TR: Mt. Williamson (14,375 ft / 4,382 m)
Mt. Williamson (14,375 ft / 4,382 m), Eastern Sierra
Friday, May 7 – Saturday, May 8, 2010
Enginerd & UCL
Photos & Video:
UCL (unless otherwise noted as Enginerd)
Both days were bluebird, with warm temperatures and no wind on Friday, but a 20-30 mph wind up high on Saturday.
We did not encounter any instabilities in the snow pack on the ascent or descent. The snow is undergoing a strong freeze/thaw cycle (although cold winds on Saturday kept much of the snow from significantly thawing).
After finishing the Sierra High Route, my plan was to meet Enginerd and ski both Mt. Tyndall and Mt. Williamson. However, after skiing along the Tyndall Plateau on Day 5 of the SHR, I did not think the North Couloir on Tyndall was worth the massive approach to get back there. While it is an aesthetic line, Enginerd and I would rather save Tyndall for summer climbing on the East face.
Therefore, our plans were changed to only ski Mt. Williamson, the 2nd tallest peak in the Sierra.
Here is a topo map of the trip I put together after I got home. While it does not capture a lot of the intricacies of the approach or the zigzagging up the steep slopes, it does offer a general indication of the massive effort that is Mt. Williamson: (i) approximately 10 miles round trip; (ii) 8,560 feet of climbing; (iii) maximum elevation of 14,375 feet; and (iv) approximately 6,000 feet of a ski descent.
VIDEO TRIP REPORT:
Similar to my recent trip to ski the Crescent Moon Couloir on Roundtop with Enginerd, this TR is actually two TRs in one. The first is a video TR which shows both the ascent and video of the ski descent. With peaks of this scale, I believe a video medium really captures the size of the undertaking. Not to mention, it has some good tunes and some cheesy commentary. Sound is a must.
PHOTO TRIP REPORT:
Pushing aside being the 2nd tallest peak in the Sierra, in my opinion Mt. Williamson (or “Big Willy”) is far and away the largest. The mass of Mt. Williamson is both intimidating and calling.
This macro shot from the town of Independence shows part of the ski descent. The large bowl on the upper portion of Mt. Williamson (lookers left) makes up the bottom 3rd of the decent. The top of the bowl is marked by a steep couloir, which then swings to the right up to the summit out of view. The upper bowl that cannot be seen is S-facing on Williamson (and this shot is of the East face).
UCL gearing up for the trip. Photo: Enginerd
Enginerd contemplating the approach.
A special note on the approach: once you hit the snow line (around 8,000 ft), it is relatively quick moving and we made fast time from that point. The approach from parking at 6,000 ft to the snow line, however, is B-R-U-T-A-L traveling. There is no trail and it is generally side-hilling steep slopes with sage brush, loose pebbles and rocks and little to hold on to.
Mike Schwartz (above) and others I know have done this trip in a burly, extremely long single-day push. Obviously, you need to be acclimatized to do this, but I think the real key would be to really have the approach nailed. We followed the guide book and beta from Mike and others (e.g., going through the “Notch”), but I still found the approach to take up most of the time.
One last bit of advice – carry your boots and wear trail shoes. I generally hate carrying my boots and hike in them (as I did here), but the terrain involved a lot of smearing on rocks, etc… - stuff that does not bode well for boots. My Titans now look like I have worn them for 4+ years and the rubber is pretty trashed. I am going to contact Dynafit to see if I can replace the sole blocks, as I am pretty surprised the rubber sole got mangled as much as it did in one approach hike – should definitely last longer than it did. No blisters, though – shows how awesome the tour/hike mode in the Titan is! Other than extremely soft rubber, a superior touring boot!
Spring is in full swing in the Eastern Sierra.
Here is a good example of the approach terrain you travel through en route to Big Willy. Photo: Enginerd
At the top of the “Notch”, you can generally see the route up towards the snow line, but the terrain is uncompromising and you are still in for a butt-kicking! Photo: Enginerd
Did I mention there are fourth/fifth class & boulder moves on the approach? To reiterate, wear approach shoes! Photo: Enginerd
The approach generally takes you through the drainage of the Upper Baire Creek. One thing that becomes immediately visible is the avalanche debris from winter slides. And I mean LARGE DESTRUCTIVE avalanche debris. Entire trees ripped from the ground, large boulders dislodged, etc…
I am going to try to tattoo that picture in my brain for next season as yet another reminder of the potential of avalanches.
Here I am working across some slide debris. Photo: Enginerd
After several hours, we finally hit the snow line and start making substantial progress skinning towards our anticipated camp.
We had left the trailhead around 10:30 because our goal for the day was only to get up to around 10,500. Although I felt acclimatized from Sierra High Route, Enginerd would need to sleep around that elevation before heading higher. As usual, Enginerd rocked the trip, with no altitude issues and climbing strong and fast.
