleeping in a darkened room (bring your own sleeping bag!) If you make a reservation but decide you can't attend, please do let us know at no later than 10 days before the first day.

BEFORE YOU START: At times, one or more of the traditional roads up to Barcroft is washed out due to weather or forest fires. For that reason, it would be a good idea to call CalTrans at 800-427-7623 to confirm the roads are open. Even better, check their web site.

ACCLIMATIZE: Before arriving at Barcroft, it’s a very good idea to gradually acclimate oneself to less oxygen in order to avoid altitude sickness. One way to help do this is to spend time at somewhat higher altitudes for a day or two. Before making it all the way up to Barcroft, you should try to stay at least one night either at a motel in Mammoth Lakes at 8,000 feet, or at the Grandview Campgrounds in the White Mountains at 8,600 feet. Or, if you can manage it, the Bridalveil Creek Campground near Glacier Point in Yosemite is at 6,980 feet, and on the weekends during summer, there are public star parties hosted by several different California astronomy clubs at Glacier Point. Attempting to stay at the Bridalveil Creek Campground is a bit tricky, though, as it’s a first-come-first-served car camp, and is usually full. You can better your odds of getting a campsite if you get there on Friday or Saturday mornings – that’s when some campers leave, in order to avoid weekend crowds. Oxygen is NO LONGER PROVIDED at Barcroft Station. This isn't too big a problem, because it's a quick hour's drive down from Barcroft to the much lower altitude Owens Valley (5K' as opposed to the 12.45K' at Barcroft). If you're still worried, you can bring your own personal bottled oxygen supply. Please note that portable oxygen concentrator machines don't work at high altitudes.

The Bridalveil and Grandview car campgrounds have no running water, but do have pit toilets and tables; Bridalveil has anti-bear lockers, as well.

GPS Coordinates
(you can copy/paste these coordinates into Google Maps

Bridalveil Creek Campground
N37° 35'1.58" W118° 14'12.29"

Town of Mammoth Lakes
37° 38.925'N 118° 58.832'W

Grandview Campgrounds
37° 19.991'N 118° 11.257'W

Barcroft Research Station
37° 35.026'N 118° 14.205'W

BARCROFT AMENITIES: Excellent warm meals, hot drinks and snacks, satellite TV, book and video library, microwave oven, a radiotelephone, showers, bathrooms, and a workshop with tools for any equipment emergencies. The staff is extremely helpful. Guests are expected to help out with some light cleanup chores.

VEHICLE ADVICE: Make sure your vehicle is in good working order, with fluids and air filter checked. It’s also a good idea to let a little air out of your vehicle’s tires by the time you get to Schulman’s Grove, to avoid over-inflation at the higher altitude. Make sure you have a functional spare tire, and it’s best not to speed around once you hit the dirt road. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the station from Schulman Grove if you only go 10 – 15mph. If your vehicle doesn’t have automatic fuel injection, you might want to learn how to adjust your carburetor for operating at a higher elevation. If your vehicle has fuel injection, as most vehicles do, you're in good shape.

DIRECTIONS: To get there from the Bay Area, take Interstate 580 east to Interstate 205. Continue east on Interstate 205 past I-5 to Highway 120. Continue east on 120 to Highway 99. Take 99 north one mile into Oakdale where Highways 120 and 108 merge for about 22 miles. At "Yosemite Junction," you have a choice: you can take 120 to the southeast towards Yosemite, or you can take 108 northeast towards Bridgeport. Hwy 120 is the shorter route, but if you go during the daytime, you'll be charged a Yosemite Park entrance fee of $30 - if you go at night, you can skip this fee. Hwy 108 avoids this fee, but it adds an additional 25 miles to the trip. If Hwy 120 is closed due to snow, Hwy 108 can again act as an alternate route. Both 108 (Sonora Pass) and 120 (Tioga Pass) end up on Hwy 395 on the east side of the Sierra Mountain range. Once on Hwy 395, go south for about an hour to the town of Bishop, and continue on to the smaller town of Big Pine. MAKE SURE TO REFUEL IN BIG PINE! Premium gas is recommended. Go east from Big Pine on Hwy 168 which takes you up into the hills. Just before you get to Westgard Pass, 12.9 miles out of Big Pine, make a left and go north on a paved road that goes a few miles to Grandview Campground, and continues on a few more miles to Schulman Grove; past this, the road turns into a well-graded dirt road that goes roughly 20 miles north along the spine of the White Mtns to the Barcroft Station. When you get close, you'll come to a gate with a couple of signs saying “Barcroft Facility,” etc.; there may be a chain, but it will be unlocked, so just open it up, drive through, and be sure to secure it again before continuing on.

THINGS TO SEE: If you start off early in the day from Mammoth or Grandview, you might want to stop off at Sierra View, with a spectacular view of the Owens Valley and the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mtn Range. About fifteen minutes further up the road, you’ll come to the Schulman Grove Visitor Center, where you can spend a good part of the day exploring the Bristlecone pine forest; at over four-thousand years, they are the oldest known living organisms on the planet.

THE GOOD NEWS: Seeing can be outstanding (sub-arcsecond), if the weather cooperates, as there simply isn't much air up there. Solar viewing is generally excellent. It's an especially good spot for astrophotography! White Mountain was the second choice for the twin Keck Telescopes. You'll never forget your view of the Milky Way from Barcroft.

