Williamson and Tyndall Day 2

View Above Mahogany Flat

Mahogany Flat, June 1st 2013, 6:15AM

In the morning we awoke when the sunlight was great enough to drive away the chilly wind of night. The day was shaping up to be a perfect summer day in the Sierra: no clouds and clear as can be.
Morning At Camp

Today we intended to reach the pass where we would set up camp. Jeff and Josh planned on tackling both Williamson and Tyndall tomorrow (Sunday), and hike out the following day.

I however, needed to pack out tomorrow (Sunday) for work. So I intended on climbing Tyndall this afternoon (Saturday), and Williamson tomorrow in addition to breaking camp and hiking out for the long drive home on Sunday night.

Ambitious? Certainly, but with an early season ascent of White Mountain Peak and a thwarted attempt on Mount Russell’s dazzling East Ridge I figured that both my body and acclimatization were up to the job.

Looking Down on Mahogany Flat

Eager to reach the pass and stage ourselves for an ascent, we broke camp quickly and continued upward.
Josh Hiking Past "The Pothole"

Though I had kept the fastest pace the day previous, it was quickly apparent that I would not be the fastest today. 
The Wolf Pack: Josh (L) and Jeff (R)

We stayed pretty close together through Anvil Camp and the Pothole, however after a group pit-stop at the base of Shepherd’s Pass’  steep headwall, Jeff took-off up the last 500-600 feet. Josh left shortly after, and I followed 10 minutes behind Josh.

We arrived at the pass spaced accordingly. By the time Josh and I crossed a slippery snow-patch (at the spirited incline of 40-45 degrees) and crested the pass, Jeff had already located a killer campsite near a snow-filled tarn.
Some Due Snark At Anvil Camp

Though the day had begun cloudless, our arrival at the pass bore witness to a cloud-rich sky, innumerable tattered clouds spanned the cerulean heavens providing an idyllic glow to the moonscape all around us.
Shepherds Pass Headwall

Shepherd’s Pass has always borne a reputation of being an exhausting slog. There is no shortage of trip reports and forum comments bemoaning the difficulty of this area, despite the miserable consensus I am chiefly impacted by the amazing beauty of this region.

Though remote, this region keeps back the cosmopolitan horde one would undoubtedly witness on Mt. Whitney or in Yosemite: from where we stand, we are bearing witness to a prime example of the High Sierra. Everywhere we look, we see towering faces, vertical stone walls, and textured plains of talus. Everywhere the beige-white granite of the Southern Sierra glimmers with the unique light of day.

These mountains are an ever-changing show, every moment a crystalline reality that can never be exactly duplicated again.

Of special note is the magnificent North Face of one of our mountaineering goals: Mount Tyndall. From our campsite we look to the south and pick out our route up a 500 foot draw to a saddle between Tyndall and Polychrome Peak, Tyndall then rises a further 1300 feet to a spindly summit. To the viewers left we can discern the tip Mount Williamson’s summit, distinctively adorned with malicious-looking crags spreading down the full length of the ruddy West Face.

Topping The Headwall With Polychrome Peak Behind

Though we were originally concerned about snow pack, we were relieved to see only a few isolated patches.

After snapping a few photos we begin to build our camp. In setting up camp I made two startling realizations, 1: I forgot to bring a bear canister; and 2: I forgot sunglasses.

The bear canister I wasn’t too concerned about. I carried a bear canister on the JMT two years prior: I hadn’t seen a single bear the entire three-week trip. Most bears frequented high tourist areas like Kings Canyon and Yosemite. In those areas, said ursine-opportunists profiteer from and prey upon the tourist with no backcountry etiquette regarding food-storage. The High Country sees only visits from experienced outdoors-people who rarely give such wanton opportunity to hungry wildlife.
Mount Tyndall's North Face

Though bears are unlikely, marmots have been known to take food. Foreseeing this possibility, I employed the very best of my backpacking know-how (and my cursory understanding of quantum mechanics) to develop a fool-proof system. I decided to hang my food from my ice axe (which I perched horizontally over the edge of a boulder). The bag was three feet from the ground and hanging on the axe one foot from the side of the boulder. Clearly no marmot would be capable of jumping that high or shimmying out onto the axe handle.


Though my food storage woes were adequately addressed, the absence of sunglasses proved worrisome. The bright granite and ever-present sun could easily incite splitting headaches, migraines, sun-burnt corneas, and overloaded retinas (a.k.a. snow-blindness).

With all of my housekeeping duties accomplished, I looked at my watch 2:30PM.

I decided that there was enough time to manage an ascent of Tyndall’s North Rib. I briefly consulted with Jeff and Josh. After some deliberation they both decided to save themselves for Williamson the next day.

Shepherds Pass Region (The Pass Is The Low Point) From The Base Of Tyndall's North Rib

Josh was also kind enough to lend me his righteous glacier glasses and Jeff passed on a two-way radio in order for them to track my progress.

