Shepard Pass Trail to Williamson bowl

14-20 Aug 2012 - by Bob Davey

On Aug. 14, 2 PM, I headed up to the Shephard Pass trailhead and parked about a mile shy of the hiker's parking area (elevation 5925 approx.). The road got a little too rough for my low clearance vehicle so I parked and cracked the windows to vent the desert heat while I was away. My objective was to climb the 4 peaks listed above. I was carrying about 45-48 lbs.

Being my first time up this trail, the general plan was to take it slow and easy up to the pass- I've read plenty about how tough this trail is. In retrospect, this method worked out quite well and I enjoyed the new territory immensely. Mountain mahogany and manzanita dominate the landscape here.

That afternoon, Symmes canyon was cool and breezy. I saw as many deer tracks as boot tracks. What a difference from the Mt. Whitney trail, I thought to myself.

At the last creek crossing the ranger taped a note on a rock- "last water until 1/4 mile before Mahogany Flats, fill up ALL of your water bottles". So I did. I then made the long climb (I counted 58 switchbacks), to the first saddle ,elev. 9070 approx. I arrived at the crest in the dark, about 9 PM and slept under the stars although it had been raining lightly between about 5-7 PM.

The next day took me only to the Pothole. It was raining lightly, again, by 4 PM. Earlier this day, 2 separate parties coming down said trail conditions above the Pothole were treacherous. This turned out to be a false alarm, as I found out the next day. The trail was rocky, and that's all.

The next day I topped out on Shephard Pass, elev. 12,050, dropped my pack at the lake on the immediate west side of the pass and headed up the class 3 north rib to Mt. Tyndall. This is, as Secor states, a fine climb. The trail register though, is full, and in need of replacement.

The following day was cloudy again. I packed into the Williamson bowl to my 3 night home at Lake 3733 where I pitched the tent, stuffed the pack inside, and then climbed a direct line, on firm rock, to the summit of Mt. Versteeg in the afternoon. That was also a very nice climb. Mostly class 2 on firm rock with a little easy class 3 near the top. The summit register was sparse. Only about 14-15 signatures since 2006. Wonderful views all around but the highlight was looking across to Mt. Williamson. The main climber's chute above the Black Stain was now in full view for the first time. Surprisingly, from Mt. Tyndall's summit, a day earlier, this chute was not visible at all. I only saw a confusion of chutes and spires which had me a little worried. Now, the path was clear although it appeared rather steep.

Aug. 18 was the big day. The climb from lake 3733 to Mt. Williamson's summit via the standard climbing chute was pretty decent, easy class 2, by staying on firm rock just right of the sandy middle. It wasn't as steep as it appeared from Versteeg and the 60 ft. class 3 chimney was easier than I had imagined. Once on the summit, initial thoughts focused on the immense effort this climb takes compared to Whitney. Starting from elev. 5925, plus the 500 ft. gain/loss section, plus the 300 ft. gain/loss approx. when dropping into the bowl itself, made for a total elevation gain of 9250 ft. to achieve this magnificent summit. That's 49% more elevation gain than what it takes to do Mt. Whitney from the portal. First timers should plan accordingly. I must admit that it felt like a real accomplishment to make it up here and I was grateful for having the time not to rush it. At mid day it was cloudy, dark, and cool on the summit. A slight breeze, about 50 degrees. Thankful again, no rain.

On the 19th, I set off for Trojan Peak via the class 2, northwest face route (Secor, 3rd edition, page 86) as clouds swirled around Williamson's summit. Climbing up to the saddle between Williamson and Trojan was slightly tedious because of the talus but the remainder of the climb was pretty nice with excellent views along the ridge line. The flimsy, cracked plastic container holding the summit register needs replacement though. On the descent I experienced a moderate injury when a 250 lb. rock slid underfoot and pinned my boot against a lower rock. It took a few attempts to dislodge it but luckily, a scraped and swollen right shin were the only injuries sustained. I cursed the damn thing all the way back to camp although, in hindsight, the rock was innocent. On Aug. 20, I packed out of Williamson bowl and got back to my car on the desert floor at about 8 PM.

This trip was one of the most strenous I've done but worth every moment. I would recommend to anyone doing the Shephard Pass trail for the first time to not rush it, don't burn out. It's a lot to take on.

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