Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Mt. Williamson (Sierra Range, California) - 8/(25 thru 28)/19

"The Scree Gulley" in the Final Ascent to Mt. Williamson

The Williamson Bowl
Two of our club members, Jerry and Cheryl Thomas, who also belong to other hiking clubs in Las Vegas climbed Mt. Williamson, a very prominent peak in the Eastern Sierras at the end of August 2019. It was quite a feat! They sent these photos and Cheryl wrote a few words about the exciting hike. But, first, let's make the acquaintance of this difficult-to-get-to alpine peak. Wikipedia makes the introductions.

Mount Williamson, at 14,379 feet (4,383 m), is the second highest mountain in both the Sierra Nevada range and the state of California. It is the sixth highest peak in the contiguous United States.

Starting up the Shepherds Pass Trail
 The mountain is named for Lt. Robert Stockton Williamson (1825–1882), who conducted one of the Pacific Railroad Surveys in Southern California.

First of 7 or 8 Stream Crossings
 The first recorded ascent of Mount Williamson was made in 1884 by W. L. Hunter and C. Mulholland, by way of the Southeast Slopes Route.

The Shepherd's Pass Trail climbs up through Canyon Wash

Second Crossing
 Williamson stands in the John Muir Wilderness of the Inyo National Forest. It is located approximately 6 miles (10 km) north of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous U.S., and about 2.5 miles (4 km) southeast of Shepherd Pass, the nearest trail access. The standard ascent route is the West Side Route, accessed from Shepherd's Pass. From the pass, one travels across the Williamson Bowl, which lies between Mount Williamson and Mount Tyndall, part of the Sierra Crest. The bowl is home to five high alpine lakes. From the bowl, the route climbs gullies up the west face to the relatively broad summit plateau; this portion involves scrambling up to class 3. Climbing Mount Williamson is made more difficult by the lengthy and strenuous approach. Elevation gain from the trailhead is over 8,000 feet (2,400 m), and the trail to Shepherd's Pass alone is 11 miles (18 km). ~ Wikipedia

Now we know what we are dealing with. Cheryl provides the story: It’s the second highest peak in the Sierras at 14,378’; 29.8 miles round trip and 10,948’ of elevation gain.

Symmes Camp (First Night)
 Our first night out at Symmes Camp. Mount Williamson is peaking around the tree. Route conditions: maintained trail, unmaintained trail, open country, stream ford, snow on ground, scramble, exposed scramble, and 4th class scramble with exposure.

Day TWO (photos)
Starting up Canyon to Shepherd's Pass
  Another condition that was very unexpected - it was hot! Kay, it was over 100 in Bishop the day we got there! When we started on the trail it was a good 90 degrees. It didn’t seem to get much cooler as we made elevation until we got to 12,000’. That made it even harder for sure. On day one, Jerry, and on day two, I, felt we had heat exhaustion. We took breaks, cooled down, and moved on. Jerry’s pack started out at 40 lbs and mine about 30 lbs.  When he felt overheated I took 3 lbs from him. That was closer to what we usually do and it helped.

Rockier Terrain nearing Shepherds Pass

You can barely see Jerry in the rocky terrain.
 We attempted Williamson two years ago and backpacked the 12 miles and 6000’ gain to Shepherd’s Pass in one day but this time Jerry thought we should break it into two days. A very good idea. We spent our first night at 9000’ at Symmes Camp. It’s a small saddle area. Nice spot. Lots of bugs and especially bees!  We spent the next two nights at Shepherd’s Pass at 12,000’. From there we day hiked with a day pack to Williamson. The summit hike was 8.2 miles round trip. A total of 3403’ elevation gain. The terrain was extremely rugged. It took us 11 hours.
 We drove to the trailhead with smiles not knowing what the next four days would be like!

Welcome to the bleak and barren pass known as Shepherds Pass (12,000')
 The trail was overall well maintained. The first of the 7-8 stream crossing came about a mile into the hike. Four crossings were major ones. The water was knee deep on the deepest and just barely past our soles on a few but all were flowing fast.

Day THREE (photos)
Infamous Williamson Bowl - Mt. Williamson in Background
 None had any really good “bridges”. On the way back we just waded across some of them 😀. The cold water felt good on tired feet and our boots were waterproof.

