Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mount Williamson

This is a continuation from my hike of Mount Tyndall the day before. The picture below is of Mt. Williamson taken at the top of the ridge about four miles from the Shepherd Pass trailhead. It is the tallest mountain in the center of the picture, showing the north face with the two tallest points, the east and west horns (the actual summit is behind and out of the picture). 
I got to bed about 8:45 p.m. and it got cold  at our 12,000+ foot camp at the top of Shepherd Pass. I got out of my bivvy bag twice during the night to take a pee and by the time I was finished each time I was shaking so violently I could hardly control my body. Note to myself: take a pee bottle next time so I don't have to get out of the bivvy bag  during the night. It was a fitful sleep but by 4:00 a.m. when I was woken I felt much better. I did not have the same energy I'd had the day before, but I wasn't feeling nauseous. I was able to eat my very liquidy (intentionally) oatmeal and took quite awhile to get down the breakfast bar which just sat in big congealed lumps in my spitless mouth. I knew I needed some food in me. It was dark when we set out across the snow near the lake by our campsite and I was wearing my fleece, Gore-tex NorthFace jacket, gloves and llama wool hat (picture courtesy of Doug Cummings).
As we hiked the gently sloping tundra north of Mt. Tyndall the sun started to rise and I started to warm up (Doug Cummings picture). 
Our guides, Andrew and Aaron, got to walk together for the first time on the trip and I straggled behind them, with Doug even further behind me. I waited a bit for Doug and we hiked together for a short while before his long legs propelled him in front of me. As we reached a hill looking over into the Williamson Bowl, the sun came down over Mt. Tyndall and its beautiful east face. 
The Williamson Bowl, with its five, off-set, blue-ice lakes, all above 12,000 feet, looked like a frozen wasteland below us. The picture below shows four of the lakes from the summit of Mt. Tyndale the day before. 
The picture of Mt. Williamson, below, was also taken the day before from the summit of Mt. Tyndall. 
We set off down a slope of large granite boulders, a continuation of the similar hiking we did on Tyndall the night before.
This next photo is courtesy of Doug Cummings.
We reached a ridge between a much lower lake to our left and a slightly lower lake to our right. We then began a series of up and down terrain, 
alternating boulders and snowfields, as we traversed the bowl toward two dark stains on the west side of Mount Williamson. 
The Bolton Brown route we would take climbs a chute above the black stains up to nearly the northwest buttress of Williamson, then climbs a 60 foot crack up to the summit plateau.  Even as we walked toward the west face the route was not apparent to me. There was a more obvious chute further west which was the wrong one. 
My energy was waning. I just didn't have any gas. As we started to climb the granite rocks below the black stains, about 2.66 miles from our camp (per a gps reading from another blog post I found) it was all I could do to keep going.  It was just so monotonous, and energy sapping, and no fun.  I fell further behind the rest of the group. I would have a hard time keeping up with them on a good day. At about the black stains, which are from water runoff from Mt. Williamson, I passed a couple from Simi Valley. 
We beat them to the top of Mt. Tyndall the day before by about ten minutes (they took the north rib route). Although I was going very slow, at least I was going faster than this couple. At this point the terrain was ugly, there was lots of very loose talus which sapped energy and I entertained ideas of pulling up short, but was able to keep on. There was another half mile to go, seemingly straight up (but more like a 60 to 70 degree angle). The three ahead of me waited occasionally for me to get close before going on again. Below, Andrew, and Doug to the left. 
We moved up into an obvious chute and the going got a tad bit easier. 
I searched out larger rocks which were easier going, providing more sure footing and easier hand-holds. Occasionally we found banks of rocks which we could climb which were more fun and faster. It would take a few steps and rest, take a few steps and rest, and so on. We reached some snow filling the chute and I wondered if we'd made a mistake leaving our crampons and ice axes behind. However, those ahead of me found a way through the rocks to the right of the chute so that we never did have to negotiate any snow. Some of the rocks were fairly tricky, but the exposure did not feel overly great and I was comfortable going up them. As we neared the top of the chute, the chute broke into two channels, one to the left and the other to the right. 
We veered off to the right and in a short while saw the 60 foot crack that leads to the summit plateau. 
Looking down the shoot from near the crack.
Looking west across the Sierras from the same spot.
While Aaron free-climbed the crack to set an anchor at the top, I rested near the bottom and proceeded to have dry heaves. Andrew suggested that I wait below but I insisted on going up - I hadn't gotten this close to give up. I was roped up for my climb up the crack and was very happy to have the rope. I would not have been comfortable doing the climb without it. For the most part I was able to find good hand and foot holds, but there were several places where the hand and foot holds were not so good and I was using pressure from my feet and shoulders to secure myself as I looked for other holds. Below, Doug climbs up the crack ahead of me.
As I came to the top of the crack I was bathed in beautiful sunlight 
and the plateau opened up like a football field with the west horn jutting out at one side. 
It was one of the most beautiful sights and ecstatic feelings I've ever had in the mountains. 
It was almost hard to believe that what we'd been climbing could have such a large flat top on it. The summit lay to our right up a jumble of granite boulders. But then what I thought was the summit was not, and I had to go further. I lagged greatly behind the others and eventually could see them sitting on the summit, probably another 300 feet or so above the plateau. 
I eventually reached the summit at 14,375 feet, the second tallest mountain in California and the sixth tallest in the contiguous United States (I've previously climbed Mt. Whitney, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Rainier which are taller than it). It was about 9:35 a.m. (4 1/2 hours from camp). There were beautiful views all around. Mount Whitney, about six miles away, 
