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Mount Williamson 14,389
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mini location map2018-07-20
29 by photographer avatarsbkelley
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Mount Williamson 14,389Sierra Nevada, CA
Sierra Nevada, CA
Backpack30.50 Miles 10,759 AEG
Backpack30.50 Miles
10,759 ft AEG
 no routes
1st trip
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Mount Williamson had been on my radar for some time. Driving down Highway 395, it's impossible to miss. Sure, Whitney is taller, but this one always just looked more fun - and stately! I also knew that there was a popular sense of dread around this one, largely because of its approach on the Shepherds Pass Trail. It's rare to find a 14er to climb that asks you to cover 10,000'+ of gain by its standard route - and that includes some scrambling (albeit brief). Suffice it to say, the allure became stronger the more I read about it.

I also realized how much more fun one of these efforts is when you get the right crew together. And we really did have a great group for this one. In the end, I convinced (suckered) Chumley, Taylor, Sam, and also my friend and trusty big mountain partner Shawn from Colorado to join. He invited his fellow Denver(-ite?) Joe, who'd climbed Orizaba with us this past January. I never thought 5 others would be down for this 3 day adventure, but there we were, permits in hand and packs up on Friday morning ready to go.

The first mile of the trail stays in the canyon, and is a bit overgrown. It got me worried about the switchbacks above I knew were to come, and the condition of the trail there. Those worries evaporated, though, the moment we left the 4th creek crossing and started up the hill. The Shepherds Pass Trail is in great shape, and it felt like we were cruising up to the Symmes Creak saddle. Everyone felt great after that first 2700' push, and there was even excited chatter there among the group about maybe pushing above our planned Anvil Camp. The drop to water near Mahogany Flat and the abrupt restart quelled that chatter, and we were all happy and ready to see camp, especially since minutes after everything was set up, the sky opened up. A gentle but annoying rain full most of the afternoon. Anvil really is about the only shady, tree-covered spot on the route, so it makes sense to take advantage of it.

Up for an alpine start and on the trail at 4 a.m. under nice conditions, we strung out a bit as everyone settled into their pace. The nice trail helped progress up to Shepherds Pass, where we enjoyed sunrise. Regrouping after some scree-slogging, we enjoyed some relative flat as we all eyed the route up Tyndall en route to the Williamson Bowl. I'm always struck by the contrast of the slope on the Sierra Crest: rugged and sharp to the east, gentler to the west, at least from what I've seen so far. Williamson Bowl was great from a scenery standpoint, but you have to carefully pick your way through the boulders. Again, I'd heard a lot of belly-aching about this stretch prior to the trip, but honestly, it's not bad. The boulders are mostly solid, and it's generally clear where to go. At the base of the gully, Chums and Joe couldn't contain their excitement and busted up, while the other four of us settled into a nice pace and steadily made our way up. We nervously watched the clouds start to build near 8 am (what is this - Colorado???), but knew we'd be able to get up and down before the light show started.

Sam and Shawn pulled ahead of Tay and I a bit as we neared the much-talked-about chimney. We watched them - well, Shawn - start up the wrong way, but eventually get into the crack system and make his way up. Tay and I followed behind, and we popped out to an amazing view of the summit plateau and the Owens Valley, greeted by the already-summited Chumley, who had eschewed his summit beer for a photo op and was hauling it back to camp. We passed Joe coming down as we headed up, and had sweet summit success with cloud views. Last of the top 10 US 14ers done for Shawn and I! The weather made it so we couldn't stay long, and down the chute we went. Shawn and Sam moved ahead again, but waited for Tay and I at a prime lakeside lunch/nap spot. The rains chased away our laziness and made us leave Williamson Bowl with some urgency as we watched Mt. Williamson get enveloped in dark clouds. Good timing on our part. The trip back to our temporary Anvil home was smooth and everyone was all smiles around camp. Jack and Captain were passed around and it was great to see everyone laughing and smiling after the big day. Sure, there were some expletives hurled my way throughout the day, but what's a good trip without that?

The way home on the final day was fast, and the weekend was over before we knew it. The climb back up the Symmes Saddle wasn't too bad, but good thing we started early as hiding from the sun isn't easy there. We even had a well-timed 9L cameo at the saddle! It was great to see him and hike the last few miles back together. Joe went back up to get Tyndall that morning, so didn't join our hike out or parking lot celebration. The AZ group took off to start their long drive home after a good amount of hanging out, and Joe was only about 45 minutes behind from when they left. For the three of us, it was back to Reno, cold beers, and thoughts of what to do next, although we had to dodge some pretty impressive thunderstorms on the way home. Thanks to all of you guys for making it happen - great trip!

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