Rocky Ridge at Bowl Crossing

Snow Crossing with Deep Ruts
 At the first stream crossing, we had to cross on the logs which were loose. We did it but the way the logs were positioned made it worse on the way back. After 11 miles my knee was hurting and legs were unsteady. I was having trouble stepping up on the loose logs and trying to balance with my heavy pack. So Jerry went across, took off his pack, came back and wore mine over. I was then able to easily stand up on the logs and go across. My hero 😍! We both slipped going across the second stream and then had to scramble up the steep hill.

As we got closer to Shepherds Pass the terrain gets rocky. There’s still a trail but soon it ends and we’ll have to hike up the scree hill that I marked in red. (See photo #11) Two years ago the trail had been obliterated and we had to get up the scree wearing our heavy packs. We were not looking forward to doing it again and we were very happy to find that the trail had been repaired. It was at least fixed so that there were switchbacks again. The trail was still screeish and loose but at least we weren’t taking a step and sliding three back like before!  Near the top after going around the large outcropping we had to traverse the snow. No slips here! ... No oops zone!

Climbing out of Bowl
At Shepherd Pass, there’s a sign saying not to graze animals! We wondered if that ever happened there. What self-respecting sheep would eat this stuff?! We found a nice spot in a windbreak someone had been kind enough to erect some time ago. We could filter water from the freezing lake. That snow was there two years ago and I bet if a core sample was taken it’d show snow from the 1940’s haha!  Probably 15 feet thick. Notice we’re still smiling in all the photos as we hike up. 🙂

Class 3-4 Crux of the Climb (Up and later Down)
 Mt. Williamson looks close and technically it is, but what an ordeal getting there! The next day, we stood looking down into the famous, errr infamous, Williamson Bowl. You can go onto blogs and everyone describes it like a rocky horror show. It was. Very very slow going over tons of boulders. You go down and hit a ledge and go down again until you finally get into it proper.

Climbing the Scree Gulley (Mt. Tyndall in Background)

Almost There
There’s Williamson. (See photo #12) It’s hard to see it in photos but our goal was to get to the base of it below something called “ The Black Stain”. Nothing creepy just a large black water streak.  That’s where you start heading up this very long, steep, slippery scree gully. As you get into the bowl you have to cross this ridge to continue getting into the bowl. Yikes! We had several snow crossings. There were deep ruts. Didn’t need the spikes we took in our backpacks. We asked the few hikers we met who had done it and they said we didn’t need them. So we left them at camp. It was fine without. Lots of rocks and scrambling throughout the hike.

Final Ascent of Mt. Williamson
 Ok, now we start up that scree gully. At one point a large rock came loose and I slid back about five feet. Such a pain! But the view back is gorgeous! (See photo #1)

 At the top of the scree gully you come to a class 4 chute. It requires a few technical moves and there’s a very exposed traverse near the top. At the top of the chute, we’re close to the summit.

Jerry and Cheryl atop Mount Williamson Summit (Whitney & Langley in Background)

Returning down the Gulley, Bowl, & Rocky Ridge
We held hands and walked to the summit together. ❤️ Then Jerry walked back a bit and took our summit photos. ❤️❤️ Next, it's down the chute, down the gulley, and back across the rocky ridge. Another night sleeping at Shepherd Pass then it's back down the long trail to the trailhead.

And after a well needed and deserved shower etc at the Creekside Inn, we are seen in the car on the way home. Notice we’re still smiling.  You can’t see the tears of joy and pain - Lol!  ~ Cheryl

Congratulations Mr. & Mrs. Thomas!
29.8 miles; 10,948 feet elevation gain; 4 days

Day FOUR (photos)

Nearing Civilization and a Shower!

Still Smiling ... but Exhausted!

Ascent of Shepherd Pass Trail (2 Days)

Ascent of Shepherd Pass Trail (2 Days)

Ascent and Descent of Mt. Williamson (1 Day)

Ascent & Descent of Mt. Williamson (1 Day)

Mt. Williamson Trail from Shepherd Pass

Mt. Williamson Trail from Peak

Closer View of Mt. Williamson Trail

Mt. Williamson in Relation to Mt. Whitney

Complete 4 Day Hike

Complete 4 Day Hike

No comments: