25 July 2016

Williamson: Mahogany Flat

Inyo National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6

(Day 2 of 6) The White Mountains throw a long shadow, so the peaks above get light a lot sooner than we do. The others are not in much of a hurry to get out and have a bit more to take down anyway. I looked at the weather and then looked around at various nearby and far areas and eventually decided to believe the National Weather Service although I am usually reluctant to do so for more than three days out. According to it, there will not be the slightest chance of rain, so I left out tent or shelter or even bivy sack. I grabbed the wind breaker and left the rain gear. It is a very nice weight savings. Not as much as expected versus what I carried in Colorado, though. Got to figure that out, that did include rain gear and shelter. Meanwhile, everyone else has and is using a tent. I guess it helps tone down the moon brightness.

bright peaks, dark sage
Morning has broken up high, but down in the sages is still quite dim.

Ralph and I are slow hikers and happy to be so. Dave and Devon are a little more into the speedster camp of hiking, so we arrange a meeting place and let them run. It all starts off easy, wandering along the side of Symmes Creek with a few crossings. Encroaching willows have grown up and been hacked away only to repeat many times. For now, there is plenty of clearance. The walls all rise steeply away. The ridges do too and the walls get taller. There is a lot of up.

John Muir Wilderness
Entering the John Muir Wilderness.

tall walls near the sun
Quickly feeling engulfed in the high mountains.

witness corner
Taking a moment to notice the witness corner not marked on the map, or perhaps marked at the wrong corner of the section. It is having its centennial year and looking good.

Symmes Creek
Up along Symmes Creek.

The creek wandering does not last long. We have one last crossing, check our water, and start to climb. The lore in some places holds that there is no more water until Anvil Camp, but we are expecting some a little closer. That is partly because we want to cross the creek and work our way over Diversion Pass (which I have not seen marked on a map) and into the lower lakes in the Williamson bowl. My first reaction to hearing this was, "Can we do it downhill on the way out?" However, it does not look all that horrible at first glance. We still have to get the first climb done.

Symmes Creek
The creek drops down along the canyon, but we climb up the side.

Ownes Valley again
Not quite so engulfed by the mountains now.

There are quite a lot of switchbacks for the climb. The day is getting warmer, but we have more and more trees for shade as we go. It is nicer at the higher elevations, too.

wash in the mountains
Somewhere up there is a saddle to cross into Shepherd Creek from Symmes Creek.

trees above
You see, there are actual trees up there. Some of them are even green.

across the creek
The rise of rock on the far side of Symmes Creek.

With nothing more than a consistent pace, we reach the top. Well, maybe some rests along the way, too. The mountain mahogany is positively fluffy with seed. In the meantime, my first set of lithium batteries has already died. One minute the GPS was reading half charged, the next it was off. I was expecting to get four days out of those slightly used batteries. At least I have a second set of slightly used batteries to keep it going, but I like my having my tracks later and expect them to be complete.

on the saddle
First look, past the fluffy mountain mahogany in seed, into Shepherd Creek.

The top means more things to look over that just a moment ago were well hidden. Shepherd Creek flows strongly far below, but we cannot see it yet. Around a corner, we can see the long scree slope we propose to go up. It looks like quite a lot of scree, but someone somewhere claims it is not bad. The trail drops a little before popping over another saddle and into the main canyon.

A first look at the Diversion. There is a notch at the top so that no actual rock climb is needed, or so we have been told.

Owens Valley
Looking out to Owens Valley once again.

up the creek
At the second saddle, we can see a little more of the changed mountainous backdrop.

Once in the main canyon, the creek is hard to miss. It pours down the sharp bottom of a valley it had to carve itself. Higher up, glaciers were at work, but not here. It is all cascades and a waterfall or two below. The water is never at rest as it plunges downward.

Shepherd Creek
Shepherd Creek in its plunge to the desert. One larger waterfall is near the bottom.

From the second saddle, we drop a bit, but stay high above the creek. There are some odd islands of vegetation along the way. Particularly noticeable is a slope of prickly poppies and some skeletal yellow flowers. The map shows two creeks on our way. The first is marked with a bit more growth, but there is nothing on the surface. The second brings a lot more green and plenty of water. Above, there is another waterfall.

tributary waterfall
The tributary has a waterfall cascade over a large rock.

The trail drops to get around a difficult rock section just before the stream. Once past that, it is back to climbing to get up into Mahogany Flat. We are now close to the point we were to meet the other two, but they are nowhere to be seen. That is doubly curious because we saw them not too far ahead on the trail just before getting to the stream. We are not yet to the point anyway, so we continue up.

Owens Valley
Getting away from Owens Valley again.

Unfortunately, the point we are supposed to be meeting at is not on the trail at all and as we start to get further from it, we still have not found the other two. The trail suggests they continued on, although we cannot fathom why. We are about to start a cross country part, it is rather important that we get together before doing it. We do not actually know for sure those are their footsteps in the dust and one of them is a geocacher and should know how to get to given coordinates even if it is not on a trail. I want to at least check the coordinates. Ralph still wants to go up the chute even if it is getting late to do so today, so wants to go with packs and just find a place to camp on the other side of the creek. I see a scree pile and scree piles do not have camp sites, so I want to do it light. It takes a bit of just being downright stubborn, but I get my way. It does not matter much anyway, because we do not get very far. We have come up way too high to try to get this random point with any ease. Somewhere in the last quarter mile was a much better take off point. We return after only getting 250 feet closer to our goal with the upshot that we no longer really care to take the off trail route. There is still time, so we decide to take off for Anvil instead.

scree slope to Diversion Pass
The scree slope to Diversion Pass. Water is coming down the rocky left side so maybe the blue line on the map does correspond to something.

It does not take long to find the other two finishing setting up camp. They were up the trail and saw us turn around, so came back down. The do not get a lot of sympathy for the extra miles walked because there was no plan to go to Anvil today anyway. A second look at the pass checking for details like how high up we are when we start, it is a climb of a little over 3000 feet to get over that pass. It is quite the commitment. From there, we would have to drop 1000 feet to get down to the lower lakes that were our target for the day. It can be fun to go a route off the beaten path, especially when the path is as beaten as this route for Williamson, but this seems like one that could use some working up to it. Like just a 2000 foot climb off trail. Since we found the others and they are not budging until morning, we pop back the 300 feet or so to water access to get enough to camp too.

Continue reading: day 3

©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 24 August 2016

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