The Author: Sporting The Righteous Glacier Glasses

Some minor jesting ensued, Josh took the radio call-sign “Dirty-bird,” I chose “Sausage Fairy,” and Jeff picked a call-sign which lacked subtlety (and he shall be ambiguously referred to henceforth as “The *****” in order to preserve his honor).

All decision making now settled, I donned my helmet (attractive), packed a small fanny pack with a few items (plain seductive), grabbed trekking poles and my DSLR and began the gradual (but trail-less) climb to the Polychrome-Tyndall Saddle.

Our intended routes up Tyndall (the North Rib) and Williamson (the West Chute) go at a Class 3 difficulty rating.

Now, for those who are unfamiliar with the terminology: Class 1 is walking on trail of varying incline. Class 2 is steep travel over loose and often trail-less ground (trekking poles are highly recommended). Class 3 terrain means steep terrain, you will need to use your hands to assist in upward progress. With Class 3 falling is less likely but the consequences can be severe. Class 4 is similar to Class 3, but the climbing is exposed and an un-roped fall will definitely result in severe injury but is easily capable of being fatal. Class 5 is vertical climbing requiring roped travel and un-roped fall will definitely result in severe injury but can be fatal.
"The *****" and "Dirty-Bird" Holding Down the Wolf Den*

I’ll admit that Class 3 is relatively new territory to me. Though I know that I am capable of climbing on Class 3-4 terrain (and I have on a few occasions), I still fear that I’m going to get myself worked into tight spot. With weeks of excitement and doubt buzzing furiously about my head it was wonderful to finally put them to rest with only the simple task of climbing before me.

Though easy, the climb to the saddle was wearing on me, the rushed effort of past days finally having caught up to me. I pulled out my iPod, gritted my teeth through the boggy sand and continued skyward.


After about 45 minutes I reached the base of the North Rib. The North Rib is the apparent spine of talus dividing Tyndall’s steep and slabby north face.

North Rib: Author's Route In Blue
Summit Marked By Red Dot

From where I stand the incline looks far more aggressive than the mind can process. It isn’t vertical, but the general sense of verticality scrambles my senses.

When you think about numbers you are ascending a vertical distance of 1,300 feet, and a horizontal distance of 1,500 feet. So you essentially climb 13 vertical feet for every 15 horizontal feet that you travel (35-45 degree slope).

At first the North Rib is a continuous vein of talus blocks. There seems to be a use route which remains class 2 with some class 3 scrambles. In the firm spirit of deserving the class 3 rating I chose myriad paths through the boulders deviating onto the slabs on the ascensionist’s left of the rib. Much of the area around the use route remained solid with few shifting boulders, (a few the size of small cars moved at the touch of a hand).

About a third of the way up the incline steepens over some cracked slab, this section was the most enjoyable of the day, the granite was rough and strong and my boots gripped readily.

Here I experienced a moment of pure enjoyment, I now found myself well under weigh, feeling tired but elated: my heart was beating, my steps spirited, the mountains singing, and the granite firm beneath my palms.

Today I am doing what I love. Today I am a climber. Today I am alive.

Mount Keith & Polychrome Peak From High Atop The N. Rib

A soft but refreshing breeze picked up, stirring the sky over head. As I approached the base of the exit chute (the chute immediately [climber’s] left of the North Rib) onto Tyndall’s summit ridge a glider made a few passes over Tyndall’s summit ridge, using the air currents rising from the earth below to soar ever higher.

I made a few awkward mantles and big steps over snow-filled crevices, a few more moments of huffing and puffing and I crested the summit ridge. To my south and west the interior of the Sierra Nevada Mountains sat splayed before my feet.

The Exit Notch

From Barnard and Whitney to the south, the Great Western Divide to the west, and the Kings-Kern Divide to the north, I drank in the views.

It was the grad display: the mighty Sierra gilded with the white-golden light of a late summer afternoon.

I continued along the annoying class 2 boulder-hop up the last 100 feet of Tyndall’s summit ridge.

As I got closer my iPod cycled to M83’s song “Outro,” (if you have never heard this song, find it on Youtube and listen to it immediately; better yet watch “Yosemite HD” by Project Yosemite on Vimeo) the song is  a soaring and dream like crescendo to M83’s aptly named album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.” I topped out on Tyndall’s summit block at 6:05 PM (just as the song reached its’ climax) where the best view yet waited.
Atop Tyndall's NW Ridge

Though impressed by the view from the summit-ridge, the vista awaiting from Tyndall’s summit dwarfed all previous views combined. As I reached the small summit block, the view east opened up as did a yawning void. Though non-apparent from the summit ridge, Tyndall’s summit-block is perched directly atop Tyndall’s East Face which plummets unbroken to the glacial tarns of the Williamson Bowl a half-mile below.

