I had envisioned doing a trip starting at Shepherds Pass and ending at Whitney Portal. The plan was to hike up Shepherds and bag Tyndall, Williamson, Trojan, Barnard, Russell, Whitney and Muir by going mostly cross country. I detailed my original plan here : http://www.highsierratopix.com/co...ty/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=14970 . My hiking partner for this trip was someone I had met from the bay area via land rover club contacts. I gave him the low down on the trip and he was on board. We penciled in the trip for the last weekend of Sept.
Thursday Sept 22, 2016:
I left the LA area around 10:00 after picking up a couple of last minute supplies from REI in Arcadia. The drive from LA up the 14 and 395 was pretty uneventful until I reached Mojave. At Mojave the winds really started to pick up and blow everyone around. It's a little unnerving seeing 18 wheelers getting blown sideways on the freeway next to you. The strong headwinds slowed progress, I drive a lifted Land Rover Discovery and needless to say I was getting blown around just about as bad as the semis. My original ETA to the visitor center in Lone Pine was around 1:30. Due to the strong winds slowing progress, and pulling over at Pearsonville to check and make sure that my hood was securely latched after seeing it blow around with the winds I arrived about 2:30. I went inside and detailed my route to the Ranger at the desk and got the appropriate walk up permit and wag bag since our proposed route was going to take us into the Whitney Zone. With the permit sorted I drove up the street to McDonalds and waited for my hiking partner to show up. He arrived right about 3, having driven south from the Bay Area and cutting across the 58 from the 5, wanting to avoid cutting through Yosemite and the 120. Same amount of time oddly enough, although his chosen route was about 100 miles longer in distance than taking 120 through the park.
With pleasantries dispensed with we proceeded to drive up to the Lone Pine Campground where we were going to leave his car for when we planned to hike out from Whitney Portal on Tuesday. We ran into the construction delays for the repaving project on Whitney Portal Road just outside of town and had to wait about 15 minutes for the pilot car to lead us up. Slowing following the pilot car up the road we arrived at the Lone Pine Campground a short while later. He parked and transferred all his gear into my truck and we headed out to the road to wait for the next pilot car to come back down. 10 minutes later we were behind the pilot car again, heading back down to Lone Pine. With the construction cleared we proceeded to make our way to the Shepherds Pass Trailhead. We got off the 395 at Manzanar and took dirt two track roads all the way to the trailhead, cutting off some distance by not driving all the way up to Independence and then cutting back over via Onion Valley Road.
We arrived at the trailhead around 4:15, got our gear sorted and proceeded to head up the trail from the hiker parking area at 4:30. The plan was to hike to Mahogany Flat and camp for the evening. We got under way, first hitting the John Muir Wilderness Boundary and then proceeding to make the four stream crossings of Symmes Creek before hitting the start of the 58 switchbacks that take you up to Symmes Saddle. We took our time, arriving at the saddle about 7:00, some 4.2 miles and two and a half hours after we began. At this point the sun had just recently set in earnest and darkness began to descend as twilight waned. We donned our headlamps and proceeded down the hill, loosing 500' of hard earned elevation over the next mile and a half before the trail begin to climb again, making the final push to Mahogany Flat. We covered the last mile and some change in just under an hour, arriving at Mahogany Flat right at 8:30, some four hours after we had began. Finding a suitable campsite and not moving uphill, we quickly donned a layer or two with the temps having dropped dramatically since night fall. Here and there there would be some stiff breezes coming down the mountain, adding to the chill. We set up camp and made dinner and sat around and chatted for a minute before retiring. Over the course of our discussions my hiking partner admitted that he may have bitten off more than he could chew on this trip, being thoroughly exhausted after making the climb to Mahogany Flat. He was considering bailing, and heading back out the next morning. Hrmm.. not what you want to hear at the beginning of a 5 day, mostly off trail excursion. Not wanting to admit defeat, especially with how difficult it had been to schedule this trip with work and family obligations, I told him that we would play it by ear the next day and see how he was feeling in the morning, going slower and adjusting our itinerary as needed. When we finally hit the sack around 10:00 the the air temp had already dropped to 28 degrees. We were in for a chilly night for sure.