with Mt. Russell and Mt. Langley nearby it (a closer view of Mt. Whitney - the hump-backed mountain to the upper right, Mt. Russell - the straight edged mountain below and to the left, and Mt. Langley, the mountain to the upper far left); 
Mt. Tyndall immediately across the Williamson Bowl; 
the Great Western Divide which hides the western side of the Sierras; 
and the northern Sierras. 
I'd left my pack at the bottom of the crack, but Aaron let me use his phone to call Judy and let her know I'd summited. I took a picture of Doug, 
then had him take a picture of me, 
and started down. I was holding the others back and wanted to get a head start on them. They readily beat me back to the crack and asked if I wanted lunch. There was no way I could eat, so I declined. Aaron, who was hiking out with me later in the day, said he would wait until I could eat. As I stood at the top of the crack another group of hikers approached the bottom (note a person standing at the bottom below). 
I was the first one down, followed by Aaron who free-climbed it. I then started down the mountain, trying to get a head-start. It was much easier going down then up and took significantly less energy. Aaron eventually caught up to me and we made it down to the black stains well before Andrew and Doug. Aaron, aware of my strength issues and how far we still had to go, pushed it a bit and I kept up to the extent I could. 
Despite the barren terrain, there were other bits of beauty besides the stark rock, snow and ice.
Mt. Tyndall and the Williamson Bowl as viewed from below Williamson.
Doug and Andrew finally caught up to us near the last lake in the Williamson Bowl. 
It was no fun going up the last hill full of granite boulders, but then a pretty easy walk back to camp over tundra and snow. We got back to camp about 1:30, with a goal of being on the road by 2:00. It was about a 6.32 mile round trip from camp to the summit of Williamson and back. I had some more dry heaves in camp, but was able to pack my gear and called Judy from the top of Shepherd Pass to let her know I was on my way down. Ken, who stayed in camp that morning, decided to go out with Aaron and I. I had about 10.3 more miles to go. The snow in Shepherd Pass was quite soft and we were able to kick-step down. We passed about six or eight hikers going up the snow of the pass. From the bottom of the snow to Anvil Camp I struggled to stay close to Ken and Aaron. I was continually grabbing handfuls of snow to wet my mouth and get something to drink. When we reached Anvil Camp I begged for some time to rest. Aaron was watching the clock and knew we needed to make good time. He gave me five minutes, then suggested I stay the night at Anvil with Andrew and the rest of the group that were coming down to camp there a little later. I said I needed to make it out and could make it out. I determined to push myself harder so that I would not hold them back. By this time my toes were making themselves known. I already knew I had big blisters from the night before. I could feel a sharp pain in my right big toe and knew I had an open wound on it. I could feel blisters on other toes and felt the mushiness of a blister on the bottom of my left foot. I really pushed it down to the waterfall and made good time. Aaron suggested, after a short break, that he would wait for Ken and wanted me to get going. The next mile and a half was mostly uphill and gained about 500 feet of elevation. My energy waned. I kept going, but I was not fast. Eventually Aaron and Ken passed me and said they would wait at the top of the last hill, about four miles from the trailhead. That was a very long stretch for me. I had a brief instant of fun when I saw a young Southern or Northern Pacific rattlesnake cross the trail in front of me, but I was not able to stop it with my hiking poles for a closer look (the first rattlesnake I've seen in the Sierras). I eventually reached Aaron and Ken about 6:00 or so. Aaron made me a bagel with cream cheese, avocado, tomato and cucumber on it. I took two bites of it and chewed and chewed and ultimately spit it out. I couldn't eat it. After a good rest, we set off down the interminable switchbacks. Each step was quite painful and the image I kept in my mind was chocolate milk and Squirt, my favorite post-hike refreshments. Those spurred me on. After what seemed like it would never end, we reached Symmes Creek and the first water crossing. Aaron, aware that both Ken and I were exhausted, carried each of our packs across. I knew we were about a mile or so from the trailhead so I was not concerned about getting wet. I swished water on my face, trying to wash off the sweat and grime, and cupped my hand and drank water out of the stream, as I'd done at the waterfall earlier. With my strength about gone, the cold water was a nice respite and the warm, filtered, water in my water bottle had no appeal. At the fourth and last crossing, I asked Aaron to give me a few minutes while I washed my face again and drank more water out of the stream. He was nice not to remind me that I was crazy to be drinking that unfiltered water. At that point I was exhausted and the water felt so good! We reached the trailhead and cars about 8:30. I was very, very happy to be off the mountain. I took off my boots and surveyed my blister damage - it was pretty ugly, worse blisters ever. I put on sandals and limped around, changed my undershirt and shirt and turned over my shared gear to Aaron. 

I ultimately made it to Independence where I drank two bottles of chocolate milk and a bottle of Sierra Mist. Then I drove to Lone Pine where I slept for an hour in the car and bought a Sobe grapefruit cranberry, a Squirt, a pink lemonade and a cup of ice. On the way home, I stopped again at the junction near Edward's Airforce Base for a grape Crush and a 44 ounce Diet Coke. I had drunk it all by the time I reached home about 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning. I took a bath to wash off the grime and climbed into bed. 

Although my feet were beat-up and I was exhausted, I was very happy about the three day trip where I'd accomplished my goal of climbing Tyndall and Williamson. What a beautiful part of the world. 

1 comment:

  1. It's hard to believe you did this. While it may be a dream come true to you, it is a wife's nightmare. Welcome home, Man of Steel. (You don't have an Achilles' Heel, you have Achilles' toes.)