Beyond the bowl, the Williamson Creek drainage dives an additional 8,000 feet to the desert scrub and sand of Owen’s Valley. As unspeakably expansive as this eastward view is, it is only embellished further by the juxtaposition of California’s second highest peak.

Standing 350 feet higher and a mile further to the east of Mt. Tyndall, is Mt. Williamson. Williamson stands as an unrivaled titan directly over Owen’s Valley: a vertical gain of 11,000 feet in a few scant miles. Looking east, the mountaineer is simultaneously confronted with the horned sky-bastion of Williamson’s enormous West Face while contrasted with the distant hazy stands of chaparral far below the aesthetic ridges of the Eastern Sierra.

The Gruesome West Face of Williamson From the N. Rib

Adding to the supreme ambiance is a great swirl of late-season cloud which adorned the summits of the Great Western Divide like a soft crown. Dark but not ominous, it curled out in cotton-boll tendrils from Triple Divide Peak in the north, along the GWD, finally bridging the Kern River Gorge and tailing over Tyndall’s summit. Above my head the wind on the Sierra Crest ripped tatters from the main body of cloud, pulling them past Mount Williamson with gusto and dispersing them over the dry air of Owen’s Valley.

These passing clouds traced great swatches of gauzy shadow across the hard West Face of Williamson.
Mounts Russell & Whitney and Barnard from the NW Ridge

I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised by this summit. Due to the long approach and having proximity to the higher Mt Williamson, Tyndall doesn’t bear much of a reputation aside from its’ height. Yet Tyndall has bewitched me, body and soul (name that reference?). The climb was enjoyable but safe, the summit pinnacle modest but utterly invigorating, and the surrounding weather and sky simply pe rfect.SierraDescents.com impeccably describes this summit as “Electrifying.”

I take a moment to radio in my success and sign the register.

Summit Views Northward
Not wanting to dawdle I make quick time of snacks and photographs. Also wanting to truly “summit” I reach up and pulled myself to the top of the summit block. Now when I say this block is “perched” above the East face, I mean “perched”. The summit block juts out OVER the drop into the Williamson Bowl. It has also seen a good number of visitors and lacks hand holds and has been worn smooth. Dismounting requires a faithful belly-slide backwards. If your feet land funky you’ll topple to the right or left and risk rolling off the summit and diving towards your fate, 2000 feet below.

Deep breath and slide… A perfect dismount (meaning accompanied by some hyperventilating but solid foot-placement).

Posterity and perfectionism now accomplished I departed the summit and aimed for the chute back onto the North Rib.

I did face an impromptu crisis as I looked down from the notch at the North Rib below me. From this angle, the steepness of the route is mentally incomprehensible. Every feature is foreshortened by the insane steepness of the route. Snapping a photo it looks as if I have canted and cambered the photo wildly in some editing program to sit at some bizarre angle.

I need to sit a moment and drink some water to drum up the mental fortitude required to continue.

Looking DOWN The North Rib
After dropping on to the route my nerves calmed with the familiar feel of granite under-foot.

I ended up deviating too far to the east (descender’s right) onto some 50 degree slabs (don't do that). I would have to cut leftwards over some disquieting ground (large blocks that shifted suddenly, also don't do that). I was finally able to gain a soft snow run-out on the descender’s left of the Rib which I used to glissade to the safety of the sand below.

Great Western Divide & Cloud
(From Tyndall's Summit)
After 15 more minutes of light effort I descended the class 1 descent to Shepherd's Pass tarn from the Tyndall-Polychrome Col.

I rolled into camp under a sunset sky to find Jeff and Josh already snugged into their tent. After a quick download they broke some hard news to me.

The chiefest calamity of our age... Marmots... had developed cutting-edge technology utilizing the latest research into quantum mechanics to foil my bulletproof food protection system. Jeff and Josh had chased them off but not after they had exacted their wroth upon my victuals.

"&%$#@$..." I muttered as I inspected the carnage.

They had first decided to eat my Mountain House stroganoff. The very meal I had been dreaming about all day...

"*&#$@%..." I muttered angrily.

Unfortunately the loathsome churls didn't stop there, they chewed through another dehydrated breakfast, my Cytomax/Whey Protein (a very important electrolyte/protein/carb mix, that I would need for the assault on Williamson) and several other snacks.


I salvaged what I could, but I had to throw much into my garbage bag. I hate to be wasteful, and I hate being hungry even more, but I'd like to avoid some of the diseases rodents are known to carry (especially with that Yosemite/Hanta scare several months prior).

I was now down about 2,300 calories.

The dearly departed stroganoff had been the only dinner I brought (aside from the sandwich for the previous night). Considering my limited food options I decided to pass on dinner, I wanted to save the rest of my food for the way up Williamson the following day.

Though I didn't realize it at the time, I would certainly pay for not eating enough that evening.

After some choice curses and a solemn vow to chuck rocks at the next Marmot that dared cross my path; I munched on my remaining trail mix and bedded down for the night.

*Photos Courtesy Jeff Steele

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