At the trailhead looking out across the Owens Valley:
Sign denoting the John Muir Wilderness boundary:
Looking out from the switchbacks as you climb towards Symmes Saddle:
We woke with the sun on Friday morning. It was still pretty chilly as the sun had not fully risen above the ridgeline to our south. I had forgotten to pull my hydration bladder out of my pack and put it into my bivy the night before and having gotten well below freezing it was frozen solid. Rats. I grabbed my water bottle and hiked down to Shepherds Creek to get some non frozen water for breakfast. With the sun beginning to rise above the ridge and with warm food in our bellies we broke down camp and had a talk. I asked my partner how he was feeling now that he had gotten some rest. He replied that he was feeling much better, but he still wasn't sure that he was up to tackling our intended route. At this point I knew my original plan was out the window and we would have to play it as it came. I said we would amend our plan, by taking it slow up to Shepherds Pass and plan to do Tyndall on Saturday and Williamson on Sunday and hiking out via the way we came in on Monday. He liked the revised plan so we filled up with water, secured the last odds and sods, did a sweep of our camp area to make sure nothing was left behind and headed off up the trail at about 9:15.
Campsite at Mahogany Flat:
Looking up the canyon walls from our campsite:
We headed up making it through the rest of Mahogany Flat to where the trail climbs up towards Anvil Camp. At first I thought I heard wind whipping down the canyon, but I soon realized it was the sound of waterfall of Shepherds Creek as it tumbled down the cliffs from Anvil Camp to the valley below. Soon we came to where the trail had been washed out just before Anvil Camp a few years ago by heavy winter rains. This past summer trail crews have been out re-routing the trail to clear the slide area and make the crossing of the washout a non issue. The crews did a good job. They had to re-route the trail up the hillside a bit to where it could cross the washout in a place that would be stable with upcoming winter rains and not be washed out all over again. A little more elevation to gain and loose, but nothing to complain about.
Looking up the trail to the new crossing:
Looking down after the new crossing:
From here it was a short hike to Anvil Camp. We stopped and checked our water at the stream crossing. My friend had really went through his water so he stopped to fill up. Since we were stopping I took advantage and did the same. While filling my hydration bladder I looked up the stream a bit and it had gotten cold enough the night before that ice had encased some tree limbs near the water line, still being fully frozen at 11:00 am.
Anvil Camp Sign:
Icy Branches along Shepherds Creek:
From here it was up through the rest of Anvil Camp and to the Pothole. Just after the pothole we ran into a Ranger and the trail crew doing some last minute trail work before the season drew to a close. We stopped and chatted for a minute, the Ranger checked our permit and said that others coming down had seen a little ice on Williamson the day before so to keep an eye out when going up. As is the case with Shepherds pass, the name of the game is up, up and more up so on we continued until we came to the base of the pass proper. Looking up from the bottom you cant really see where the trail switchbacks it's way up to the top of the pass. We saw a person a bit ahead of us, so that gave us an idea where the trail meandered up through things. The hiker proceeding us had decided to stop and have a snack in the shade of a large boulder. We chatted with him for a second, and continued up the trail to the top of the pass.
Just after the Pothole:
Big ol Marmot keeping tabs on us as we hiked:
Trail through the talus and boulders just before you begin the hike up to the pass:
Looking up to the pass with a hiker just to the left of mid frame below the snow patch:
The view down from the top of Shepherds Pass:
It had taken us about 4 hours to make it to the top of the pass from camp. A decent pace, but we sure weren't going to break any speed records on this hike From the pass we made our way down the trail, passing familiar signs I had seen from other peoples photos of the area:
Mount Tyndall in the distance:
Sign denoting you were entering Sequoia NP:
From here we cut across on a good use trail towards Mount Tyndall. When we got to the lake closest to the pass we decided to sit down and take a bit of a breather, eat some snacks and rest in the warm sun for a bit
Lake 12011 with Polychrome Peak to the Left and Mount Tyndall to the right:
Out across the Tyndall Creek Drainage with Mount Tyndall on the left, Great Western Divide in the center, and Diamond Mesa & Junction Peak to the right:
We planned to set up camp in the bowl area that is in between Polychrome Peak and Mount Tyndall. This works out well as it makes a short approach to both Mount Tyndall and to the Williamson bowl, with the added bonus of there being a decent sized tarn to get water from and a couple of big boulders to set our tents up near and shelter from the wind. We made a short hike of it and set up camp. While we were finishing up setting up our camp another hiker came up and started to chat. IIRC his name was Mike and he had started 8 days prior at Buckeye Flat on the west side of the park. He had meandered down and around, up through Black Rock Pass, through the Big Arroyo, down into the Kern Canyon and up the JMT/PCT where he had caught the Shepherds Pass Trail and was enroute to go camp down in the Williamson Bowl that evening to be in place to summit Williamson the next day. After Williamson he was planning to hike out Shepherds Pass to Independece and then try to get a ride to Onion Valley to make his way towards Roads End where he had left his truck at the start of this trip. We wished him well and he set off towards the Williamson Bowl and we decided since there was still ample light, to make a quick climb of Polychrome Peak.
