This is a post about our 2011 trip to Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall as told by SMI guide Kurt Wedberg.
Freshly back from Africa we were looking forward to returning to our home in the Eastern Sierra and guiding climbs in our back yard. Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall are two remotely located California 14ers located just south of Shepherd Pass. The terrain is rugged and the scenery is gorgeous. We offer this trip once each year and it is always a treat to re-visit this area.
The approach for this 5-day trip starts at the Symmes Creek trailhead at 6199’/1889m and leads us over Shepherd Pass (12,000’/3657m). The trail is long and hot during the heat of the day which indicates an early start on day 1. It takes the better part of one day to reach Anvil Camp at 10,400’/3170m. On day 2 we pack our camp and travel over Shepherd Pass where we turn south towards Palisade Basin where we establish a camp that puts us in position to climb both peaks on days 3 and 4. On day 5 we return back to our cars.
A pre dawn start on day 1 gave us comfortable temperatures. Our first challenge was to negotiate four crossings of Symmes Creek. The Sierra received record breaking snowfall this past winter and stormy weather lasted well into June. This deep snowpack is still melting and the creeks everywhere are swollen and running fast. Rocks and logs that are normally used to navigate across creeks are now covered in water. The creek crossings required wading and/or getting boots wet stepping on submerged rocks. The heavy snowfall also has contributed to the soil being fertile ground for wildflowers, which is one of the treats of visiting the Sierra during the summertime. The team made it to Anvil Camp in good style by midafternoon on July 1. Sitting in a grove of pine trees next to Shepherd Creek Anvil Camp provides a comfortable oasis from the hot approach we travel through to get here.
After packing up camp on day 2 the team hit snow within 20 minutes of leaving camp. Patches of snow got larger as we made our way above timberline en route to Shepherd Pass. Gaining the pass requires ascending a steep slope. The switchback trail was covered in snow requiring us to kick steps up the 35-40 degree slope. Warm temperatures allowed conditions to soften perfectly and the team did an excellent job of moving efficiently up the steep snowy terrain. Gaining the pass the team took a lunch break under clear skies and pleasant temperatures. Then we turned south towards Williamson Bowl and made camp on top of the plateau above the bowl. Foot baths and relaxation in the warm afternoon sun was a welcome treat as we continued a constant regimen of hydration that would help in the acclimatization process as we prepared for summit day on Mt. Williamson the following day. The team had a pizza dinner and a relaxing cup of hot tea before making final preparations and packing going to bed.
Climbing Mt. Williamson would require a pre dawn start. After breakfast the team set out navigating by headlamp. We dropped into Williamson Bowl, which requires losing over 500’/155m in elevation the traversed across the bowl weaving our way in between several lakes still covered in ice from winter. Alpine Gold and Polemonium wildflowers decorated our route in places where the snow had already melted. At the base of the West Face of Mt. Williamson the team donned helmets and climbing harnesses in preparation for the steeper alpine terrain we would ascend. The West Face led us into a chute that was mixed 3rd class rock with some snow still present. Crampons and ice axes were used to ascend the snow. The route then leads to a short 4th class impasse. Two short roped pitches of fun rock climbing led us to the summit plateau of Mt. Williamson. 20 minutes of easy boulder hopping and the team was sharing the summit of the second highest peak in California along the crest of the Sierra. After summit photos, some snack food, and some time to enjoy the spectacular view the team retraced their steps back to camp. Late afternoon clouds built up creating a short rain storm but in the aftermath of it the dry mountain air soaked up the water leaving our gear and the rocks surrounding camp free of water before we went to sleep.
On day 4 the next objective was Mt. Tyndall via the North Rib. This is a fun 3rd class route up a rib of rock that tops out on a broad ridgeline that leads a short distance to the summit. Form our camp this route is much shorter than our climb the previous day. The team ate breakfast and got started after the sun rose. Scrambling up the North Rib the terrain gets incrementally steeper. Eventually the team roped up as the fall potential increased. Short pitching up the terrain the team moved efficiently to the broad ridgeline that ends at the summit of Mt. Tyndall. 15 minutes later the team was standing on the summit of this classic Sierra peak. The time spent on the summit was short lived as dark grey clouds built promising rainy conditions. After some quick photos on the summit block and adding our signatures to the summit register we quickly retraced our steps back to the North Rib and descended back the way we came. Thankfully light rain was only intermittent until we arrived back at camp. A solid thunderstorm ensued shortly after our arrival that left the air smelling fresh and clean. An hour after it had started the precipitation stopped and the team packed up camp and descended back to Anvil Camp. Soft snow on Shepherd Pass offered us the opportunity for an excellent glissade down the 35-40 degree slope on the east side of the pass. By the time we had dropped below Shepherd Pass we left the clouds behind at the Sierra crest and we walked under mostly blue skies to Anvil Camp in time for an afternoon bath in Shepherd Creek before dinner.
Day 5 was devoted to returning to the parking lot. In anticipation of hot weather in the lower elevations we left early. Cloud cover turned out to be a blessing keeping the temperatures cool enough to be pleasant. Back through the four crossings of Symmes Creek the team reached the cars in time to return to town for a celebration lunch before parting ways after another truly memorable adventure with a great team on two classic Sierra peaks!!
Thanks Demetria, Greg, and Ralph for another excellent trip. We enjoyed climbing with each of you and look forward to seeing you all back again soon!!
A few pictures are below. The rest of the photos can be found here: Williamson/Tyndall July 1-5, 2011