Friday, August 5, 2011

Trip Report: Mt. Williamson & Mt. Tyndall, July 28-31, 2011

Mt. Williamson at 14,389 feet is the 2nd tallest peak in California and Mt. Tyndall at 14,025 feet is the 10th tallest peak in California. Both peaks lie within the Sierra Nevada and are often completed together in one trip due to their close proximity. Normally, you would only be able to attempt Williamson during the time period of December 15 to July 15 due to the Bighorn Sheep Closure, but that was rescinded in 2011.
Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall.
Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall.
Bighorn Sheep Closure Sign and Mt. Williamson in the background.
Bighorn Sheep Closure Sign and Mt. Williamson in the background.
Climbing/hiking up these peaks is not particularly difficult once at the base. The easiest routes, the West Face of Williamson and the North Rib of Tyndall, are both rated no harder than class 3 (the class 3 sections are fairly short). It's the dreaded approach that you hear everyone complain about; whether it's the 10 mile hike through Shepherd Pass, the ups and downs of the Williamson Bowl, or the 7,500+ foot elevation gain involved. Honestly, I did not find the approach all that bad, but then again, I did not attempt to summit these peaks in a day, or even two days. Four days was the amount of time we allowed ourselves to complete these two 14ers.

We left the Bay Area on a Thursday morning at 5AM and arrived in Bishop at about 10AM to get walk-in permits. We then bought some food at Vons, headed to Independence, and made it to the Shepherd Pass trailhead (~6,300 ft) by 12:30PM. Our destination today is to hike to Anvil Camp (~10,200 ft) and stay there for the night. It's about an 8.3 mile hike with a gain of ~5,000 ft (there's a downhill section that looses 500-600 feet on the way up). Once at Anvil Camp, we were quickly greeted by the mosquitoes wanting to feast on us. We stayed in our tent for shelter.
At the Shepherd Pass Trailhead.
At the Shepherd Pass Trailhead.
Anvil Camp.
Anvil Camp.
The plan for the next day (Friday) was to hike over Shepherd Pass, climb up Tyndall's North Rib, come back down, and set up camp in the Williamson Bowl. However, that all changed when we arrived at the base of Tyndall, where we felt some raindrops and heard thunder from behind us. I knew there were afternoon Thunderstorms in the forecast, but I did not expect it to start until Saturday.
Mt. Tyndall's North Rib and the storm coming in.
Mt. Tyndall's North Rib and the storm coming in.
For the most part, the storm didn't really bother us. We definitely didn't want to attempt Tyndall in these conditions. So instead, we hiked to the Williamson Bowl and decided that we would do Williamson first thing tomorrow morning and come back to do Tyndall. It took about 1.5 hours from the base of Tyndall to get to the second lake (Lake 3733) on the way to the West Face. There weren't very many spots to camp around there, but we found a flat spot that was full of rocks. It was uncomfortable to sleep on with our Therm-a-Rest Z-Lites, but we dealt with it. It continued to rain, hail, and there were constant lightning and thunder for the next 5-6 hours.
Williamon Bowl.
Williamon Bowl.
Camp by Lake 3733.
Camp by Lake 3733.
The storm finally subsided during the evening. We used this opportunity to take photos, refill our waters, and prepare for the next day. I knew there were going to be thunderstorms after 11AM for the next few days. This means that if we wanted to safely complete these peaks, we had to summit and get back down much earlier than 11AM. We agreed upon a 5AM alpine start, which should be enough time for us to get up and down before the storm hits.
Getting an Alpine start on Williamson.
Getting an Alpine start on Williamson.
We woke up at 4AM the next day and began hiking up the West Face by 5AM. It wasn't long before the light of dawn illuminated the black stains, which leads you to the chute on the West Face. Locating the chute and route-finding was surprising straight-forward and easy. Unlike many of the other 14ers I've completed, I never went off route or got lost on Williamson.
West Face Route on Mt. Williamson
Approximate route going up the West Face on Williamson. Find the black stains that look like a staircase and stay to the right of it.
Entrance of chute on Williamson's West Face.
This is what the entrance of the chute looks like on the West Face.
Although there were still some snow in the chute, we did not need an ice axe or crampons to ascend it (we didn't even bring them with us). We did have to scramble up the rock on the right to avoid the snow though. Once at the end of the chute, we were greeted by the 3rd class chimney section. Some say it's a single pitch 100 foot climb. I thought it was more like 50 feet, but my altimeter seemed to think it's about 75 feet. Either way, the climb was quite fun. Those who don't do much technical climbing and uncomfortable with exposure may want to rope up for it though. A helmet is recommended if there are other climbers above you.
Still some snow in the chute of the West Face of Williamson.
Still some snow in the chute of the West Face.
3rd Class chimney section.
Jacquelyn climbing the chimney on Williamson's West Face.
Jacquelyn climbing the chimney.
Once over the chimney, you can now see the east summit of Williamson, the Owens Valley, and the summit plateau. I found that the easiest way to the south summit (tallest summit), was to descend a short distance into the plateau, hike south, then hike directly west up the boulder field onto the summit. This was better than traversing the ridge or boulder field. I gained the summit at about 9AM, took some photos, saw the clouds coming in, and then headed back down. Jacquelyn felt a rain drop as soon as we were back at the chimney, but it didn't start to storm until much later on.
This is the view once you top out the chimney.
This is the view once you top out the chimney.
At the summit of Williamson.
At the summit of Williamson.
At the summit of Williamson.
At the summit of Williamson.
It took us about 2 hours (half the time it took to get up) to get back down to our camp at Lake 3733. We packed up our stuff and headed back to Tyndall, which took maybe another 2 hours. As soon as we arrived at the base of Tyndall, it began to storm. This time, it stormed until sunset.
Down-climbing the chimney.
Down-climbing the chimney.
Close-up view of the black stains
Close-up view of the black stains "staircase" and the chute.
Polemonium Flower found near the base of Mt. Williamson.
Polemonium Flower found near the base of Mt. Williamson.
We knew the next day (Sunday) was going to be a long day. The plan was to summit Tyndall before the storm comes in and then hike back to the car. Just as with Williamson, we got an alpine start at 5AM. We went up the North Rib, which was also fairly straight-forward and easy. We did not have to hike on the snow or even try to avoid it. Jacquelyn did not sleep much the night before and was very tired, so we were going at a slow pace. As we gained the ridge, I saw the clouds come in and became a little concerned. We made the summit at about 9AM (4 hours) and were in complete white-out conditions. It was foggy and we could not see 10 feet in front of us. However, 10 minutes later, it began to clear up and we could see a good part of the views. We took some photos and quickly hiked back down. The clouds and storms were right behind us as we hiked down. Tyndall became barely visible by the time we got back to camp, which took about 1.5-2 hours.
Approximate route going up Tyndall's North Rib.
Approximate route going up Tyndall's North Rib.
Hiking up the North Rib of Tyndall.
Hiking up the North Rib.
View from the summit of Tyndall.
View from the summit of Tyndall.
At the summit of Mt. Tyndall.
At the summit of Mt. Tyndall.
At the summit of Mt. Tyndall.
At the summit of Mt. Tyndall.
Coming down the North West Ridge of Tyndall.
Coming down the North West Ridge.
Bad weather right behind us. Tyndall barely visible.
Bad weather right behind us. Tyndall barely visible.
The hike back to the car was pretty uneventful. It took us 5 hours from the base of Tyndall to hike back down. It was raining, but we weren't complaining. It was better than hiking in the sun and heat!
Hiking back to Shepherd Pass in the rain.
Hiking back to Shepherd Pass in the rain.
Many trip reports will tell you how much the hike sucks, or how much people dread the approach. Here are my thoughts: Despite the 500-600 foot extra loss/gain in elevation on the trail, I thought the trail to Shepherd Pass was very well built, maintained, and traveled. I found it similar to the Whitney Main Trail and the John Muir Trail. You can really hike this trail in trail runners or flip-flops if you so desired. Route-finding was never an issue, the trail is actually quite soft (better for your feet and knees), there were no bushwhacking involved, and it was very well graded. Even after the Pass, the cross-country routes to the peaks weren't as bad as I thought it would be. The Williamson Bowl had huge stable boulders that you can easily hike across. I expected loose rock everywhere, but didn't really encounter any. I did not even find the talus/scree going up the West Face and the North Rib to be that loose either, but you definitely want sturdy boots for this and perhaps a helmet if there are people above you. Keep in mind that I completed this trip in 4 days and that my thoughts could all change if I were to attempt these two 14ers in a day or two, but my recommendation is to enjoy it and do it leisurely.

