Ascent of Mount Williamson on 2018-07-14

Climber: Marcus Lostracco

Date:Saturday, July 14, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Williamson
    Elevation:14373 ft / 4380 m

Ascent Trip Report

Day hike/run of Mount Williamson.

My intention was to summit Williamson with a bonus goal of Tyndall as well. I arrived at Shepherd's Pass TH where I would car camp for the night. Given that I had visited several mountain stores that day in Bishop, CA and how nobody seemed to know the conditions on Williamson, I was surprised to find 3 other cars in the lot. Also - the road to the TH is perfectly accessible for non 4x4 high clearance vehicles - there is a TR out there saying you need high clearance. False! I made it just fine in my rental Jeep Renegade with about 7 inches clearance (I guess higher than sedans. Also: terrible car - would not buy).

I set myself up in the back of the car and went to sleep super early (7pm or so). I was very tired. I managed to sleep well until about midnight when another car pulled into the lot. I didn't sleep much after this - my alarm was set to 2am. I was feeling dehydrated despite the fact I had been drinking water all day prior! Something about the desert valley just sucks the moisture out of you. I was getting ready and there were 4 others also preparing to hit the trail. I asked them what they had on their agenda, and oddly enough - dayhike/run of Williamson and possibly Tyndall! Wow! I was surprised - especially after people were looking at me like I was crazy in Bishop as I told them I was going to day hike it. These 4 guys had come in from Tahoe. They set off at about 3:05am. I was not far behind getting out around 3:15am.

I soon caught up to them on the trail and took the lead at a water crossing (there are 3 streams to cross in the first mile). Then the trail climbs up a good 2,000 ft of pure switchbacks to cross over a ridge, followed by a nearly 1 mile 600 ft descent, only to climb right back again and more switchbacks to boot! This Shepherd's Pass trial has basically the same stats as Mt. Whitney - just shy of 11 miles, and just over 6,000 ft of gain. No slouch of a trail! There are a few more stream crossings up past Anvil and Pothole camps. On the final climb up to Shepherd's Pass, I noticed a deer (buck) carcass that seemed to have received a serious thrashing. I figured it was a victim of a mountain lion. Then, a few minutes later, another deer carcass. I then noticed at least a dozen other carcasses (and the smell) all within 30-40 feet of eachother. What could have caused this? To take out an entire herd? Surely not a mountain lion... the answer came to me later - it was an avalanche in the winter which unfortunately the herd was a victim of. Note - be sure to filter your water on the lower streams. This carcass pile was right next to a large section of snow.

There was a snow crossing near the top of the pass - I opted to scramble to the right to bypass it. I reached Shepherd's Pass in 4.5 hours. It was 7:45am. Next I used my Peakbagger app to follow the route I had loaded onto Williamson Bowl. At a glance, I expected this section to be the easiest part of the approach (I actually totally overlooked it since it was only 3 miles or so with negligible gain). However, it is very time consuming - all large rock talus hopping and some route finding. There are some cairns but they are not very reliable. It's best to stick to the right of ridge formations and aim for the west shore of the highest lake you can see. Just to get to that highest lake took nearly 2 hours for me. At this point, 2 of the Tahoe guys had caught up to me. They were impressively fast on the talus. Our reaction when we got close to the mountain was "Holy shit! It's huge!" I chatted with them as we could see the other 2 guys in their group slowly approaching. We were analyzing the climb and figuring out what the correct route up this thing was. I decided to start my ascent and they both came along with me.

The route is fairly obvious - it's a widest scree path that goes straight up the one of the couloirs. Apparently this is snow-filled in the early season, but for today it was all very loose scree of all sizes. The Tahoe duo quickly started dropping me. They were strong on this steep stuff! I never cease to get humbled in the mountains. This climb tops out near the summit ridge where you approach a crack in the rock which people dub "the chimney" (not sure how this is a chimney but ok). The Tahoe guys were already on their way down from the summit when I reached this section. They planned to descend and go attempt Tyndall. At this point the clouds were rolling in. The chimeny is pretty strenuous to get up requiring full body exertion. You have to have some strength left to get up this! Once clear of the chimney I followed the rocky ridge up to the summit which took about 10 minutes. I was on top at noon. I was lucky and the clouds cleared allowing me to get some amazing views and receive some warming sun rays. I was fine in a short-sleeve base-layer and shorts. I spent about 25 minutes on the summit - I had cell phone reception up there as well.

Now for the 15-mile descent! I found it a bit tricky to find your way back to the chimney - it's easy to overshoot it! My advice is when you climb up the chimney take a good mental picture of your surroundings so you know where to get back down. It all looks the same up there! If it's cloudy with low visibility, I can see this being a problem. I got down the chimney fairly easily - but again, requiring full body strength to do so. The 2 others from the Tahoe group were making their way up to the summit at this point. The scree/rock descent is super steep and difficult. I had some "dirty girl" gaiters I had bought in town the prior day - not too impressed, rocks were still getting in my shoes. It was also drizzling at this point which had made the big rocks a little slippery, especially when there was a small layer of fine scree across the top of them. I wiped out a few times (nothing serious) as I my feet would get taken out underneath me sliding on these rocks.

Getting back down to the bowl was a big relief - 1:30pm, so a 1-hour descent from the summit. But still I knew the section to Shepherd's pass was long. I made haste on getting back since I wasn't sure if the weather was going to get worse. The light drizzle continued and the clouds were looking heavy but no thunder or anything alarming just yet. I was back to Shepherd's pass by 3:30pm. I came across the 2 fast Tahoe guys and they were looking out into the bowl to try and spot the rest of their group. They did not make the climb up Tyndall since clouds had rested on its summit and the weather was looking grim. They were now concerned about the others in their group since we could not see them at all. I stayed for a bit to see if we could spot them emerging from the Williamson chute, but there was no sign. I could tell they were starting to worry. Another reason why never to split your group up! I took one of the guy's numbers down and said I would text them when I got to the bottom and if they still hadn't found them I'd get help. They were really nice guys and great climbers so who knows - maybe I'll see them again.

The descent from Shepherd's Pass is very, very long. I jogged where my body allowed me to and even had a few sections of solid running. I passed 3 or 4 groups of backpackers on the descent who seemed to be struggling with this climb. The hike to the pass would be pretty tough with a huge pack like that! I was getting asked often "how far until the next campsite"...

I finished my descent at 7pm. Overall a 15h45m day hike/run. I texted the Tahoe crew, took a bath in the nearby stream, and made my way out. I got a text back at 9:30pm saying they made it back to their car and their group was fine (the other 2 were just very slow coming down). I was happy to hear this.

Overall Mount Williamson is a very challenging mountain with a little bit of everything. Next time I go up Shepherd's Pass I'll be hitting Tyndall!

3:15 am left Shepherd's Pass TH
7:45 am reached top of Shepherd's Pass
9:30 am reached the high lake
12:00 pm reached summit
12:25pm left summit
1:30 pm reached high lake
3:30 pm reached Shepherd's Pass
7:05 pm reached Shepherd's Pass TH

Total: 16 hours, 12,000 feet elevation gain, 31 miles

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:10043 ft / 3060 m
    Extra Gain:1000 ft / 304 m
    Round-Trip Distance:30.8 mi / 49.6 km
    Route:Shepherd's Pass
    Trailhead:Shepherd's Pass Trailhead  6330 ft / 1929 m
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Scramble
    Weather:Drizzle, Pleasant, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Perfect Sierra weather, then the storm clouds rolled in on schedule at 2pm
Ascent Statistics
    Time:9 Hours 
Descent Statistics
    Time:7 Hours 
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Marcus Lostracco
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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