Driving up Onion Valley Road west of Independence

Mt. Williamson, California (14,375')
Mt. Tyndall, California (14,018')

June 11-13, 1999

one of the mountain pages on muellerworld

Thursday Night, June 10, 1999

After driving 200+ miles (from LA), I pulled into a campground a few miles up Onion Valley Road, just west of the sleepy town of Independence. I had arrived after dark and signed into the camping area, then immeadiately fell asleep in the back of my car. I slept restlessly, despite not being at too high an elevation.

Friday, June 11, 1999: The Long Hike to Shepard's Pass

I was up early for a Friday morning, and I drove into town to check it out. I hadn't been through Independence since I had biked up White Mountain Peak several months earlier. I retraced my drive back out Market Street, where it turned into Onion Valley Road for about 4.5 miles to Foothill Road. I followed signs to the Shepard Pass trailhead. I took the right fork in the road twice and ended up at the trailhead after another 4 miles or so. I was the first one to arrive, and got busy re-packing my gear.

I was going to be hiking with a group of friends from San Francisco, who had no idea who I was. I had heard about the trip through a hiking club in Los Angeles, and had e-mailed the leader, Ron, who thankfully allowed me to have one of the 10 spots on the hard-to-get permit. As hikers pulled into the parking lot, we all introduced each other and then, much to my horror, Ron pulled a bathroom scale out of his trunk to award the "heaviest pack" honors. He mentioned that most shouldn't be any more than 40 pounds. I jumped on the scale, then grabbed my pack and did the math.

"Forty-two", I lied.

While I repacked my 46-pound pack, I heard numbers like "thirty-three" and "thirty-six" being voiced as everyone took their turn on the scales. I ditched my light-weight long underwear, and my fleece, hoping that it wouldn't be too cold at our 12,000' camp that evening.

I got the weight down to 40 pounds, it could have been 35 pounds, but I had made the decision to carry my Scarpa Inverno Double Plastic Boots, and wear some low-top EMS hiking shoes. Just about everyone else was hiking in their double plastics and a few had some leather mountaineering boots. I was self-concious with my bulky pack and my shoes as we started up the trail towards Shepard Pass 10 miles (and 6,000') away.

The trail followed Symmes Creek for about a mile, crossing it a few times before we headed south towards Symmes Saddle and Mahogany Flat. After reaching the saddle, we were presented with a great view of Mt. Williamson which was still a long way off. It is a huge mountain.

I don't know how much elevation the trail loses after the pass, but it was heartbreaking to have to go way down again only to make it up a short while later. By the time we got to Anvil Camp (10,040') it was afternoon. We had eaten at Mahogany Flat, and gathered some water. Like most of the other hikers, I had only brought iodine tablets for water purification. There were many discussions on the trail about how long we were supposed to wait before drinking the water, and how many pills to really put in. I used two pills per liter and waited about 15 minutes.

Anvil Camp is protected from the winds, but we pressed on to Shepard Pass. It was a strong group of hikers.

Resting at Mahogany Flat Looking back on the boulder field just before Shepard Pass

Just before the pass, we were confronted with some deep snowdrifts that were a few hundred feet long. They were no problem to navigate across, but the occasional post-holeing was a pain. After that came a big boulder field, and we lost the trail that was to the right of where we headed. As a final obstacle, there was a steep, snow-covered slope that headed up to camp. It was covered with snow, and I had committed myself to climbing it in my shoes by the time it got a little slippery. I followed the rocks along the right side of the gulley and made it with only a few dicey steps. We made or camp a few hundred feet from the lip of the gully, and settled in for the evening.

Just prior to leaving LA, I got a call from a woman named Linda who, like me, wasn't known by anyone in the group. She asked if I had a tent that we could share. I did. She offered up a tiny stove and some cooking gear. I carried the tent, she carried the cooking gear. I had wanted to bring my bivy sack, but it worked out well with our arrangement. We boiled water that we retrieved from a small (frozen) pool of water, about 50 feet from our tent.

We ate our dehydrated meals in unison, cleaned up and fell asleep about 7:30pm.

Linda making dinner Matt resting Getting a bivy ready for the evening At Shepard Pass with Mt. Tyndall behind

I had warned Linda that I sometimes snore at altitude (we were now at 12,000'), and told her just to hit me if I did. She did not pull her punches when she woke me a few times during the night.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke myself with a snore and wandered out to nature's call. We had designated a large rock that was about 200' from camp as latrine, and I found it with little problem. The stars were amazing. The milky way was stretched out and surrounded by zillions of other stars. I was pretty amazed how beautiful it was.

Saturday, June 12, 1999: Summit Day

At about 6am, the group was ready to go. I had again elected to wear my shoes and carry my boots to the base of Williamson, so my pack was heavier than everyone elses, but after rock hopping for a few miles, I was very happy not to be in my mountaineering boots.

