26 July 2016

Williamson: Shepherd Pass

Inyo National Forest

Sequoia National Park

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

(Day 3 of 6) The morning sun comes up directly down the canyon and I go for the camera to take a picture. The camera promptly does nothing at all. I check the settings and it is on and everything looks right, but there is not even a complaint of a low battery when I press the shutter. I left it on when I tucked it into my pack last night and it probably spent the night trying to focus on the inside of the pack. The action was to protect it from dew I knew would not manifest and indeed did not. Battery failure number two. I did that once before with dire consequences for any chance at picture taking, so at least I am not in a panic that my expensive camera is now broken, but I should have learned. Of course since the battery will last for weeks, short of egregious operator error, I do not have a spare. With the telephoto and tripod, this means over 10% of my pack weight now might as well be a rock except that I would have no problem dumping a rock. I grump about it for a little bit, then get on to the morning camp routine. There will be plenty of time to grump about it later every time I want to capture a scene.

people near tree line
On the trail again and getting ready to leave the tree line behind. Photo by Dave.

Having decided not to bother with trying to climb 3000 feet of scree to an off trail pass, we start up the trail. This is not quite as easy as it should be. At the top of the switchbacks is "the washout", which Ralph keeps warning us about since none of us could be bothered to read about a trail portion of the hike in that much detail. This turns out to be about 50 feet of trail that have been cut mercilessly away by water. The gully is deep and the sides are steep. It is easy to see where people have gotten to the sides of it, but not so easy to see where they traveled down or up those sides even though many people pass it each day. We work our way through it slowly without dislodging too many boulders from the soft dirt. The good news is, there is work being done on it even if they are not working today.

It is already getting a little warm, so the return to trees as we get to Anvil Camp is nice. We cross one little stream before coming again to the mighty Shepherd Creek. There are lots of campsites up here. There are lots of mosquitoes, too. They are much more numerous here than where we camped below. We stop to tank up on water before heading to the pass, then climb up out of the last of the trees. This happily leaves the mosquitoes behind.

The Pothole
Devon and I drop into The Pothole after the last of the trees. Well, The Pothole looks to be the last of the trees, but it should be the bit after. Photo by Dave.

At the edge of the trees, there is a momentary confusion as the trail crosses the creek again or follows beside it. We split on which is correct and the creek crossers win this round. There is a lot of rock to cross to get to the pass, but the trail seems really good over it. Looking ahead, I cannot pick it out as it gets to the steep parts, which is disconcerting. To add to this, we meet a pair of women coming down as they get back to the trail, one with blood on her temple. They are returning from Williamson as a day hike and one managed a back flip in the scree without a helmet. It does not look too bad, but one never knows.

east from Shepherd Pass
Near the top of Shepherd Pass and looking back east over the bowl below. Photo by Dave.

As we get close to the real climb, I can start to pick it out on the mountain. There are extra bits of trail from people cutting it or simply apparent bits from little slides. We each pick the trails we like as we go, although when mentioning to Dave that he chose the nasty shortcut at one spot he says that is the trail he saw and he did not like it much. When a big slide has taken out the last few feet of a switchback, no feet have tried to restore it and there is only nasty shortcut. Except for that, the built trail seems to be holding just enough.

snow on trail
Ralph crosses the only bit of snow on the trail today. Photo by Dave.

Devon near the top
Nearing the top. The trail passes between Devon and his pack. Photo by Dave.

It is taking Ralph a while to work his way up the pass. He is working with air thinner than he has ever experienced before, so we should not rush him. Devon takes a vantage point with view east and Dave heads back to a short way to make sure Ralph is still feeling good, but I go for the very top to see what is on the other side. There is quite a lot on the other side and a lake in the middle.

Devon and an unnamed peak
Devon near the top, but not quite there yet. Photo by Dave.

got the map out
Give me a moment and I will have the map out, so that is how they found me. This is deciding that the wicked looking teeth in the distance are the Kaweah Peaks Ridge. Photo by Dave.

Yellow bellied marmot. Of course the evil cute things live up here. Photo by Dave.

Once we have gathered again, it is really time to go off trail. In a manner of speaking. So many have gone here before that there is a well developed use trail past the side of the lake and over the low ridges toward the Williamson Bowl. Many try to make their own way, but it is just producing extra trails. We go ahead and try to stick to the main one past marmots and a second lake.

Shepherd Pass Lake
Shepherd Pass Lake has a lovely bit of blue ice looming over its edge. Photo by Dave.

We reach the edge of the bowl and the route gets a bit tougher. This is where the boulder hopping starts. Devon has stated his dislike of boulder hopping to the point that I thought he would just hang by the lake at the pass and fish. We met some of the trail crew coming down from their off days and they said they pulled a 20" fish out of it, although not a lot else. It turns out he is willing to do a little to stay with the group. We stop at the top to locate the flat spots. How could there be any in this place? But there are some and we aim at them.

higher lakes in the bowl
The Williamson Bowl has lakes at multiple distinct levels. Photo by Dave.

lower and closer lake
The closest lake is at a middle level. There are two more levels below by Diversion Pass. Photo by Dave.

It is slow work again, and we each pick the route that seems more comfortable. There is even a trail that seems to have a bit of dirt on it for a lot of spots. I avoid this as it seems too steep to be safe on. Getting down to the lake is a greater challenge than getting down into the bowl. There are some bigger boulders to hop along and much less trail. Still, we manage and pick out some flat spots for the night. There is time enough for a little exploration, but as we check the map, not for anything that seems worth doing. We take to lounging by the lake and making supper instead. Somehow it is hard to stay up for watching the glow on the mountains as the sun sets.

Mt. Tyndall
Mount Tyndal from camp. Photo by Ralph.

The clouds have me a bit worried. They have been gathering since around 2 PM and there have been a couple little thunderheads poking up out of them. They start dispersing again around 6 PM and everything is clear by the time the first star shows. That is as expected, but tomorrow they will be back and they may be stronger.

Continue reading: day 4

Words ©2016 Valerie Norton
Photos ©2016 David Welch or Ralph On Earth
Posted 30 August 2016

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