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Williamson and Tyndall

May 12th- 16th 2010

Oh so close on Williamson but we did make Tyndall..

Also known as “Eeeny, meeny, miiny, moe, which gully shall we go....."

Those present:  Adrian Crane, Deborah Steinberg, Ray Kablanow, Carey Gregg,.

Pictures on Flicker

After the near disastrous trail and snow conditions during our January attempt of Split Mtn, Deborah had much to panic about after learning that the approach to our base camp for this climb was going to be our longest ever -- about 12 miles and 6000 vertical feet in elevation gain.  Actually nearly 7000 total feet vertical gain if you include the big drop in elevation the trail make in the middle of the trip. 

Adrian decided to bring along a travois, otherwise known as a "wheelshaw" , a device designed for transporting a deer carcass thru the woods, to help transport heavier group gear such as tent, snowshoes and ice axes as far as it would go.  We all vowed to go as light as possible, as we were expecting a much less technical climb of both mountains, and were able to leave behind a lot of heavier gear.  Ounce by ounce we shaved weight off our packs by bringing fewer clothes, and nothing that was not absolutely necessary.  So with a sawed-off toothbrush and 5 days worth of sunblock re-packed into an artificial tears bottle, we set off Wednesday morning.  Since we dawdled endlessly at the trailhead on our last climb, Deborah was pleased that we left at a relatively early start of 9 am with well marked trail. 

We soon discovered the reason the trip to base camp was going to be so long was because of the endless switchbacks up and down the mountainside.  On the east side of the mountain the wheelshaw struggled through piles of detritus leftover from a rock slide, many stream crossings, and the frequent patches of snow that often obscured trail.  The joke was that Adrian would hand over the travois to Carey whenever a major obstacle was imminent.  Frequently it took one to pull, and a second to navigate and assist through the obstacles, and whether the overall effect was actually beneficial was hotly debated.  We camped the first night at Mahogany Flat at about 8500 ft, where we found a pleasant campsite by the stream with a tree nearby ideal for hanging our food.  Although bear canisters are way more convenient, they are also extremely heavy, and we knew we would be camping low enough to be bothered by bears only one night.  Thus the canisters were left behind and we spent a good 20 minutes fiddling with getting the rope over a solid branch.  By the time we left Mahogany Flat we had decided to finally ditch both our snow shoes and the travois. 

Although we had a long way to go, the trail was pretty good going up until we reached the beginning of Sheppard Pass where it was time to strap on crampons and really begin climbing.  At this point Deborah was nervous about how her injured right knee from the Split Mountain trip was going to hold up, and wore a neoprene knee brace.  Ray, who recently recovered from knee surgery, wore a matching high-tech brace on his left knee as well.  At the bottom there were more areas where sinking into a post hole was an issue, and Deborah travelled through these areas with great caution. 

Finally we were roped up slogging our way up Sheppard's Pass together but each with their own mantra:  "One step, two step, three step rest.  One step, two step, three step, rest..... "  Occasionally would come the call of "Break!", and we would all stop for 30 seconds before continuing on.  The prize at the top of the pass was a breathtaking view into Sequoia National Park of snow-covered mountains with frequently changing fog and cloud patterns to the west, and a brilliant natural ice cave to the south.  Although we were exhausted, and it was a little out of the way, we decided to investigate the ice cave.  A snow hare scampered across our path, wondering what we were doing there.  There were curves and ribbons of ice in every direction, as it was as large as a house.  Although it was deep, no one had the nerve to explore very far back.  Adrian tried to torment Deborah by poking at the ceiling with his ski pole, saying, "See, this is solid", of which Deborah knew better than to trust. 

Shortly after this diversion it started to snow, and we began in earnest to decide where to camp.  We were now at 12,000 ft and Carey was dragging from the altitude.  We set up camp on the Southeast side of a little bowl at about 4pm, where we had plenty of rocks to help serve as "kitchen".  Since most of the gear that was not for sleeping had to be brought with us anyhow, we did not have to spend too much time getting ready for our summit attempt the next day.  Although we were all a little spent, we managed to choke down hot noodle soup and our freeze dried dinners before stumbling into the tent at about 7 pm. 

By now the snow was falling steadily, and Deborah started to have anxiety about how much snow would be too much, but the guys were none too stressed, since only an inch of snow had been forecast.  Since it was fairly early and way too cold to hang outside the tent, we did a group attempt at a crossword puzzle, and Deborah found that Sudoku at 12,500 ft is not as easy at lower altitudes.  All but Ray had a headache, and we could already tell that Carey was not going to be fit to attempt Williamson with us the next morning.  We started to doubt the wisdom of camping so high. 

