For the longest time I hadn’t decided if I was going to make it on this mountain climb. However, when I became quite depressed with my progress at chemistry and quite incensed with my collaborator, I decided I needed a weekend in the mountains. Also, my friend Nick was leading the climb and I needed to get to the top of Tyndall anyways. Wednesday night I packed my gear and intended to only work half a day Thursday. Chemistry is awful. I managed to escape the Sadness Factory around 3PM, got to Paige’s house and met up with Brett to carpool to Lone Pine. We stopped off at a Chick-fil-A and I discovered little packets of jam. I thought they could be new Gu packs but was disappointed to find that they only had 40 Calories. At any rate, it turns out that they are great in oatmeal. The drive was uneventful and the three of us got to the trailhead around 10:45PM and slept right in the parking lot. I skipped my tent and boy was that a great decision. They stars were amazing. I need to skip the tent more often. I have a warm sleeping bag and I’d rather bring a warmer bag and no tent than haul all that heavy crap up the mountain to obstruct my views of the stars.
After sleeping in (7AM wake up) the seven of us organized our gear and were able to start up the trail around 8AM. It wasn’t my decision to make, but it was later than I wanted because of the impending heat and because of the strenuous nature of the trail leading to Shepherd’s Pass. Paige, Brett and I took the lead and I quickly discovered that the training I had been doing and the last few weekends spent at altitude were paying off. My pack was 43 pounds and it felt light.
The beginning portion of the hike to Shepherd’s Pass involves crossing Symmes Creek four times. When Matt and I had done Williamson water crossings were no problem. The creek this time was a raging torrent and crossing was a pain. It was early in the trip and I was unwilling to get my mountaineering boots wet. I was also wearing shorts so I was definitely going to soak my boots and socks. These creek crossings were no joke. In some spots I was in water up to mid thigh.
The trail ascends mild switchbacks to around 9,000 ft. Within this section we had our first small problem. Robert’s knee was acting up from a previous injury and preventing him from hiking fast. The previous weekend Paige and I were on Split and both of us were enjoying an early advantage. After a few short breaks we made it to the saddle at 9,000ft and took a longer break. Robert rested his knee and we all had a nice food break. From here, the trail drops 600ft into the Williamson drainage. The views were amazing and made up for the loss in elevation.
After losing elevation we steadily made our way to Anvil Camp. The pace was moderate and we took a bunch of breaks for food and water as more people were feeling tired. Again, I decided to pack 1500 Calories worth of cookies and 1000 Calories worth of goldfish and planned on consuming all of it by the time we got to Shepherd’s Pass. Like on Split, I felt strong. At Anvil camp I had already drank 2L of water and eaten many of the cookies and goldfish. On Split I didn’t filter water and I ended up being fine. This time I didn’t bother filtering either. It was nice to just drink straight from the creek.
Past Anvil, the snow started in earnest and finding the trail was difficult. Eventually we were able to find a route and made it to the base of a talus pile. I had vague recollections from when Matt and I hiked this section that the trail was to the right of this rock pile. Here, we split into two teams. Logic and perhaps stupidity got the better of me and we decided to go straight up the pile. Paige, Nick and I made quick work of the talus and found ourselves at the top but had nowhere to go. Sean, Robert, Will and Brett were having better luck on the left side but were also struggling. We met up on the other side of the talus pile and decided get on snow as we were all tired of climbing talus. We re-found the trail and frustratingly, the trail was on the right side of the talus pile. From here though we could see the route up to Shepherd’s Pass. It was now late into the afternoon and we were forging our own path and still not on the proper trail.
We took a brief break around 11,000ft to put on crampons and begin our final climb up to Shepherd’s Pass. I saw a few of our group were feeling quite tired and I started to hang back to make sure they were okay. Eventually Brett said he could go no further and needed an hour break before going any higher. At 6PM this is not an option. We took stock of things and realized that Will and Robert were exhausted, and Brett was going nowhere. We were at 11,500ft and needed to descend. Sean and I pushed on a little further to try and see more of the route but couldn’t find anything. However, I did spot the trail below us! At this point, Nick took Paige to find an adequate campsite for us. Sean was the Safety Officer and I became his backup. I descended quickly to the trail and busied myself making a cairn the size of me – hopefully this thing holds up to the winter avalanches! After I was done building, the rest of the guys finally got to me and we slowly made our way back to Nick and Paige who had found a good campsite. On the way, Brett got pretty bad and started puking. We took his pack and split up all his gear.
