Tyndall and Williamson


Just before dawn on Thursday, August 4, Michelle Gomes, Dave Krenik, and Ben Crowell met in Independence and piled into Dave's truck to head up the dirt road to the Shepherd Pass trailhead. The plan was to bag two fourteeners, Mt. Tyndall and Mt. Williamson, over a four-day backpacking trip. The last time Ben had been in the area, both the road and the trail had been in bad shape, with a huge wash-out carved out of the trail in the Shepherd Creek watershed and no identifiable trail heading up the steep final approach to the pass. This year the road was freshly maintained, a crew of young people in hard hats were putting the finishing touches on a detour around the wash-out, and there were freshly manicured switchbacks at the pass. It started to rain in the afternoon, so we stopped and hunkered down at Anvil Camp for the night.

Friday morning dawned bright and clear, and we got an early start and finished the approach to Mt. Tyndall, an isolated pyramid on the Sierra crest that is set back far enough from the Owens Valley so that you can't see it until you're standing at its foot. We had decided to try the North Rib route (class 3), which was reputed to have better rock and easier route-finding than the nominally easier class-2 Northwest Ridge. Both Ben and Dave later admitted to feeling a little intimidated by the route's appearance from the plateau below. It looked steep and exposed. We had heard that it could be done either by staying on the rib or by going up a gully to the right. We headed up the gully, which turned out to be the tougher way to go. There was loose dirt and rock, and a snow field forced us out onto the neighboring slabs, which were more exposed. Gaining the summit ridge, we easily made our way to the summit and enjoyed the perfect weather. We descended by the North Rib, but on the way down we stayed on top of the rib, which was much easier climbing, with better rock quality and less exposure.

We hiked cross country down into the Williamson Bowl, laboriously crossing lots of boulder fields, and found a bug-free and fairly sheltered camp site in a gully. Along the way, we ran into a family group that had just done Williamson, and they told us about a group of three twenty-something men who had gotten a very late start, and were heading up Williamson as they were finishing the descent. We kept expecting to see the three men on their way out, but never did, until finally they walked through our camp at 10 pm. One of them had had a nearly debilitating case of AMS, which had only started to clear up once they descended.

On Saturday we headed up Williamson. The start of the climb requires bypassing or climbing a well-known black stain. We decided to bypass it, and encountered some less than confidence-inspiring class 3 climbing on loose rock and dirt. Once we were above the stain, we inserted into the big, long chute that leads almost the rest of the way to the summit. The chute was much easier class 2 climbing, with frequent options of detouring onto solid class 3 rock. The chute was often wide enough that we could climb side by side, so that nobody had to worry about getting rocks kicked down on them. Finally we approached the 100-foot chimney at the top of the chute, which is the exit onto the summit plateau. The chimney was nice clean climbing on solid rock, broken up by four or five ledges, but seemed more like class 4 than the advertised class 3. Popping out onto the summit plateau, we made our way quickly to the summit, where we enjoyed a truly spectacular panorama of the Sierra from the highest point within fifteen miles. We descended by the same route, took a nap in the Williamson Bowl, and then descended to spend the night Anvil Camp, hiking out the next morning.