MT. WILLIAMSON (14, 375') September 8-10, 1979
Having a peak trip to lead without any stated goal, I knew that I wished to have a worthy mountain for how good it was going. Only two takers were to carpool, so I thought to check out California's second highest peak. I asked about the bighorn sheep closure, and seemed to discern that it was not a real problem. A DFG official had come to a chapter meeting to speak about the failure of the transplanting of a herd of bighorns to the High Sierra, and that entire herds were lost to disease. Also, a map that I had seemed to show a boundary tweak to allow for ascents of the critical chute that leads to the top.
We carpooled south along U.S. 395, and had a nice breakfast to allow for an 8 a.m. start from about an 6,300 foot elevation. This was my first time on the Shepherd Pass Trail, and it had been improved by the efforts of my climbing club, with volunteers to help build new sections of the trail. Due to strict obedience of the apparently old reasons for the closure, many groups will ascend up an alternate, miserably trailless, and brushy route. I am flexible, and would see how it was going up the old, classic way.
Crossing the creek twice on the first mile or so, the trail begins climbing at a nice rate. It tops on a ridge crossing into Shepherd Creek, and then descends a loss of about 500 feet. This avoids, then, the rock work to somehow build a trail across a long cliff. The total gain, thusly, for climbing this peak, would be close to 10,000 feet.
We came to Anvil Camp, and ran into an USFS ranger. Asking about the closure, we were told that she didn't care, and that, in effect, there were no sheep to be disturbed. The main jurisdiction was by the California Department of Fish and Game, and being both bureaucracies, allow such old rules to remain in effect.
Camping then at the Pothole, we settled in for two nights. I picked this spot as someone had raved about it being so beautiful. Not much there that we could see.
With an early start, we continued hiking up the Shepherd Pass Trail. It runs through talus, but is followed well. Resting at the 12,000 foot elevation on the pass, I enjoyed the views, and it looked good for doing the peak.
Hiking over a large, flatter area, we descended a bit into the Williamson Lakes Basin, hopping rocks. The sight of the East Face of Mt. Tyndall was quite spectacular, and I snapped photos of the West Face of Mt. Williamson, our route. It was backlighted, but as part of getting visual directions of the route, I started snapping several photos of the climb ahead.
We found the right gully to climb, although we didn't see a supposed rock formation that marks this way. The chute climbs upward, and my two participants must have been tired from the altitude. I felt great, due from only some four days back down at sea level, after the high camp the weekend before.
The class 3 section at the top of this chute showed that we had indeed gone the right way, and I climbed the rock headwall with vigor. We had a light rope as advised by the guidebook, but never used it. You can either squeeze under a boulder, or ascend the rock face to the right. One in a previous chapter group was said to do the crawl.
Then, there is a class 2 rock hop to the top. Success! A large cairn marked the summit, and I began to photograph the view. Clouds were forming, but there was no wind. I looked through the register to see names. I shuttered more of the view, then recorded some of the ancient entries in the book. My slides may be the only record of some of these pages.
Rumbles in the sky forced us to leave and head down. We got some brief, light snow, but it stopped shortly, and proved no hazard on the downclimb. The other two climbers were now pretty tired and altitude sick, so bagging Tyndall was out of the question. I kept a slow pace, and had to stop for rests. Back to the pass, I snapped more photos, as the clouds and blue sky, with peaks all about, were a gorgeous scene.
Hiking down the trail, we arrived back to camp to have a small campfire. It offered a more lively moment in keeping with a weak tradition of some climbing trips.
The third and final day out, taking our time to backpack down the trail, we found on getting back to the car that the battery was dead. We tried to push start it, as apparently the lights had been left on. It was about 14 miles back to Lone Pine, CA, so the driver, a runner, began to trot down the dirt road. Some other driver had then picked him up, and we tried a cable jump, but that didn't work. All in all, this took about 3-4 hours to get the car running, but it was early in the day. We finally got going, and managed to drive home.
So, with no problem bagging this high peak, I was later to write a short article about this climb for the chapter newsletter. As they will do, part of some stories were truncated without further explanation. It is all volunteer work, so, by them, that's what you get. There are people to pay hundreds to be guided up a peak, and some would pay thousands for a simple road trip. We'd do it all for free. It's cheaper and easier, then, to lead and attend a club trip, and I was to hail this as the all-time banner year for chapter mountaineering, now seeming forever more.
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