Mount Williamson — July 27, 2012
(14375 ft / 4382 m)

This was a solo hike from my base camp at Shepherd Pass to the summit of the second highest mountain in California, Mt. Williamson, via its "West Face" route. The total round trip time was about 10 hours and 45 minutes.

Over talus blocks down to Williamson Bowl

Peggy L. descending into Williamson Bowl over talus blocks.
(Denny K.'s archive photo from 1977, posted with permission).

I started from Shepherd Pass at 7:00 am, and reached the upper edge of the Bowl at 7:45. On my way down the steep slope of huge talus blocks, I aimed at a low ridge between lakes in the Bowl, which was the route recommended in Secor's book. It took me about 30 minutes to descend. The ridge was indeed a very good way to get across the Bowl, and by 9 am, I was near the southern-most lake, anxious to locate the "black stain" mark on Williamson's face. More talus on the way up from the lake, and at about 9:30, I was just below the "black stain". The discoloration of the rocks at this place was caused by a tiny stream that was cascading down over a rock formation. I bypassed the cascade to its right (south), and after one class 3 move was above it and staring at a chute extending in the north-east direction all the way to the main crest atop the mountain.

Climbing the never-ending chute (class 2-3) was a part of the trip that I would rather forget. Do not try to attempt it without wearing a helmet, because rocks of all sizes in the chute are quite unstable. I started at the bottom of the chute at about 9:45, was in the part where the chute narrows considerably at 10:45, and finally, at the foot of the class 3 chimney at 12:10 pm. The chimney is at the very top of the chute, slightly to the right of the general direction of the chute on your way up. There seems to be some confusion in the climbing literature, caused probably by Pete Starr, about two possible exits from the chute, one through the chimney, another one via a fissure with a chockstone, but there is actually only one exit, and the chockstone is in the middle of the chimney. At this time of the year the chimney was snow-free. It was a welcome change to have opportunity to attack and climb through this narrow crack after the incredibly tedious and long approach to it. There is plenty of handholds and footholds, and this obstacle on the way to the summit shouldn't be a problem to anyone who has managed to come that far up already. Just don't look below. I took water with me but left everything else, including my backpack, at the bottom of the chimney, and exited to the summit plateau several minutes later. Then another 30 minutes of simple class 2 scrambling over talus to the summit (I bypassed a fake summit in a wide arch), and at 12:50 pm, I was at the top.

The Chimney on the Mount Williamson West Face route

A climber in the Chimney.
(Mark B.'s archive photo from 2009, posted with permission).

Some 60 to 80 parties have summited this year so far. It's hard to tell how many exactly, because there are two notebooks in the register box; some people signed up only one of the notebooks, others used both. The most recent signatures were from three days earlier (July 24), when two separate parties made it to the top: first Steve Niles and Michael Andrews (and I am not sure that I got the spelling correctly), possibly from Oregon, followed by a solo climber, James O'Shaughnessy from DC later that afternoon (he wrote: "Not bad for an East Coast visitor, huh?"). Both parties had camped in the Williamson Bowl. (I met and talked to all three climbers on their way down to the trailhead as I was heading towards Shepherd Pass on July 25).

Views from the top of Williamson are really wonderful, and I would dare to say, quite better than views from Mount Whitney. The latter is about 5.2 miles to the south, and one can clearly see the stone hut at its summit. The top of Mount Tyndall, which I had reached a day earlier, is less than a mile and a half due west.

It was a warm and calm day, and I stayed at the summit till 1:30 pm. Then, it was time to go back, down the same route. Two hours later (although it felt much longer), I reached the nearest lake in the Bowl and refilled my water bottles there. A bit earlier, on my way down, and close to the "black stain" cascade, I found a dark blue Mountain Hardwear jacket with a water bottle in one of its pockets. Since there were no other climbers on/near the mountain that day, this article of clothing must have been lost some days earlier (or much earlier?). I left the jacket undisturbed. After crossing the ridge between the lakes, and making a slow and careful ascent over large talus out of the Williamson Bowl, I made it safely back to my tent at 5:45 pm.

Immediately after this hike I promised to myself never to climb that mountain again, but now, after couple of weeks, I am no longer sure that I would keep the promise. It actually was quite a fun trip (I think).


(1) 260-feet descent into Williamson Bowl over a jumble of large talus blocks commences here; (2) start of the route over a low ridge between the lakes in the bowl; (3) "black stain" (approximately); (4) the Chimney.

Map showing my route to Mount Williamson