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Williamson

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On May 20th 2011 we reached the summit of  Williamson at 11:20 in the morning. Strangely it was perfectly still and warm on the summit even though it had been windy and snowing as we climbed the final 1000 feet up.

Almost a year ago we had hiked in to Shepherds pass to climb both Williamson and Tyndall. We had attempted Williamson first and climbed the wrong gully! The next day, rather despondent and with “next time bring more ‘beta’ “ ringing in my ears, we had headed for Tyndall and thankfully reached that summit thus breaking a dry spell for our 14ers. We were back now with the aim of getting to the summit of Williamson and to that end had bought several sets of trip notes and our friend Ryan who had already climbed Williamson and knew the secrets of the route. We also wanted Tyndall again as Ryan still had not visited that summit. Since he was with us because he had already done Williamson and would show us the route, it seemed only fair to return the favor and accompany him to the top of Tyndall. Unfortunately we didn’t have the luxury of an extra day for Tyndall so we would have to fit it in as best we could. We left the van at 9:40 after getting a good breakfast and picking up permits in Lone Pine. We hiked into the hills by the narrow canyon with it’s four stream crossings. The trail then turned up in a long, long series of zigzags climbing into the sheltered north facing bowl at the top of the climb where snow still clung tenaciously to the trail. In the weeks before this trip Deb had been worried about a knee injury but we were making good progress helped by the fact that the guys were willing to lighten Deborah’s load. The snow conditions helped a bit too as despite the very heavy snowfall in the prior winter there seemed to be noticeably less snow, possibly because we were a week later than last year We reached the crest of the pass into Williamson Creek at 12:30 and contoured around to a nice lunch spot overlooking the steep and tangled depths of Williamson Creek. We had a good lunch of cheese, crackers and Salami and Deborah donated her nice penknife to the desert gods by leaving it in the sand there by accident. We made better time than last year as we reached Mahogany Flats at 2:45 with plenty of daylight and energy left to continue on to Anvil camp area. Anvil camp is the last nice camping but has little in the way of amenities. We stopped at the first water that we found and pitched the tent on snow but next to an area of dry dirt with logs for sitting and cooking. We later found snow free campsites! Deborah grumbled to herself that we should have taken the extra time to find a more flat and even-surfaced camping area, but the guys seemed very happy. Every time she fell into a hole or tripped over a rock she worried she would ruin her knees just walking around camp. Fortunately, we were staying there only overnight. In the evening we discussed plans for fitting the Tyndall climb into our schedule. If we got started early and had a good day tomorrow we might tackle Tyndall in the evening.

We woke at 5:30 when the sun rose above the desert mountains in the East but we enjoyed the morning and lingered so it was not till 7:45 that we left camp. The chances of doing Tyndall were getting smaller. With the terrain covered in snow we immediately put on crampons and then made our own way up the valley with cursory glances at the map to see if we could mimic the route of the trail which presumably followed the most sensible line. After a few snowfields we got into an area of nasty talus. There was a cry just ahead and we all glanced up from our own footstep to see Ryan face down on a pile of rocks. He had caught his crampon between two rocks and his hiking pole had conspired to prevent him getting a hand down so he landed on his nose and head. Thankfully he quickly stirred but when he sat up we saw his face was a covered in blood. It looked nasty. After a few minutes of cleaning and bandaging up the wound Ryan had recovered his breath and we had all calmed down. We used a large butterfly bandage to close the gaping wound on Ryan's nose, guarantying he would look extra-dorky for a while. Ryan asked if he was sounding confused. We replied ‘No more than usual’. We were pleased when he responded, ’well if I start making sense you will know that something is wrong!’ We rested for a while, asking him questions about what hurt where, etc., and then discussed the problems of a possible concussion in conjunction with potential altitude sickness. He was unsure whether to continue or go back down, but he had never lost conciousness, and was thinking clearly, despite a mild headache. Ryan was concerned about how the altitude would affect his head injury, so Ryan went and stood on a high boulder and called his doctor in Modesto! Ryan received a fairly clean bill of health and decided he was OK to continue. . It was up to us to make sure he acted no more strange than usual as the day progressed. This was to our advantage because Ryan felt he had to watch his tongue, so he was even nicer than usual! We made our way across car-sized boulders to where we could see the trail showing through on the snow-free side of a large pile of moraine. We followed the trail for a short way before it disappeared again under a snowfield covering the bottom of a bowl in the moraines. This was the ‘Pothole’. There was a tent pitched there, one of the very few signs of others that we saw on the trip. After the four ibuprofen we gave him earlier, Ryan was quickly feeling his old self again, leading strongly up the valley and talking nonsense. Vertical cliffs bounded the north side of the valley and constant rock and ice falls rumbled off the upper slopes and over the cliffs. We made good time to the foot of the final steep snow climb to Shepherds pass although we were keenly aware that we had lost more time with Ryan’s fall and the chances of a Tyndall attempt were small. But we quickly gained the pass and hiked across the wide open plateau to our chosen camp site by a few boulders with an expansive view to the West. Tyndall towered over us while Williamson stood as a large threatening massif a mile to the south. Deborah declared that with the gorgeous ever-changing views of clouds over Sequoia National Park and the snow cave close by, this was her favorite campsite and one she had thought of often since last year. It was 12:50, and despite the setbacks, we were in camp well before the 2pm deadline that we had thought was necessary. Ryan, Ray and Adrian put together the gear we needed for Tyndall while Deb and Carey got lunch out and started the task of setting up camp and made plans for a hike to the snow cave.

