MOUNT WILLIAMSON & MOUNT TYNDALL
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MOUNT WILLIAMSON & MOUNT TYNDALL
It was a day to remember! The previous day we had backpacked into our campsite at the top of Shepherd Pass – an elevation gain of over 6000 feet and a distance of 11 miles. The next morning we set off to first traverse the Williamson Bowl, a bouldery depression several miles across containing moraines and glacial lakes. I found the descent into the Williamson Bowl somewhat treacherous and slow and the group soon got ahead of me. I knew where I was headed though, and set out across the bowl.
The beginning of the route on the far side of the bowl is clearly marked by black water marks. Here I met two other hikers who informed me that my group was about a half hour ahead of me. We set out together to begin the ascent. My companions were Tim and Lewis who were also making a first ascent. We found that our paces were compatible so we continued up together. About halfway up, the ascent chute divides and the left-hand branch contained a large snowfield with no evidence of footprints. We decided to take the right-hand branch, since there was a well-defined trail leading up. We ascended about 1000 feet before we realized our mistake – we saw several of the faster people in my group descending from the other branch of the chute. The climbing was beginning to feel a bit more than third class, so I was happy to go down. At the branch point we got instructions about the correct route and, thankfully, some extra water from the group and headed up again.
The ascent from here was free of detours, but slow, with lots of steep, loose scree. At the top of the chute, a class 3 chimney provided a bit of a challenge. At the top of the chimney was a large, level plateau with stunning views. A rocky ridge led to the summit above the plateau. The views here were even more stunning – a sea of mountains. The most conspicuous was Mt. Whitney to the south. We signed the book and took photographs.
The descent was straightforward but slow – we were getting tired. I accompanied Tim and Lewis back to their campsite in the middle of Williamson Bowl and then set off on my own to climb up the bouldery slope out of the bowl and head back to camp. By the time I reached the lip of the bowl it was dark and the moon had not yet risen. Happily, Joel and Nathan were there to meet me and we crossed back over to their campsite at the upper lake. I was camped at the lower lake with the rest of the group. I thought I could find my way down on my own but they decided to accompany me – luckily for me. Finding our campsite beside the lower lake proved to be the toughest task of the day. Everyone had gone to bed and darkness utterly changes one’s perception of distance. Finally Bruce heard our voices and switched on a light and we knew where we were.
I crawled into bed, completely exhausted. The next day the rest of the group headed up Mt. Tyndall before hiking out. I opted to just hike out – a daunting enough task for me that day.
Cornice over the lower lake at Shepherd Pass
A bit of background information:
Mt. Williamson is the second highest mountain in the Sierra Nevada range and the sixth highest in the “lower 48.” Wikipedia gives its height as 14,403 feet. My companions of the day recorded the height as 14,396 feet on their GPS. Williamson lies about 1 mile east of the High Sierra crest, which forms the western edge of the Owens Valley. It is more remote than Whitney in terms of access. The standard ascent route is the West Side Route, accessed from Shepherd Pass. The first ascent of the West Side Route was made in 1896 by Bolton C. Brown and Lucy Brown. The mountain is named after Lt. Robert S. Williamson, who conducted one of the Pacific Railroad Surveys in Southern California.
Clarence King and Richard Cotter made the first ascent of Mt. Tyndall in the summer of 1864 while working on the Whitney Survey. They named the peak for John Tyndall, a noted British scientist and alpine explorer. He is known to posterity as the man who first explained why the sky is blue, but he was also one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century. He made important contributions in physics, atmospheric science and geology. There is also a Mt. Tyndall near the Matterhorn, named after the same John Tyndall.
Dramatic waterfall just below Anvil Camp
Great trip! Cold scrambled eggs and bacon never tasted better than it did above 14k on Mount Tyndall! The three day journey included a wide variety of spectacular scenery, terrain, and a little wildlife including: marmots, jagged mountains, frozen alpine lakes, a fair amount of snow, and wobbly ankle-busting boulders. Camping at around 12,400 feet made for freezing nights, but my bivy kept me plenty warm.
I have wanted to conquer Williamson for years. This spring I’ll be snowboarding down! Thanks for leading the trip Bruce and Joel!
Our camp with frozen lake and snowfield behind it
It was a wonderful and challenging trip. Bruce and Brad were planning to stay several more days and do some climbing, but Brad was too tired and decided to head home. Bruce told me on the way home that he wasn't too broken-hearted, although he said he definitely would have still gone if he had a partner!
Because the approach was so long and arduous, it took three full days (almost exactly 9.5 hours of hiking each day for me) to make the summits of both Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall. It was a great group and eight of the ten summitted Williamson (only nine attempted) and seven of us summitted Tyndall. I think this is quite noteworthy as often groups get so tired by the final day that they forego an attempt on Tyndall, which happened on a previous LVMC trip. Kudos to everyone on the trip!
For me there were many aspects of this trip that I will never forget. First, the difficulty of ascending almost 7,000 feet the first day with a full pack was amazing. Our campsite at the high lake (12,400') was spectacular and very cold at night (the stream where we got our water was almost completely frozen over in the morning). Also, there were several episodes that provided comic relief. On the way down, we passed three rangers carrying out a torpedo-shaped package that had been called in as a bomb threat! Evidently, the authorities were not too worried, but it was an unusual thing to see several miles from the trailhead.
However, the funniest episode was one seen only by Bruce on the descent. As he was descending the steep scree going down Shepherd Pass, he heard a strange noise. He looked around and saw someone's tent tumble down the slope and get lodged behind a snow bank! Apparently they had set up camp near the pass, and had not staked down their tent. What a alarming and disturbing thing to return to your campsite to find no tent! He said he considered trying to retrieve the tent, but it was off the trail and would have involved an ascent of 1,000 feet back to the pass with the tent (and he didn't know where it had come from anyway). It just goes to show you that you should always stake down your tent!
Three rangers posing with the"bomb" at the trailhead
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