27 July 2016

Williamson: Mount Williamson

Inyo National Forest

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

(Day 4 of 6) This morning, I pack up most my stuff into various bags to leave at camp. We will be coming right back here in the afternoon, so no need to carry it. My worries about the weather coming later cannot hurry anyone else and the bright blue sky overhead does nothing to help my case. Climbing back out of the bowl of the lake to what is a bit like a ridge running through Williamson Bowl is just as hard as coming down. There are some things that look like trails, but they finish as soon as they start. At the top with many miles of Owens Valley visible, some realize they can call their spouses to say that they can stop worrying about what might have happened yesterday and start worrying about what might happen today. I realize that we want to go down to the lakes below tomorrow and take the time to scrutinize the route. It seems like all routes cliff out except the highest one. Counter-intuitive, but easy to remember.

people among the granite
Giving all the cliffs of the routes down along the other side a good glare while Ralph makes it known that nothing horrible has happened to him yet. Photo by Dave, who is texting instead.

next level down
The first lake below the one we are camped at. Photo by Dave.

What looks like a ridge line of sorts running through the bowl does not turn out to be. It turns to rocks and those rocks start dropping quickly to lower levels. We have to wind our way around the edges, eventually coming to the next lake. Devon is staying here to see what he can catch since he is entirely uninterested in facing all that scree. I have to admit the mountain looks particularly daunting. We make our way closer to the next lake, and as we do the typical line people use starts to become clear and the mountain gets a little less daunting. It still looks like a lot of work, but we have all day to do it. Or less. We swing around a bit of snow with the world's largest sun cups then start up past the black marks everyone talks about.

black marks and chute
Looking up at the fabled black marks and the chute above. Photo by Dave.

And so we climb. And we climb. And we climb some more. And the second set of lithium batteries in my GPS suddenly go from half full to dead for the third battery failure of the trip. This time they did go slowly enough to allow the GPS to give a low battery beep. I have one last set of batteries in a form of some NiMH that have just been charged. Dropping them in, there is another low battery beep for the fourth battery failure of the trip. Somehow these freshly charged batteries have not been charged at all. At least it is the last one, I have no more batteries left to fail. Well, there is the headlamp. Dave is getting ahead and the clouds are gathering, so I leave it and get moving without a track to show I was here.

Lake Helen of Troy
Following a line that proceeds directly away from Lake Helen of Troy so that once we are high enough, it is constantly visible.  Photo by Dave.

The climb is slippery in spots, but mostly all the feet before have helped to settle the rocks into place. The chute splits and Dave picks a left side where I would have gone right. It is a long way to go back if we got it wrong. We do seem to have Lake Helen of Troy in sight still, which is how people describe the route. He picks left again where I would go right and abruptly ends in a big window to the other side. It is a great view, but not what we are looking for. There is an easy crossing over to the other chute which is a bit of something a lot harder than what we have been doing. I am not at all certain we have gone the correct way, but Dave is happy to scramble up the thing to find out.

Kern and more
From the window, we can see over the Kern River to the Kaweahs. Photo by Dave.

through the window
Williamson Creek is visible far below when looking through the window. Photo by Dave.

waiting near the top
Waiting to see if this really is it. We have come a long way up. Photo by Ralph.

Dave does not actually report if it is the correct chute, but since he does not come back, it must be. Ralph heads up it too and when I am really ready, I go too. Since Ralph gave me some batteries, I can even have tracks for the peak. The climb starts off with handholds and footholds on the rock. Then there is a chimney that is just a squeeze in some rough rock. Then it is back to easy climbing with just a small exposed walk along a ledge to cause any worry. We all go up it with very little gear. Popping out, there is just a long boulder hop up the last few hundred feet to stand on the top.

Just a lot of rocks to clamber over to finish the climb to the top of Williamson. Photo by Dave.

As we finish the climb, it is difficult not to notice the distant thunder and rain shadows. We even had a spattering of hail while coming up the chute. The view is great, but it seems likely we should not spend too long enjoying it. We sign ourselves in and spend some time anyway.

sitting at the top
At the top with Shepherd Pass in the background. Photo by Dave.

sub peak of Mount Williamson
Owens Valley is laid out below and we can make out the lines of the old streets at Mazanar. Photo by Dave.

paper crane and nest
Ralph arranges a paper crane and nest that his son folded while I skedaddle from the top. Photo by Dave.

The benchmark is very scared, but the date seems to be quite recent. Photo by Ralph.

Williamson Bowl and beyond
Panorama of the other 14k peaks around the Williamson Bowl looking a little short from the top of Williamson. Photo by Ralph.

We head back dropping to the flat area first. It does seem easier than clambering along the much longer distance along the edge. It is much easier to walk on the flat ground than the slightly shaky boulders, too. We have to find the chute again to get down, but someone built a modest cairn to help with that. On the way, there is the single view down to the lowest lakes in the bowl.

There are flowers even up at 14k feet. Photo by Dave.

lower lakes
The lowest lakes in the bowl are nearly 3000 feet below. Photo by Dave.

going down again
Dave sits at the top of the chute getting ready to face the danger once again. Photo by Ralph.

The chute is worse going down. These things always are. For me, the top is about the same and the ledge is actually a lot easier. The squeeze in the chimney is another matter. I get my hands into some good grips and hang down really really wanting some more just like those. They are not forthcoming, though. It is still the same squeeze. After a minute or two of dangling, I am right back up out of it. Dave reminds me it is just a squeeze, but I know that, I just have not quite accepted it. After another minute or two, I try again and this time can accept the inevitable. It really does not feel bad while doing it, it is just getting started that seems to be hard. Dave coaches me through the last few foot holds, which can take a moment to find, so it is quite helpful. Then Ralph comes down. Long legs seem to help.

stretched in the chute
The unhappy climber stretched out in the chute. Photo by Dave.

And so we begin the descent in the rubble. Dave zips down while Ralph and I attempt to keep from slipping at a much slower pace. The rain comes although the thunder remains distant and the hail does not reappear. This is where I might have liked to have my rain jacket. Once it gets a little heavier, I pull out the windbreaker that made a horrible rain jacket on Signal Peak. The rain is not all that heavy, so it seems to be enough today. Some of the rocks are slick with the water, so we slow down even more. We can see Dave waiting down below the snow and looking a little impatient.

Williamson Bowl
The lakes of Williamson Bowl. We camped at the far one and left Devon fishing at the one on the left. Photo by Dave.

We decided on a different route past the first lake, but it again proves to have cliffs in the way to getting over to the one we camped at. We end up having to wander a fair way west again to get past it all. Dave takes us on another new route back along our lake, which also proves to be less desirable after all. Devon is already at camp and had tucked my bags under an overhanging rock and put a missing rain fly up on Ralph's tent when the rain hit. He apologizes for taking so long to get it done, but everything is dry now.

Devon fishing
Devon fishing near camp.

Although the trail crew said they had caught some fish, Devon got none for the day. These lakes usually do have fish in them, even very high up. Still, we all have to admit that none of us has actually seen a single jump on this lake. Photo by Dave.

Continue reading: day 5

Words ©2016 Valerie Norton
Photos ©2016 David Welch or Ralph On Earth
Posted 31 August 2016

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