Mount Williamson

July 5, 2005

By: Gary Schenk


Despite having over 100 SPS peaks to his credit, Ron Zappen still did not have emblem status. To correct this situation he proposed a climb of Mt. Williamson. His plan was to get his emblem on the mountain that was actually on the emblem badge. Sounded like a plan to me. Mary Jo Dungfelder is after all of the 14ers in California, so she was in favor of this. As the word got out, two more jumped on the bandwagon, but due to various reasons only we three carpooled to the Shepherd Pass Trailhead.
We left the car at 2:30 pm on a hot Sunday in July. Our plan was to hike just a short distance to get a jump on the tough trail to the pass. With the wet winter previous, the crossings were cold and deep in spots. Refreshing actually! After the fourth crossing we began the 56 switchbacks to Symmes Creek Saddle. We weren't sure whether we should curse or praise them. With the heavy packs it was better than going straight up, but maddening to walk so far with such little upward progress being made. We made the saddle, but with no water available it was out of the question to camp there. So we started the infamous drop to Shepherd Creek. Several hot miles later we pulled into Mahogany Flats just as the last rays of daylight flickered out. We hastily pitched camp, had a cold supper and collapsed in our bags.
The next morning saw us sleeping in late and heading for the pass at 8:30 am. Over the course of our approach hike we saw many parties coming out and heading in. They all seem to share our goal of climbing the West Face, and we wondered just how crowded that route might be. After passing Anvil Camp and The Pothole we found ourselves at the base of snow covered Shepherd Pass. A group of four from Houston started up. Ron soon joined them. Mary Jo and I had a snack while contemplating the possibility of getting our packs up that slope. We soon headed upward.
At the pass, Ron asked us about the bear. "What bear?" Ron and the Houston boys had watched a bear approach us at the base of the pass. He seemed interested in our snack. We were completely oblivious! As we were talking, sure enough, this enterprising bruin loped over the pass and down into Sequoia N .P.
        We set camp and decided on a start time of 5:30 am next morning. Off we went then, headed for the West Face route. Following the description in RJ's book, we kept to the ridge in the center of Williamson Bowl. Soon we had to move right to avoid cliffs. Here the snow was still hard, and with a small precipice near, we decided on crampons for this traverse. Here misfortune struck. Ron was short one crampon. He thought he knew where it must be, so off he went in search of it. Mary Jo and I continued on to the northern most lake in the bowl. We fully expected Ron, with his speed, to catch up quickly.
We topped off our water at the lake. This was the spot to look for the famous black stain. It was quite obvious, and we climbed loose scree and talus to the right of the stain. The chute to the top was even more obvious. It was only a matter of hard work. The snow was very firm and we again used crampons. The snow stopped just short of the headwall at the top of the chute. The chimney to the right was easy to spot. It was dry and clear, to our relief. Some easy third class moves had us on the summit ridge. Some class 2 scrambling placed us at the top soon enough. Eight hours after leaving camp we stood on top of Mt. Williamson. We admired the views and munched for half an hour, then headed down, hoping Tyndall. Mary Jo was enthusiastic, I was not. Half an hour from camp I quit, happy to sit on a rock and watch them climb the Northwest Ridge. Mary Jo soon turned around, and we watched Ron until he dissolved into the talus.
We returned to camp and drank, ate and napped away the rest of the morning. Early in the afternoon Ron returned from "West" Tyndall. The only route he could find to the summit involved descending an ugly 500' debris chute, which he did not find so appealing. He's now convinced that the North Rib is the way to go.
We packed up and headed for Anvil Camp. It was good to breathe the thick air at 10,000 feet. The next morning found us humping back to the car. It was a fine trip to a big mountain in perfect Sierra weather, with great companions.

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