We were on our way to Tyndall by 1:20. Having climbed Tyndall last year Adrian wanted to take a different route and headed up the snowfields directly toward a notch about half way along the rocky but level summit ridge of Tyndall. As we climbed it became apparent that it was quite a steep route and the snow conditions were not always ideal. The trickiest was the thin snow cover over steep slabs where our crampons skated and our axes were useless. It was nice to gain the solid rock near the ridge and finally crest the little saddle where we could catch our breath, see the newly revealed sights on the other side and set off along the scramble to the summit. It took us 2 ˝ hours to climb Tyndall from camp. When we arrived at the summit block, which overhangs the 1000 foot precipice of the south east face, Ryan ignored Deborah’s admonition to use a rope and leapt onto the block to grasp the very summit. Ray and I took our turns but using a rope. We radioed down to camp and then took out the summit logs to sign. On this trip we had a long list of friends and family who were cancer survivors or victims and we added all those to our comment in the summit log. On the return trip we didn’t fancy the steep ice and slabs so we stayed on the summit ridge so we could descend on lesser slopes north of our ascent route. On the last pinnacles of the summit ridge we found some tricky scrambling and were at a loss to figure out how we had avoided it the previous year. Once past the ridge, we descended the bowl to the north for a short distance, cut across the crest back in sight of camp and started the long snow descent. Soon we decided the conditions and slope were good for glissading and slid several hundred f eet back toward Shepherds pass and camp. We were back in an hour and a half to the luxury of a camp already set up and hot water ready to use by Deb and Carey. As we prepared dinner, two figures appeared from the direction of Williamson. Adrian went to chat to them and find some ‘beta’. They were moving slowly and obviously very tired. These were the two who had camped at the ‘Pothole’. They had taken the wrong route and were dejected as they struggled back after a long day. They must have done exactly what we did last year and taken the first, not the second, gully that matched the instructions. Later we joked that they need a sign at the bottom of the gully saying ‘Wherever you are heading, this is the wrong way’ . Later in the evening, as we continued the usual chore of melting snow for water, we discovered that we had two less cans of fuel than we had intended. This might necessitate a quick departure after the climb if we ran out of gas but we felt we would be fine for the all important night before Williamson. Although the weather was clear, it got cold and a wind came up so we moved our snow melting operations into the tent and set ourselves up for an early night and a quick start in the morning for Williamson.

