Transport to trailheads on the lower east side is always problematic, and with three of the six participants calling in sick in the couple of days prior to the trip, loose ends set them back an hour and a half Saturday morning.
Although it was later than they had planned, they still found time to do the requisite "pack messing" at the trailhead. Jim thought he had packed light, but to be sure he looked at Chris's pack. After lifting it, he went back to his car and started dumping things out of his pack into his trunk. After the packs were light enough (no tents, stoves) Chris Kramar, Jim Curl, and Mike Meredith set out at 8:45 am for Shepherd Pass. As they were going ultra-light, they were able to move quickly and clear the 12,000 foot pass just before 3:30pm. Consensus was that they had held a reasonable pace and the 45 minutes of breaks on the way up were adequate.
The group was resting just beyond the pass when they noticed a group of six men sitting in lawn chairs near the lake. Mike was intrigued enough to approach them and learned that the men were on an annual expedition to monitor the Cutthroat Trout population in the Williamson Bowl. The group included a biologist and a state fish and game guy.
Their story was that the Williamson lakes were seeded with Cutthroat Trout from Colorado in 1938 and had flourished in the lower 2 of the lakes. They reported that the fish had done so well in the isolated Williamson Bowl, that an effort had been made to use the stock there to re-establish the Cutthroat variety in Colorado, since the Williamson fish are the only remaining pure form of the fish. They also mentioned that in the many years they had been coming up to the bowl, they had never seen a Big Horn sheep, though the biologist and wildlife guy had found scat and heard telltale rockfall.
After a long pause at the top of the pass and eating half of their dinners, the three moved quickly over the Alpine desert to the edge of the Williamson Bowl. Although having traversed many sorts of scree, talus and moraine in the Sierra, they found the Williamson Bowl nearly in a class by itself as a boulder-pile obstacle course.
It looks like a land that time forgot, and for which history has no meaning. Looking out over the bowl, one may question whether one is on the planet Earth. Then one asks oneself, "why am I here?"
The rocks are big enough to be dangerous but small enough to often be loose, and as the nominal trip leader/trail sweep, Mike was very concerned with maintaining visual contact with the two guys in front of him.
Nonetheless, they crossed the bowl and bivouacked at the outlet of the uppermost Williamson lake at about 12,6000 ft. by 6:30 pm. This was a hike of 12 miles with a net altitude gain of 6,000 feet in 9 hours. Good time, but they were zonked and felt rather perplexed as they looked up at the south side of Williamson and read Roper's terse route description. Using the 7.5 minute map (which proved to be indispensable) they were able to draw a one-to-one correspondence between each little peaklet on the map and each peaklet rising in front of them.
They then made their best guess as to which was the "obvious gully" up and to the left of the "obvious water stain." This gully is not at all visible from the bowl, and as Jim said, "it's an act of faith" to head left of the stain for said gully, because one would be committed at that point and have no time left to start another summit approach.
They rose at 4:30 the next morning, and after a hearty breakfast of Power Bars, Gatorade, and analgesics (no stoves, this was ultra-light), set out for the summit. During the Class 3 ascent they tried to stay close together to avoid each other's rockfall and to make well-thought decisions on the route. After getting past the spring-fed waterfall with the black water-stain they headed north by northwest and up towards an obvious gully (now visible).
They stayed in the main gully all the way up to the 75 feet of Class 3 described by Roper. This is top Class 3 under the best of conditions, and with some of the rocks having a coating of transparent smooth ice on them, it was fairly daunting. They took their time and still found themselves on the summit plateau by 7:30 am. So the final ascent took over two hours.
Mike started to drill the first hole and promptly cracked the rock. Mike then started on another hole and of course, to make it fair, the bit broke in half. Jim continued with the broken bit and Chris surveyed the register box registers and contents and took pictures of the whole scene for Eugene Miya.
Chris finished up the drilling and bolted down the box. In all, including placing the historic register and repairing the summit register box, they spent two hours performing these tasks. If there was any one thing that really slowed them down here, it was that the register box, which had been under a cairn since the 1930's, was beat to shit [sic].
They happened to know that two other groups were planning attempts on this summit over the following Fourth of July weekend, so they left notes for both. Mike left a note to the California Mountain Club group suggesting that they were doing the trip over three days in order to have time to get close to the Big Horn Sheep, and threw a few condoms into the envelope for good measure. Even though Trojan is the next peak down range, Mike figured you can't be to explicit at high altitudes, so he added a line about "use water base lubricants and protect America's wildlife."
On the other hand, Chris decided to be nice the four day group led by fellow PCS'er Brian Healy, and left a congratulations note with several outdated Burger King coupons. Said Mike, "We're nice guys."
One must say though, the niceness began to wear thin during the 14 mile march back to the cars. The high light of the return was encountering a group of four men carrying 80 lbs. each worth of inflatable kayaks and assorted river gear up towards Shepherd Pass. Their plan was to pack all the way to the headwaters of the Kern, and then take the river all the way down to Lake Isabella. The weather was excellent until the three climbers approached Shepherd Pass on the return. There was an incredible front moving in from the west. Most of it was too high for precipitation, but the wind seemed to gust up to 50 m.p.h., and nearly blew several of them off the trail while on the switchbacks.
They reached the trailhead at about 6:30 pm. Due to the last minute cancellations, and partly due to the fact that he had planned on possibly knocking off Mt. Tyndall on the way back, Jim had driven up alone. He decided to break up his tiresome drive by sleeping at Camp 9 and getting up early in the morning to go to work.
The wind was howling at Camp 9 and since there had been horses there recently, Jim's face was continually coated with turd-dust all night long. He made it to work the next day. He confirmed that this trip was the most physically demanding and draining trip he had ever been on, and that perhaps it was more difficult than he had planned. Jim said he was so beat on the trip back to the car that had he climbed Tyndall in addition to Williamson, one would have had to bury him there.
Chris and Mike fared a little better on the trip back as they were able to switch off driving, although while traveling through Tuolomne, the passenger almost had to beat the driver just to keep him awake enough to continue driving. Loading up on caffeine at Oakdale provided the impetus to make it home in one piece and go to work monday morning. They got in at 3 am.
On monday, Chris told Mike that waking up to go to work at 8 am reminded him of getting out of bed after waking up from knee surgery, still groggy from anesthesia. So Williamson in two days is possible but pushing it.
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