Our campsite next to the boulders in the saddle:
Williamson, Trojan, Versteeg, and Tyndall from Polychrome Peak:
Heading down Polychrome to camp:
After we got back to camp we ate dinner and my hiking buddy retired for the night. After it was sufficiently dark I set up my camera on a tripod to get some star photos. Fortunately we positioned just right to catch the Milky Way over Mount Tyndall. After taking a few pics I threw on my extra layer of clothes and hopped into my bivy for the night.
We woke up to a crisp bluebird morning for our ascent of Mount Tyndall. We stuffed our day packs with snacks and water and proceeded to make the quick hike across the boulders and talus that guard the approach to the north rib route on Mount Tyndall. As we started to climb we aimed to the right of the rib proper, where the rocks and scree on the rib transition to slab. The climbing on this route was all solid class three which made it easy to pick our way up the rib to the summit. The crux of this route to keep it solid class three is to transition across the rib proper to the left when you near the top. When you transit across this will put you below a nice mellow chute that angles up and to the right and spits you out on the ridge line. Once you attain the ridge line it's an easy boulder hop to the summit, as long as you stay to the right side of the ridge line. The left side of the ridge line is pretty sheer. At the end of the ridge line you have the summit block and a small area where you can shelter from the wind and expansive views of the surrounding environs. We had made decent time, starting at 8:50 and arriving at the summit at 11:45 We hung out in the shelter of some of the blocks near the summit for around an hour taking pics, relaxing in the sun and snacking a bit.
Mount Tyndall from camp:
On the approach:
On the margin to the right of the north rib where the broken rock and rubble transitions to slab looking up to the summit:
Looking down towards the tarn from about halfway up the north rib:
Just after coming out onto the ridge line from the chute above the north rib:
Looking across the bowl to Mount Wlliamson:
Mount Tyndall summit block:
Looking west to the Kern Trench, Milestone Mountain and the Great Western Divide:
My hiking partner and myself with Williamson behind us from the summit of Tyndall:
After we rested for a while we discussed how we should get down the mountain. First option was to return back the way we came. Second option was to head down the northwest ridge route and then poke around the Tyndall Creek drainage for the rest of the day. Third option was to backtrack towards the saddle between Mount Tyndall and it's southern peak and scree ski our way down to the valley below where lake 11,959 is nestled. From lake 11,959 we would have to circumnavigate the southern peak of Mount Tyndall and make our way through the Wright Lakes basin, up and over Rockwell Pass, and then head up the Tyndall Creek drainage along the Shepherds Pass Trail for part of the trip back to camp. Option three sounded like the most adventurous so we decided on that one since we didn't have anything planned the rest of the day.
Well, what was intended to be an easy scree ski down and a bit of a boulder hop at the bottom turned into a time sucking loose unstable talus hop all the way down when we angled down slope at a faster rate than we intended. About 500' from the bottom we ran into some cliff bands that we had to climb back up and find a way through. It took a little poking around but we finally found a little spot with an easy down climb. From there we were able to continue on our talus hop until the talus gave way to big boulders and make out way down to the lake. While intended to be a faster way to the bottom, our little talus hopping adventure had taken almost as long to get down as it had to summit. We looked at the quickest way to get around lake 11,959 and the north side looked like it was the easiest going but the southern side seemed more direct, even if it involved hopping over a lot of boulders. We took the southern route, and thankfully so as from the summit of Tyndall and where we originally came down you couldn't see how lake 11,959 sort of dog legs around making the route longer. Once we cleared the lake we set off down a set of grassy ramps that run on some shelfy bits above Wright Creek. We poked our way around going back and forth trying to find the path of least resistance down. After a few false starts we found an easy route down off the benches and proceeded to make a b-line down to the north side of the Wright Lakes basin, contouring around the base of the south peak of Mount Tyndall. Rounding a couple of small lakes we proceeded west and then north cross country up to Rockwell Pass. Just short of the pass we came across the use trail that leads to the pass proper so we went up and over the pass via that route. Once over Rockwell pass you decend into the Tyndall Creek Basin. We headed northeast until we intersected the Shepherds Pass Trail which we followed until the drainage from the small tarn we were camped near came into view. Up that drainage to the east and back to our campsite. We arrived back to camp just after sunset, with enough ambient light to start making dinner by.
