Day 1: A Change of Plans
Having climbed the tallest and third tallest peaks in California, I set my sights on the second tallest: Mount Williamson. Williamson is located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range about 3.5 hours north of Los Angeles. The climb would take a solid 3 days, summiting on the second day.
After leaving the office on Thursday afternoon with a car full of gear, I pulled out of my car stall and headed down the garage. 10 seconds later, a black SUV rounded a corner at 5 times the posted speed limit and rammed right into my beloved Subaru.
The airbags did not deploy and I was uninjured, but nevertheless the car sustained major damage and was not drivable. The other driver admitted fault and we exchanged information before I filed the police report and called the tow truck. It appeared that the climb would have to wait until next year.
I rode in the tow truck to their lot in Hermosa Beach and attempted to contact the other party’s insurance company to no avail. There, I took out my mountaineering gear and walked down to the beach to watch the sunset. I took an Uber back home to sleep away my sadness. There, I talked with my dad who suggested I take his old car and go for the climb, as I could deal with the insurance on the phone.
Day 2: A Resumption of Plans
To catch up on lost ground, I woke up at 4am to drive up to Lone Pine. I called their insurance company at 6am and made it to the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor Center to pick up my permit right when they opened at 8. While my timing was good, I had spent the previous night at sea level instead of 4,000 ft which could affect my acclimation efforts. Nevertheless, I set on and drove up to the trailhead.
The trail to Mount Williamson and its next door neighbor Mount Tyndall starts in the desert at a mere 6,300 ft making it the lowest start trailhead for an Eastern Sierra mountain pass. Additionally, it was hot- in the mid 90’s with a high of 102 degrees. The goal for the day is the Shepherd’s Pass at 12,000 ft and 11 miles up the trail. It is going to be a long day.
I set out alone. After quickly crossing four creeks, I worked my way up 60 switchbacks to the top of a saddle at 9,000 ft. There, the trail descended 500 ft to reach water. This aggravating loss of elevation was built to avoid the impassable narrow Shepherd’s Canyon. At the bottom refilling my water, I ran into people for the first time that day. They revealed to me another campsite called the Pothole at 10,700 ft, just a mile below the Shepherd’s Pass.
From the water, it was another grueling 1,500 ft up to a random forest called Anvil Camp. Many people camp here, but the bugs were bad, so I only stayed for as long as it took to drink a swig of water. One more strenuous hour and I was at the Pothole. The climb including breaks took me 6 hours and I ascended nearly 5,000 ft with a heavy pack.
Rather than risk altitude sickness and continue up to the Pass, I decided to set up camp here- 10,700 ft is a long way up from sea level. I went to bed early and prepared for the pre-dawn climb of Williamson.
Day 3: A Change of Plans (again)
Once again, I woke up at 4am and prepared to summit Williamson. However, my plans were quickly jeopardized as I began to feel an altitude-induced headache soon after starting my way up to the Pass (I’ve climbed enough to distinguish the different types of headaches and what they mean). I reached into my medicine kit and popped a Diamox pill. The pill took effect, but for how long?
At 5am I reached the Shepherd’s Pass. Suddenly the landscape changed to a wide-open plain.
Tyndall popped into view and far away, Williamson loomed. A group of 3 camped at the Pass and worked their way towards Tyndall. They had summited Williamson yesterday and told me how to get there. I walked away for a few minutes and then pondered my newfound choice: I could either climb Tyndall by following these seemingly experienced climbers or go for Williamson and risk the Diamox wearing off while alone in a harsh landscape. In that moment, the choice was apparent.
I once again walked towards the climbers and started following them up Tyndall. They joked that Williamson was the other way, but once I told them my situation, they welcomed me into their group on the condition that they find a reason to make fun of me (mountaineers are a funny bunch- the Whitney climbers insisted I rap for them). They noticed that my headlamp was still on despite it being daytime. That was good enough for them.
Our route up the mountain took about 2 hours via the north rib- a Class 3 climb (not quick rock climbing but close). The route was steep the entire time and there were many many loose rocks. Rarely was there a safe foothold. I was glad to have had the group with me as I probably would not have felt comfortable climbing this route alone.
After gaining the ridge, we scrambled for another 15 minutes past 2 false summits to the true summit at 14,026 ft above sea level. Many high peaks of the Sierras including Mount Whitney, Langley, Williamson, Russell, and Middle Palisade were visible as was the Owens Valley 10,000 feet below. We celebrated with a few pictures and by signing the summit logbook.
It took us about 2 hours to return to the Shepherd’s Pass. There, we said our goodbyes and headed down the mountain. I returned to my camp sometime around 11am.
While the original plan was to camp a second night, I decided to climb down immediately as there was no benefit to staying in the camp (except for the joy of being outdoors). This time, it took me 4 hours to hike down, returning to the car right at 4pm. It was mostly pretty easy save for the 500-foot climb, which was downright miserable. Over the 2 days, I had gained a total of 10,000 feet of elevation and hiked 28 miles!
After making a few phone calls and stretching, I drove back to LA. While, I would have liked to have climbed Williamson, the circumstances forced me to change my plans. Luckily, I was able to do so.