Williamson Bowl
(There and Back Again)

27 Jun - 4 Jul 2004 - by Mike Bigelow

Team Members: Mike Bigelow, Craig Bigelow, Bill Bigelow, Bret Whitaker, Seth Kenerson, Chad Santy.

Living in Asia as I do, these trips always start hard. Saturday morning up at 4:00 AM, drive to the airport in Taiwan, fly across the Pacific and over the international date line, arrive in Las Vegas at 1:00 PM the same day I left, meet the rest of the team, buy a few supplies, sort gear, pack, eat, and then catch a few hours sleep before driving through the desert to Lone Pine to collect our permit. All these events proceeded as smoothly as possible and by 10:30 AM Sunday we departed the desert trailhead of Shepherd Pass. Anvil Camp was the goal of the day. The main disappointment of the trip happened only two hours in. My dad, Bill Bigelow, had to bail out. At 67 years old, knee problems and a lack of general strength convinced him that this trip would be too much. He decided to spend the week car camping and taking day hikes from some of the eastern side trailheads. We made plans to meet up the following Sunday and said our goodbyes. The rest of the dry, hot trek went smoothly. The trip from the trailhead to Anvil took about 7.5 hours, including a long break at the dry pass just before the midway descent. The temperatures were mild and the skies clear as we settled into our first camp.

In the morning we headed off for Willamson Bowl. As we had no plans to climb any peaks on Monday, we started a bit late. By 9:30 we were on our way. Before noon we were all at Shepherd Pass except for Chad. He was dragging a bit and also suffered a minor slip just before the snow crossing. His leg was cut pretty badly, but after some rest we all headed up the sandy slopes to the edge of Willamson Bowl. Looking over the edge of the talus and into the bowl, Chad decided he was not heading down. He said he would camp in the pass and wait for us to come out on Wednesday and then join up again. It was not an ideal situation, but he was convinced it was the safest and best choice for himself. The rest of us headed into the bowl and established a camp on the south end of Lake 3713. Willamson Bowl is a unique wilderness of boulders, glacial moraine, talus fans and half frozen lakes. That evening I scouted a bit and easily found the black stains marking the start of the west face route on Willamson.

Tuesday morning Bret, Seth and I left at 7:00 to climb the classic route on Willamson. I think the main issue for those that have trouble finding the chute, is that they don't head far enough toward the south end of the face. The route starts near the far right hand side of the broad west face. The black watermarks are obvious on a cliff band at the bottom of the chute that cuts diagonally across the face. Remember, you can see the black stains well before the chute becomes evident. We chose to climb the solid rock on the right side of the chute and encountered only minimal scree. We mistakenly took a detour into a chute on the right hand side about halfway up. It was a dead end. We soon realized all we had to do is climb the main chute to the top. At the top of the chute you can see two obvious notches. The notch on the left looks like a huge U. The smaller notch about 75 feet to the right, marks the top of the class 3 chimney. The climbing in this chimney is not hard and the exposure is limited. 15 minutes after topping out of the chimney, we were on the summit. The views are among the best I've seen in the Sierra. After about an hour on the summit, we made the descent in good time and by 3:00 we were back in camp.

Wednesday we were packed and moving by 9:00. We planned on relocating our camp to the highest cluster of trees in the lower part of Tyndal Creek Basin. After we climbed out of Willamson Bowl, my son Craig and I angled toward the north slope of Mt. Tyndal. Seth and Bret continued their descent to meet up with Chad and establish the lower camp. Craig and I left our packs at around 12,000 feet and began our climb up the 1,900 feet of broken talus on Tyndal's north slope. We arrived at the summit ridge after about an hour and a half. The first 80 feet or so is moderate class three, but then you must cross a rather exposed block to proceed along the summit ridge. Arriving at the block, Craig thought carefully, examined his confidence level and decided against it. I was quite proud that after the exertion he spent on the north slope, he was able to trust his instinct and decide to abort on his summit attempt. Having previously climbed Tyndal, I was under no pressure to go on without him. We snacked, shot some photos and headed down the talus slope back to our packs. After gathering our loads, we headed down the valley and found a nice camp in the trees. The rest of our team was nowhere to be found. We figured they had found Chad and camped elsewhere for the night. Craig and I were too beat to hunt around much, so we ate, played cribbage and went to sleep.

Thursday morning, we found the others camped about 3/4 of a mile to the west. They all moved to our site and we relaxed for the day. The weather turned cold, windy and very gray. In the late afternoon it snowed for a while. As typically happens, the weather cleared around dark.

Friday we all set out to climb Caltech Peak. We had a great climb on the East Ridge. It's a nice mix of class two and some easy class three climbing. The summit has great views of both the western divide and the Kern, Kings divide. The round trip took around six hours. The evening weather again threatened, but never broke loose.

Saturday morning we set-off around 9:30 for Anvil Camp. Bret and I wanted another summit, so we agreed to leave our packs near Shepherd Pass and head back into Willamson Bowl. We dropped the packs at 11:00 and headed off to climb Versteeg. We followed the North Ridge, which starts on the southern shore of Lake 3733. The ridge climb was a fun mix of snow and rock that latter led to a tricky bit of very loose third class climbing. The higher northern peak is reached by some easy class three moves. It's a great summit from which to review the desolation of Willamson Bowl and it's surrounding giants. Once on the peak we could see the weather turning black over the western summits. By the time we climbed out of the bowl, we were literally running back to our packs because it looked like the whole area was going to get a good thrashing! We escaped back over Shepherd Pass and were down to Anvil Camp before 5:30. The storm never developed after all!

Sunday morning we made a mad rush back to the trailhead. 3 hours later, another great trip was history. My dad met us at the trailhead and related his stories of some great day hikes on a few of the eastern approaches. I was impressed to hear that he climbed to Bishop Pass, Kearsarge Pass, Lamark Lakes and Golden Trout Lake. He probably saw more terrain than the rest of us put together!

Thus ends another adventure, Sunday night back to Vegas, Monday morning back on a plane to the harsh reality of working in southern China, but I don't worry, I'll be back.

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