Once in camp we worked as a team. A few of us set up tents, some got food going, I helped filter water for the others and helped clear camp sites. I was hungry but still feeling strong. In the middle of this insanity I had a moment of tranquility to myself as I watched the sunset. After Brett, Will and Robert went to sleep the rest of us discussed plans. Sean had already gotten to the top of Tyndall and wanted Williamson. He was happy to take a rest day. We decided Nick, Paige and I would go for Tyndall.
Wake up time was 6AM (why so late again?!) and by 7 we were on the trail proper which made a huge difference. By 8AM we were on top of Shepherd’s Pass. It might have been a good thing we didn’t camp at Shepherd’s Pass because the lakes were still frozen solid and getting water would have been dangerous. Nick, Paige and I made our way across to the base of Tyndall and looked at our options. I knew the normal route was to climb the east rib of Tyndall but it was still covered in snow and ice and looked pretty sketchy. Instead, we spotted a northward facing snow chute and chose to climb that instead. After a brief traverse, we had crampons on and were climbing. Again, I felt super strong and was making easy work of this snowfield. At around 13,200ft we took a break and looked up at a very steep section of snow / ice. I wanted a challenge so I went straight up. This stuff was steep!! I started using the ice axe pick to keep me on the ground instead of the spike. Eventually, I was chopping hand holds and foot holds with my axe and was making my way up two steps at a time. This was fun!!
At around 13,600ft the snow field ended and from looking at the map it appeared that if we gained the summit ridge we could just walk over to the summit. We managed to get ourselves onto a ledge the size of a dinner table and transitioned to some third / fourth class climbing. We got a little sketched out and turned around. While I gathered myself Nick found a new route. This one was a little better and we were able to gain the ridge. From here, progress was slow. We got to 13,800ft and realized the summit traverse was super sketchy. Standing on the ridge, each side had a near vertical 2000ft drop! I was happy to do it but Nick and Paige were getting sketched out. Eventually we remembered this is an SDMRT training and it was probably exceeding our safety guidelines so we made the hard decision to turn around. So close!!
On our descent we saw two groups of climbers who were also going for the summit. They had no idea what they were doing. One group decided to climb the northern talus field and were “redpointing the route”… okay dude. We also saw four people climbing the ridge proper. The front guy appeared to have a harness on and a coil of rope and the last guy looked like he was wearing a harness. The two guys in the middle were just holding the rope. Moreover, the leader wasn’t putting any protection in. The three of us SDMRT guys couldn’t figure out what they were doing and we were convinced we were going to have to come back to scrape them off the rocks. The northern ridge is something I’d like to climb, just with the proper techniques! Eventually we made our way back to camp around 5PM. The other four guys spent the day resting, drinking water and eating and were feeling better.
Around dinner and an excellent sunset we discussed plans. Paige and I were planning on returning early to SD to get back to work. Brett was feeling better but really needed to go down and was going to join us. Will was feeling exhausted and opted to come with us. Nick, Sean and Robert were going to make a Williamson summit attempt on Sunday and return Monday.
The next morning I woke up around sunrise and sat out on a rock looking at the mountains and singing to myself. I was quite happy. Nick, Sean and Robert packed up their stuff and took off for Williamson. Paige, Brett, Will and I descended back to the trail head. At 8,400ft I decided that I wasn’t tired enough and ran to the saddle at 9,000ft. My backpack was heavy but I was feeling strong! The rest of the descent was uneventful except for the one stream crossing I almost fell into. Around 2PM we were back at the cars.
The next day I heard from Nick. The three of them made it all the way to the chimney on Williamson but found it full of clear, bulletproof ice. Without ice tools and a rope, ascending it would be impossible. Twice Nick got to within 200 ft of the summit of a 14er and turned around.
2 thoughts on “Williamson and Tyndall – June 27-30”
Nice to hear those reports about what the mountains like and feel like in winter. Those 2 were hard enough for me in dry condition with their steep slopes.
that deer picture is really cool. Never saw one on snow and up so high