More Photos

8 comments:

  1. Great report and photos. Thanks!

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  2. Hi Andy!

    I'm getting ready to do this trip this weekend. I'm writing to see if have insights on food storage. I understand that bear canisters are not required in this area. When you leave camp to hike to summit(s), how did you protect your food from smaller critters like marmots and mice?

    I've read the report, looked at the pictures, and watched the videos at least two dozen times each. Thank you for the thorough reporting!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Thuy,

      Wow, it's been so long since I did this trip. For the most part, I believe I just carried all my food if I was concerned about it. If there's a tree around, I'd hang it on a tree. If I really didn't want to carry it, I'd make a rock shelter and cover it with a mixture of heavy and small rocks. I didn't really encounter any problems with small animals bothering me though.

      Thanks for asking!

      -Andy

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  3. Thanks, Andy. I went ahead and ordered a Ratsack (although wrapping our food a yard of aluminum window mesh may be just as effective, probably).

    All we have to worry about now is the weather. Chance of thunderstorm all through the weekend. It will be an adventure for sure.

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    1. Start early. If there's a chance of thunderstorms, I would say the latest you should summit is 9 or 10am. You want to be off the mountain by 11AM.

      Camp low if you can. It's definitely scary being out there during a thunderstorm. I remember being in my tent in the Bowl when I could see lightning and then hear the thunder 1 second later.

      Have fun and be safe!

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  4. Hi Andy, Andy here...for the class 3 chimney, were you nervous at all going up or down? (Did you feel you had good footing? Feel like climbing a goofy ladder?) Just trying to get a feel of what that part entails.

    We are considering going up George's creek and down Shepherds pass. Really appreciate your trip report as it has helped in planning.

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    1. Hi Andy,

      Nope, wasn't nervous at all, but everyone has a different comfort level when climbing. Everything felt pretty solid, good footing, especially for wearing mountaineering boots. With that said, wear a helmet and always check to see if the hold you're about to use is loose or not before using it. Give yourself and your partner plenty of space.

      -Andy

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  5. Hey Andy. Nice post. Any recommendations for the Williamson bowl portion?

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