The route we took went from our camp at the top of Shepard Pass down into the "Williamson Bowl" (losing 300'), and past the first large lake. We continued south after passing he first lake on our right (west). We were heading to the "West Face" route on Mt. Williamson which was not at all apparent upon our approach. The West Face route goes up a hidden gully that cannot be seen until you are upon it. I was looking at the very steep and rocky faces, wondering how in the hell we were going to get up this mountain.

Hiking past Mt. Tyndall Loosing elevation on approach to Mt. Williamson's West Face Starting up the hidden gully of the West Face Route

Our notes said that there were some "black water marks" near to where we would head up, but a few of us were still unconvinced.

Once we found the gully, it was a straight-forward climb of about 1,000 feet (?) to the summit ridge of Mt. Williamson. Fortunately, there was still some snow in the chute, and I chose to avoid the rocks as much as possible. We had left a pile of our gear at the bottom and brought only lunch and a heavier layer incase it was windy up there (I had been hiking in shorts that morning).

At the very top of the gully, there was a small Class 3 notch that had to be negotiated. While there was a rope from a party of two that had passed us on the way up, I chose not to use it. I don't think was more than about 30 feet tall, but it had some tight squeezes and some cramped moves. Quite fun at 14,000'+.

The south summit was only a short climb away and we reached it shortly after helping a few make it up the last part of the notch. There was no wind and only beautiful views in all directions.

Views from the hidden gulley Views from the hidden gulley Mt. Whitney (at center) from the summit of Mt. Williamson

Summit plateau Obligatory summit photo Nearing the summit

Getting down the Class 3 notch was pretty straight-forward, and the climb down was a nice, quick excercise in plunge-stepping. I fell asleep at the bottom on a huge flat rock while the others came down.

The hike back to camp was a huge pain because of the 300' that had to be regained.

Mt. Tyndall (14,018') kept watch on us all day as we walked by it, beneath it and near it twice that day.

After 12 hours, we were all back in camp, tired and weary.

Linda, my tentmate, was very slow and sluggish and towards the end of the day, I made her talk a lot and made dinner for both of us. She was very tired and not to happy about all the climbing and walking. I asked her all about how she felt and if she was ok, and she insisted that she was. I knew something was up when she couldn't eat much and wouldn't drink, but she still maintained that everything was normal and she was tried, but feeling good. She fell asleep really quickly and barely moved all night (and didn't hit me at all).

I was happy that we would be decending the next morning, after our second objective.

Sunday, June 13, 1999: Tyndall and home

Matt on the summit of Mt. Tyndall (14,018) Four of us got up long before dawn and hustled out of camp towards Mt. Tyndall. After an hour walk, we were at the bottom of the snow slope that led up the bulk of the mountain. The most popular route up Tyndall is the Northwest Ridge, but we took the next route to the north because it was filled with nice snow. It was hard and perfect in the early morning hours, as we slogged up it for what seemed like a long time. Near the top, we had a disagreement in route finding, and two of us went to the right around a prominent rock outcropping, while two went to the left up a steeper rocky face.

The route that I chose had a view to the other side of Tyndall, and had some good exposure, while the other route was steep and tricky, it lacked the airy stuff that I faced. After a short while, we met each other along the route, and rock-hopped along the ridge that over looked our route to Willimason. It turned out that the two routs we took around the knob at the top were very similar and either would have suited the party just fine.

The summit was spectacular, probablly my favorite to date. There was a huge boulder that looked as if it would fall down the face of Tyndall at any second. I jumped on it and took a look off the cliff. Pretty spectacular. We retraced our steps back down the upper ridge of the mountain, before coming down the Northwest Ridge. Driving up Onion Valley Road west of Independence

We were down by 10:30am, and started walking out by 11am. I was the last to leave the camp, 15 minutes behind my climbing partners, and at least 1.5 hours behind the first group that had left. I gathered water and picked up some scraps of trash and headed down the Pass.

It was another beautiful day (three in a row!) and within a few hours I had caught up to the most of my group. When I caught up with Linda, she was resting and had blood on her shirt. Apparently, she had all sorts of altitude problems, but was too self-consious to tell anyone. When her nose started bleeding uncontrollbly is when she decided to mention it to another hiker.

Since I was hiking quickly and had a long drive, Ron graciously told me not to worry about waiting for the slower hikers (many who were VERY tired of their mountaineering boots by now), and to feel free to head out once I reached the parking lot. I said my good-bys and departed, knowing that they had to wait for all of the hikers at some point, because they had car-pooled over from San Francisco (I was the only one from LA).

The drive back to LA was highlighted by the awesome views in the southern Sierras and the Mojavi Desert, but otherwise non-eventful.


Please contact me with corrections, questions or comments: matt@muellerworld.com   updated: 15 June, 2002
  updated: 20 October, 2000
  updated: 20 June, 1999