We woke as planned at 4am and started the water heating. It always takes longer than you might think to get ready. Nobody wanted to be first out into the cold to stand around so we all stayed in the tent as we pulled on clothes and found our gear. We ate oatmeal and a few snack bars and finally coordinated our tumbling out of the tent. Now that we have a reason to get moving we finished preparations, secured the camp against strong winds and started across the undulating terrain toward Williamson by 5:30. Very quickly we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise in the east with pink reflectons off Mt. Tyndall to our right. We were all very excited by the lovely full moon looming over Tyndall, and stopped to snap pictures and take video. Very soon we reached a high point overlooking Williamson bowl and stopped to confirm our route. We descended 400 ft into the basin, crossed an iced-over lake and wounnd our way through the moraine hills to the foot of Williamson. Ryan felt confident of the route so we followed him up broken rock. On the left we can see into the misleading gully that is the wrong route while the correct route ahead is still hidden. After a few hundred feet the correct gully comes into view. We stayed on the rocks as long as possible before putting on crampons and hitting the steep snow. While the day had dawned dead calm, the weather had worsened during the morning and was now getting windy and beginning to snow. At the top of the snow and rock chute we headed for a chimney in the cliffs ahead that Ryan recognized. We had to rope up. During the inevitable delay as we roped up and began climbing, we all got cold and the snow and wind increased. We ended up squeezed on a little ledge beneath a chock stone, all of us complaining about the cold and the chance of being bumped off onto the rocks below. We squeezed under the chock stone and pulled the bags up over it and then completed a short easy pitch to the top where we stepped over the edge onto the wide summit plateau and a whole new view opened up in front of us. There was a little shelter from the wind so we had a swig of water and a bite to eat before heading onto the plateau to find our way to the top. As usual, the last hundred feet were a struggle in the falling snow and icy conditions. We got there at 11:14 am, and on the top there was a strange calmness. The wind wasn’t blowing and the snow had stopped. Around us we could see the weather in every direction but we were blessed with a calm right on the summit, although no visibility of the views below. We found the summit register in the form of an ammo box sitting in the snow. As we had on Tyndall, we copied the list of those we had climbed the mountain for and added a few personal comments. After a half hour that passed very quickly we headed down, retraced our steps across the plateau and down the chimney under the chock stone. The steep snow was slow going but soon enough we were back below the difficulties and got a few short glissades on our way to Williamson bowl. Whether it was the climb of Tyndall the day before or the long day we had already had, we were all tired. Ryan pushed on toward camp while the remaining four us gently slogged back in our old tracks. Back at camp we didn’t waste much time in getting into the tent and later bought the stoves in too and cooked and melted snow as we dozed. There wasn’t much conversation. The next morning we woke early but didn’t rush to break camp. Even so we left camp at 6:50, speeded somewhat by a lack of interest in breakfast or water. It did not take long to cross to the head of Shepherds pass and descend the snow slope to the valley below. We looked forward to our first good water near the ‘Pothole’ and then stopped again at the Anvil camp to pick up a few things we had cached there. We left Anvil at 10:45 after a 15 minute halt and reached Mahogany a 1000 feet lower in 30 minutes. We didn’t even slow down at Mahogany although Ryan took a side trail and had to bushwack back to us when it petered out. At around lunchtime we were looking for our lunch spot, not so much to eat but more so that Deb could look for her knife. Ryan and Adrian passed the time by betting on whether there were two or three saddles on the route. Adrian lost that bet but gained one back when he correctly placed the road to the Bristlecone Pines. After the brief stop where Ray indeed found the knife we continued still without lunch. Ryan, Ray and Carey were on a mission heading for the trailhead while Deb and Adrian took it a little more gently, intent on savoring the wilds for a little longer. Back to the trailhead at 1:45.
Overall, it was a very excellent adventure, and we climbed in the honor or memory of many who have suffered with cancer.  Deborah  climbed in honor of Marie Gallo, as well as her mother Rose Green who is still battling the disease.  Adrian  climbed for his sister Gwen Cottrell, Ray climbed for his girlfriend Judy Brannan, and Ryan climbed for his mother Karen Swehla and mother-in-law Cathie Hoover. We also brought to the summit box and wrote the names in the summit log of 20 more people who have battled cancer at the request of loved ones.  Despite the difficulty of the climb, it was a good feeling that hopefully our climb may make a difference in the lives of others.  If you wish to help our goal of raising $15,000 for cancer research via STOP CANCER, you may make a donation in honor or memory of someone by using this link:  
 http://www.stopcancer.org/Main/default/ProductDonaDetail.aspx?id=DO01


Thanks for all the love and prayers to make this a successful climb.

 Deborah Steinberg and Adrian Crane

We will have more details on this story as we get it written!  Thanks .

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