Enginerd skinning as we loose light over the bulk of the mountain. At this point, it was only 3 or so, but looks later because of lack of light.
After reaching approximately 10,500, we dug out a nice platform for our floorless Go-Lite shelter and set up a good camp. Here, I am boiling water while Enginerd finishes setting up camp. Photo: Enginerd
Our view from camp, down 4,000-5,000 feet into the Owens River Valley.
After a good night’s sleep, we awake at O-Dark-Thirty for our alpine start to the ascent. Here, Enginerd and I are looking super pumped to be awake:
First light is hitting from the East, and you can make out the tiny lights of the town of Independence.
We make good time and get on the move quick. All of the snow on the ascent is frozen from a good freeze/thaw cycle. While I had ski crampons, Enginerd did not. In any event, we both realized that booting with regular aluminum crampons would be the quickest and most efficient way up the main slopes (in addition to the steep couloir).
So we strapped our skis to our packs and proceeded to climb approx. 4,000 feet to the summit (allowing the snow to warm and soften in the process).
The sun continues to rise in the East. Photo: Enginerd
Cool shot of Enginerd booting with the walls of Williamson looming over. If you watch the movie, I think it captures the size of this place well.
Enginerd booting up towards the Eastern Couloir – the gateway to the snowfields of the upper mountain.
Another cool shot of Enginerd being dwarfed by Big Willy.
UCL following behind – I always fall behind because I take so many pictures and the video. Enginerd mentioned afterwards – “every time I look back, you have your gloves off and are filming things”. I love that aspect of climbing/skiing – capturing the beauty and solitude of the mountains we love. Photo: Enginerd
Although several hundred yards away from each other, Enginerd and I both apparently got the same idea to capture our shadows from the Eastern sun. Photos: Enginerd & UCL
Enginerd continues towards the East Couloir (which is a nice 35-40 degrees).
Enginerd working up the Couloir… I love the perspective with a wide-angled lens on the steep Couloirs.
Close-up of a prominent rock formation at the exit of the Couloir, with the Owens River Valley in the distance.
UCL climbing below the formation. Photo: Enginerd
Enginerd and UCL climbing in the Couloir, respectively. Photos: UCL & Enginerd
At the exit to the Couloir, one encounters several thousand feet of upper snow field, with a great pitch of 35 degrees. At this point, we were making very good time.
Enginerd booting the upper snow field, with crampons still the preferable method of travel.
UCL following suit, approaching the summit cone. Photos: Enginerd
Enginerd on the final push to the summit. Note: both the picture and video are deceiving. There is actually a double-fall line, and off to lookers left takes you to a entirely different drainage. Therefore, on the ski from the summit, Enginerd was careful to hop-turn the appropriate fall line.
Enginerd cannot travel any farther without a jet pack.
Obligatory summit shots. The Southern Sierra follows behind Enginerd, with Mt. Russell and Mt. Whitney (with its arching back), the tallest peak in the lower 48.
UCL on the summit. Photo: Enginerd
USGS Summit Marker. Photo: Enginerd
Altitude from my watch.
To those that want to climb some of the routes on the East Face of Mt. Tyndall, here is a close-up shot. Enginerd and I certainly plan on being back in here during the summer. Beta: It looks awesome. Big, clean granite up to above 14,000 ft.
Coverage in the Sierra is ridiculous this year. Here are a number of panoramic shots from the summit in all directions.
Looking West (towards the Sierra High Route):
Enginerd preparing to ski from the summit. Note: The actual descent is on the video.
After strapping in below the summit, Enginerd and UCL prepare for an approximately 6,000 ft ski descent (the longest in the Sierra to my knowledge).
Enginerd way above, descending the upper snow field.
… And properly straight-lining the run-out with his tracks above. UCL’s descent of the upper snow field is in the video.
Here is a sequence of UCL descending the East Couloir. Enginerd’s descent is on the video. Photos: Enginerd
Sequence of Enginerd skiing below the Couloir for yet another 1,000 feet of vert. Honestly, 6,000 feet of descent.
UCL following suit, back towards camp at 10,500 ft. Photo: Enginerd
After packing up camp, we continued down for another 2,000 ft. of descent to around 8,000 ft. at the snowline. Here, UCL skis some soft corn. Photo: Enginerd
It was all fun and games back until the snowline. Then the reality set in that we had to hike back through the mess that was the approach. Fortunately, time was looking great (as it was around 1 PM).
More technical rock moves by yours truly. Photo: Enginerd
Here I am, pumped to be sidehilling on tiny pebbles again! Photo: Enginerd
As a finishing touch, we got back to the car, headed to Bishop for some great Mexican food, and were treated to some Sierra Wave. Photo: Enginerd