THE BAD NEWS: It is hard to function when there is no air. A good source of information can be found in the book, Mountain Sickness: Prevention, Recognition and Treatment by Peter Hackett. It's available at at Amazon.com for ~$8.50 (used copies are much cheaper). One just doesn't think as clearly at 12,000 feet. Visual astronomers should remember that the human cornea requires oxygen to function. It will take about two nights for your eyeballs to fully get up to speed. Also, low blood oxygen levels can make you feel the cold more, SO DRESS WARMLY! Bring several sets of long underwear (I found that three long johns were about right). Night temps can reach down into the teens, and with a bit of wind plus the lack of oxygen, it can make doing even simple things very difficult. There are a few survival suits available, if necessary.

THE WEATHER is unusually variable in the White Mountains due to their location. Don't be surprised if there are severe thunderstorms and even snow during the late afternoon, though it often clears out in the early evening even after such weather. The White Mountains are some of the coldest places in the continental U.S.

OXYGEN: There are several things to watch out for at high altitude. When you first get to Barcroft, TAKE IT EASY! Please go slow for the first day and night. There is an oxygen dosimeter in the station. Upon arrival, everyone should measure their pulse rate and oxygen saturation level and write it in the log on the table in the dining room. You'll be amazed at the numbers you get. You might also want to compare them with the numbers you'll get just before you leave. Oxygen saturation at sea level is usually 95% to 99%. Don't be alarmed if you get 80%. Your pulse will probably be around 100. Dr. Don Parker believes that Vitamin E ingestion before and during high-altitude stays alleviates symptoms. There is also a prescription drug called diamox (acetazolamide) that can help some people who have problems at altitude. Unless you are a severe case, you are probably better off without it. Sleep the first night will be a little difficult for some people due to the altitude, especially if you drive straight up. IT HELPS A GREAT DEAL TO BE WARM, so bring a good sleeping bag!

The people who usually get high altitude sickness are those who "tough it out". The symptoms are very hard to notice until you get pulmonary and/or cerebral edema (excess water build-up in the lungs or brain; life-threatening conditions) SO WATCH IT. The first symptom is euphoria. Headaches and/or fatigue follow in a few hours. If you know or suspect you are prone to altitude sickness, it might be wise to invest in a personal/portable oxygen supply. A whiff of oxygen will help almost immediately. Aspirin will help you sleep and help with the headache, so bring some. Another symptom that occurs later is irritability, which will be a problem since we will probably have up to a dozen people up there in close quarters. Try to be patient with your fellow astronomers, no matter how stupid they may seem to be at the time, because chances are that you are being equally stupid. Keep a watch on your fellow astronomers. If someone seems to be having problems or is behaving erratically or irrationally, let the staff know. If you are told to take it easy, please cooperate.

FOOD: All meals and snacks are covered by the $60 fee, but if you have special dietary needs, do let us know in advance so the chef can accommodate you. If you have a really unusual diet beyond "vegan," "gluten-free," "low-sodium," low-sugar," etc., you may want to bring your own food to supplement whatever the Barcroft kitchen can reasonably provide.

WATER: Another thing to watch for is dehydration. You don't perspire at altitude --- you vaporize, so you won't notice how fast you're losing water especially as your thought processes will be somewhat muddled. So make sure you drink more fluids than you normally would, except for caffeine drinks and alcohol, of course. Caffeine is a diuretic, so you lose even more water. Alcohol impairs judgment (as if your judgment needs to be even more impaired at 12,000 feet!) and the functioning of the retina and its effects are heightened by the altitude.

ULTRAVIOLET RADIATION: Another often over-looked high-altitude problem is sunburn. You think you tan fast at 7,000 feet? Wait till you try 12,000 feet! Remember, there is very little between you and that big tanning salon in the sky, so make sure you bring a hat and sunscreen!

HANTAVIRUS AND PLAGUE: Finally, if you haven't already been scared off, try to stay away from rodents and rodent excrement! It's hard to believe, but a U.C. researcher once died from Hantavirus that she got while in the Eastern Sierras 25 miles north of Bishop. This was the mysterious virus that plagued Indian reservations back in the '90s. It seems to be caused by either very close contact with deer mice or by breathing aerosol or dust contaminated with their urine or feces. Watch for flu-like symptoms. In addition, some of those cute little rodents are carrying bubonic plague. You remember, the BLACK DEATH that wiped out one-third of Europe from 1348 to 1351. You may laugh but I once had to evacuate my campsite in the Eastern Sierras many years ago due to a plague infestation of the local rodents.

In an emergency, feel free to call the White Mountain Research Station office in Bishop at 760-873-4344. Make sure you take these numbers with you, just in case. The number up at Barcroft, if the phone is working, is at 760-937-5202. Cell phones can work if you climb a short road up past the station to where you can view the Owens Valley.

If you have any more questions, please contact Don Saito at (510) 301-2570, or donsaito@yahoo.com day or night.

MISCELLANEOUS: For those of you who are interested, up Hwy 395 about 15 miles north of Mono Lake (about halfway between Bridgeport and Lee Vining), and then east on 270, is the Bodie State Historic Park. Bodie was a legendary (or perhaps infamous is a better word) mining town that was famous for its bars, murder rate (at one point it had the highest per-capita murder rate in the world), and houses of ill repute. People used to say, "Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie!" It's now a ghost town, and kind of interesting. Please note that no smoking, pets, or firearms are allowed at Barcroft, and even though it's not Bodie, they do require all visitors to sign a liability waiver.

If you ever want to do some extreme amateur astronomy, Barcroft is the premier site in the U.S. to do it. See you there!


Newsletter | Membership | Schedule | Workshop | Astrophotos | Links | Directions | Contacts
What's Up | Astro Advice | Constellation Chronicle | EAS History | Chabot Space & Science Center | Beware! | Home