Williamson and Tyndall
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,.
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
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
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
"Thank you for allowing us to know our climb is making a difference. Your
contribution to City Of Hope will support important research to help find a
cure for cancer and motivate us to make each summit!