Dave Rivas and I took off for the Sierra Eastside in June of this year. Our mission was to further our goal of climbing all of California's 14,000ft peaks together. We're a team and that's what we do. This time the two peaks, Mt Tyndall and Mt Williamson were going down.We met up at Lone Pine with Robert Hamilton and headed up to
Whitney Portals for a little acclimatization time. We made a brief departure from the Portals road , dropping out for a little off-road through the Alabama Hills of old Hollywood western fame. I chewed my hands to bits bouldering a couple of cracks there before we headed up to the Portals. We passed a very pleasant evening under the pines.
The next morning, at the Portals store, we chatted up Earline over coffee while Doug Sr. worked up his legendary pancakes for us. They are such nice folks. I could tell multiple stories of their kindness and generosity. Withbreakfast under our belts we trotted up the Whitney Trail to Mirror Lake. Robert dropped out at Lone Pine Lake to spend the day fly-fishing (telemark skiers have bad knees). Rivas and I jogged up the next step to Mirror Lake and lounged around a bit before returning to Lone Pine Lake, only to find Rob pulling brookies and rainbows out faster than he could float a fly.
We found our Symes Creek trailhead without difficulty and the following morning we saddled up for the seemingly endless slog up 5,000+ft of dry, alpine desert. By mid-afternoon I was staggering into Anvil Camp (Advil Camp) for the fourth, and hopefully, last time in my life.Dave and I both felt good, though, and the altitude at 9,000ft wasn't any problem.
Day 2 presented challenges early and often.Snow above 10,000ft made the trail impossible, so in typical fashion we abandoned all pretense and made a straight climb over the epic granite moraines to the base of Shepherd's Pass. The pass is reputed to be one of the steepest, meanest, and most all around unpleasant routes to cross the Sierra Divide, and if you hadn't been with me and Dave on some of our other trips, you'd probably agree. The pass is just a forty-dergree choss pile of loose rock and sand. It's one step up, half a step back, ending abruptly at 12,000ft.
One aspect of Shepherds Pass that is often overlooked is the ridulous view once you get up there. Mt Tyndall is in your face and to the right is Foresters Pass and Diamond Mesa with the Kaweahs far away to the west while behind you is the expanse of the Owens Valley. Stunning.
We left the trail at the pass, heading south over a moonscape of sand and rock to the rim of a basin called the Williamson Bowl. The Bowl resembles a mile-wide crater, filled with half a dozen iced over lakes, flanked to the east by Mt. Williamson, to the west by Mt Tyndall. The Bowl is a lifeless terrain of granite and ice which turns into a solar oven of crushing UV during the day. We found an adequate bivouac next to water and named the site Camp Moonraker. We would spend two nights there.
We climbed Mt Tyndall the following morning. To the right over the North Rib route, on it's lower flank was a snow field that presented an opportunity to crampon straight up. Higher, the peak presented consistent, high angle Class 3 rock. Upon gaining the wildly exposed summit ridge I hooked left and bee-lined for the summit. Tyndall's summit is a distinct and conclusive pinnacle, and the world falls away on all sides. Fifteen miles due south is the massive northwest flank of Mt. Whitney. Looking down the sheer 2,000ft drop from the summit I could barely make out our gear at Camp Moonraker. Dave and I took our pics, ate some grub, signed the summit register and made an uneventful descent.
The following day we geared up for the daunting 14,395ft Mt Williamson. Despite well documented history of route-finding difficulties on the massive, convoluted peak, Dave and I had no problems. The West Face chute is a series of arduous steps, though we were able to conserve energy by cramponing around much of the rock. The exit chimney (and here I argue with the guidbooks) felt like Class 5 rock climbing to me, and was very exposed to a big fall. The summit was huge and roomy, and looking down at Tyndall , the bulk of Whitney, and the vast Owens Valley, it was easy to believe we were on California's second highest peak.
After an uneventful descent to Camp Moonraker we recharged, packed up, and slogged back down to Anvil Camp. By mid-afternoon the next day, Dave and I were soaking under the crakling powerlines at the Keohe hot springs. On the drive home we were already discussing which big peaks were on the radar for spring of 2009. Another success.