Waking at 6:05am Deborah gave the "15 more minutes" order, so we all gladly slept in a little before rousing in the thin air. Nobody is very keen.  We managed to set off at about 7:40 am for an attempt on Williamson.  Our approach from this point was only a couple miles with one notable very long downhill section.  Ray and Adrian remarked how much fun that was going to be to ascend on our return.  As we looked at the west face of Williamson with its many chutes and spires, we consulted the guidebook to help us determine our direction.  Most guidebooks are notoriously vague, but this book did specifically mention a dark band and watermark to help us determine the proper shoot to ascend.  Unfortunately, all these markers were covered in snow.  Nevertheless, the guys felt confident, and we proceeded up a steep snow gully.  At this point we were making pretty good progress and felt confident we would make the summit by 2 pm.  Ha! 

At the top of the chute all who watched us linger on SPOT in this location probably wondered what we were doing.  Still confident we were in the correct chute, we were looking for a small chasm to pass through the rocks with Class 3 scrambling to our right. 

But there were a bunch of confusing choices of possible steep routes. Maybe Williamson is not going to be easy we think. We try the most likely looking route and Ray finally hauls himself up a 20ft rock step. He throws the rope down but Deb, in crampons and gloves,  can’t get up the section she is trying and swings gallantly on the rope several times before we decide to give up. Luckily Adrian did not need to attempt that particular pitch! Ray climbs up and round as Deb and Adrian make their way back over steep snow to the original gully. Ray throws a rope down a short pitch and we easily climb up to join him and continue up this gully to the top of the chute  where sure enough, there is a notch with views to the Owens valley on the left and a class 3 cleft on the right that we easily scramble up. Such relief, we are on route and should be to the summit soon thinks Adrian. But just around the corner we are stymied again. Teetering on steep icy snow and rock we attack another short pitch on more than class 3 ground and Ray surmounts it again and Deb and Adrian follow. But at the top we find another sheer drop greets us on the other side of a knife edge ridge and our progress right and left is blocked by cliffs. We are at 4:35, past our 4pm turn around time. We were skunked again!! 

Disconsolately, we made our way down the mountain physically and emotionally spent after investing so much effort into attempting the summit.  Ray had to downclimb a nasty step with only a minimal belay from Adrian that used every inch of rope and sling that we had. We reach the bottom of snow gully at dusk. We were zombies as we struggled up the final hill into camp at 9:40 pm, but the good news was that Carey had hot water and food ready in a few minutes and we could eat and drink before falling exhausted into the tent.We were so tired though that we ate very little , even though we had eaten very little all day.  Although enormously disappointed, we decided tomorrow we would take on Tyndall with a fresh attitude.  We managed to sleep in until almost 7 am the next morning, and as we set off we decided to take a rather steep shortcut to our intended route up Tyndall.  We slogged uphill on the snow and ice until we eventually reached the rocky ridge.  Deborah insisted on being roped up as we picked our way across the summit ridge for about a mile. 

We came to a point where Deborah was worried that something would come up to skunk us for a 4th summit attempt in a row, but Ray put it all into perspective:  This is what you are climbing for!  Cancer patients have challenges on a daily basis and at times can go into remissions.  Likewise, people who are developmentally disabled have ongoing challenges and disappointments and times when they can't do what they would like to be doing.  To us, our climbs represent their existence and the struggles they face.  With a newfound appreciation for what we were doing we slowly picked our way across the ridge. 

Although there was a fair amount of exposure on both sides there were good handholds and footholds that made it fairly easy once you got over the views of sharp drop-offs on either side.  Eventually we reached the summit of Mt. Tyndall!  Deborah was pretty emotional as we put in all the mementos into the summit box: a picture of a green rose for her mother Rose Green who was recently diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, an angel pin for her friend Bart's mom, Nora Elizabeth Campbell, who passed away from colon cancer in 2004, a photo of Chase Ryan Schlenker, who was the young grandson of Anita Schlenker of Shadowchase Running Club, and another medallion from Kristen Machado, who had her arm amputated the week prior.  After three failed summit attempts in a row, it felt good to finally have success.  Carey radioed us at the summit that he could see us from camp, and he attempted to take a picture of what probably look like black spots on the summit.  

As we were climbing down we ran into a young solitary Russian climber, who was so fast he made it up to the summit and back down before we made it all the way back to our camp!  It was a humbling experience for our old bodies to see youth pass us by so quickly.  Deborah reminded the guys that they should be glad they had her along to explain why we move so slowly.  We were able to slide down some areas of snow which made Deborah very nervous she would totally lose control and wipe out, whereas Adrian and Ray were comfortable with almost as fast as they could go.  Carey was waiting for us with a hot dinner when we returned at 4 pm, and we prepared our gear for the next morning's long haul out.  We wrote our notes in the tent, and tried to go to sleep early, but ended up chatting in the tent until about 9 pm.  During our occasional forays outside at night the Milky Way exploded in the sky and the mountains were still visible because of the reflection off the snow.  We were prepared to return to civilization, but not yet ready.

 Adrian Crane and Deborah Steinberg

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