The south side of Tyndall below where we had to bypass some cliffy stuff:
Looking out southeast across lake 11,959 with Mount Barnard to the right of frame:
Pano looking back up to Tyndall
Coming down the north side of the Wright Creek drainage.
Diamond Mesa, Junction Peak, Mount Keith and Shepherds Pass from Rockwell Pass:
A side note. As it had gotten dark quite quickly after we returned to camp we were eating by headlamp by the time our food was ready. While scarfing our dinner for that night we looked up and saw a lone light moving down Mount Tyndall. The route this person was taking was well to the left of the North Rib Route and moving quite fast. With the speed this guy was moving I was sure that he was rapping down. The light got closer to the base and then finally disappeared. My hiking buddy went to bed and I sat up to see if this person made it down alright. After about 10 minutes you could see the headlamp pop up again making its way towards our camp. The guy finally arrived and I talked with him for a second. He was not rapping down, just making his way down the mountain fast in the dark way off route. Turns out we had passed his tent the day before. He had camped out right off the trail in the pothole, and way too close to the stream. Apparently the Ranger cut him some slack since he pitched in the dark and it was the only semi flat spot in that area. He had hiked Williamson on Friday and had gotten a late start on Saturday to climb Tyndall via the Northwest Ridge. He had apparently gotten off route on the way up and someone else on Tyndall got him steered the right direction. When coming down it got dark and he again got off route coming down the north rib route. No maps, no GPS. Just navigating on a wing and a prayer apparently. I wished him good luck getting back to his camp at the Pothole and he took off again at a decent jog. I looked over after a minute and he was heading pretty much in a b-line for Polychrome Peak not towards the easy way to the Shepherds Pass and back to his campsite. I tried shouting to him to give him direction but he was too far across the way. After a few futile attempts I said forget it and went back to camp to throw on my base layer before I headed to bed.
We awoke with the rising sun that morning. We made our breakfast and while sitting around waiting for our various oatmeals and what have you to fully re-hydrate we began to talk about the upcoming day. We were both a little beat after the long decent coming down the back side of Tyndall over all sorts of shifty loose talus, scree and boulders the day before. Since things on this trip had gone off plan from pretty much the get go and neither of us had the drive necessary to tackle Williamson that day we decided to pack up camp and head back down the trail. We took our time packing up things and finally hit the trail around 9:00. The weather was nice, a little chilly at the pass but as we descended in elevation things started to warm up. As we passed the Pothole we saw that the fellow who had descended Tyndall in the dark had made it back to camp successfully. We asked how the rest of this trip down to camp went, he said it was pretty uneventful onceto he found Shepherds Pass. We trudged on down the trail, passing the Ranger and one of the trail workers out for a hike on their day off. Making through anvil camp we stopped right before the shade ran out and pulled off our long sleeve layers and stowed them for the last remaining bit of the trail. Down past the now repaired washout, through Mahogany Flat, descending to where the trail bottoms out an then starts to climb back upwards to Symmes Saddle, finally cresting the saddle then making our way down the 58 switchbacks (there are indeed 58, I counted. 6,9 23 and 31 being the longest iirc.), across the 4 crossings of Symmes Creek and finally out of the wilderness to the trail head where my truck was waiting.
Looking down Shepherds Pass from the top:
Looking back up towards the pass from between Anvil Camp and Mahogany Flat:
My hiking partner making it up the last bit of the climb to Symmes Saddle before we begin the trudge down the switchbacks:
All in all a good trip. Not the trip I had planned by any means, but we made the best of it and still had a good time. Knocked another of the 14ers off my list and saw an area I don't think I would have normally ventured into without a good reason (Wright Lakes basin) The traverse from Williamson down to Whitney & Muir is still on my list. I just need to be sure that my hiking partner is up to the task well before hand next time
The main road from Onion Valley Rd all the way to the hiker trail head was in great shape. There were a few larger rocks here and there but nothing you couldn't drive around if you had a low slung car. There were plenty of small compact cars in the parking area, including a Honda Fit and a Chevy Spark. 4x4 definitely not required or needed currently.
The route we drove in was via some two track from the back side of Manzanar to the hiker trail head parking. That track was pretty rough in spots and had a decent washout that a small car would drag both going in and coming out.
Great trip. I really like the shot of Diamond Mesa.
I was in Big Pine Creek area that weekend and at times overnight it was so windy it sounded like I was camped on the 210. No snow or ice up there but also not as high in the lakes basin. _________________ "Argue for your limitations and sure enough they're yours"
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