Whitney, the Kaweahs, the Great Western Divide, Tyndall and beyond from the summit of Mount Williamson
“Going to the mountains is going home” -John Muir
It’s been too long. I joined the machine and got a “Real Job.” I built my own lab this past fall (more on that later!). But the High Sierra are my home away from home. Last weekend I completed a seven year journey to climb each California’s fifteen peaks over 14,000 ft…and each with a twist, be it a linkup, speed ascent, winter ascent or a non-standard route.
Looking back down to the Owens Valley floor. If you want to climb Williamson, you have to earn it from the bottom.
No peak was more challenging nor turned me back more than bulky Mount Williamson. It’s not that Williamson is the most technical, nor the most mileage. It’s just one of the bigger, more inaccessible piles of rubble you’ll encounter. Williamson’s routes are nearly Alaskan or Himalayan in proportion as they start from the Owens Valley floor, over 8,000 ft below the summit. They involve miles of up and down trail, thousands of feet of bushwhacking, scree, scrambling or rock climbing. For my fifth (or thereabouts) attempt on Williamson, I opted for the loose, brush-filled, icy boulder-hopping, snow climbing and scrambling sufferfest that is the North Fork of Bairs Creek. I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I eat this stuff up!
The lower portions of the Bairs Creek drainage are choked by willows and icy waterfalls.
My flat-ish bivy site
I got a super late start on Saturday because I-5 had been closed the day before due to an accident. I climbed the 1,500 or so feet to the “hard to find” notch, dropped down into the icy creek bed, and ascended thousands of feet of loose rock, willows and thorns to a decent bivy spot at ~9,600 ft. I felt quite good, hydrated well and had a nice dinner of noodle soup before turning in for the night. In the morning, I brewed up, hydrated and boulder hopped thousands of feet up to the crux of the route, a snowy couloir that provided excellent cramponing up to the 13,000 ft plateau beneath the summit slopes. A while later, I was on top, making the first winter ascent of the season and with the high sierra to myself. A fast and relatively uneventful descent (minus some inevitable thrashing) had me eating a nice dinner in town.
The headwall guarding access to the upper mountain
The upper slopes of Williamson…still 1500 more feet of boulderhopping
Whitney and Russell to the south
Williamson’s Horns and the Owens Valley 10,000 feet below
A closer look at the slopes of the headwall
The Fourtneeners, a retrospective
Thanks to all with whom I shared these magnificent adventures…they wouldn’t have been the same without you!! Here are some highlights from fourteener trips…
Langley (with Mike) We went up this one dry Thanksgiving via a variation of Old Army Pass. The climbing wasn’t the most memorable, but Mike ate a heroic amount of french fries in Lone Pine!
Looking up at icy Old Army Pass, Mount Langley
Russell, Whitney, Muir (and Keeler Needle) (with John and Dave) What a blast. We went up the East Ridge of Russell…perhaps the finest 3rd class route I’ve ever been on (sorry Keyhole Route on Long’s Peak). I threw in Keeler and Muir for good measure and then had a death march back to the Portal.
Russell’s East Ridge (right skyline) from the summit of Whitney.
Traversing back to the Mountaineer’s Route notch during a winter dayclimb of Whitney
Williamson Can’t count the times I’ve said I was going to do this, but I made it up Shepherd’s pass a couple times alone and with Warren, not to mention the honest effort on the Northeast Ridge with Brad
Big Will from the lower Northeast Ridge
Tyndall One day winter ascent with Warren who also liked big days in winter.
A moment of reflection high on Tyndall
Split Mountain Tried once before I soloed the St. Jean Couloir in winter. Wish I hadn’t lost my camera after the ascent!
St. Jean Couloir, Split Mountain
Middle Palisade I ran the stellar East Face route in 7:28 round trip, which I think due to some strange technicality may be the fastest known time. It’s hard to imagine given how fast the 14er records are these days that this wouldn’t be hours faster. Nonetheless, a fine day in the mountains on one of the nicest peaks in the high country. Brainerd and Finger Lakes are the gems they’re talked up to be.
Finger Lake below Middle Pal
Thunderbolt, Starlight, North Palisade, Polemonium Peak, Mount Sill (with Warren) The Palisades Traverse is still the longest day I’ve ever had in the mountains, a full 26 hours (2 sunrises in one day!!!). What a spectacular adventure. We didn’t summit Sill, but I climbed the North Couloir after graduating undergrad only to break my arm tripping on the trail at First Lake (sorry Dad and Sue!)
Looking back on North Palisade, Starlight and Thunderbolt. This was the second sunrise of our 26 hour continuous push.
Free soloing high on Starlight
White Mountain Peak Casually ran this in 2:58 car to car, also a fastest known time. Same as Middle Pal, I’d be shocked if some Yosemite hard man hasn’t run this faster.
Shasta (Tried a couple times, first with Leor, turned back due to insane winds) Finally got the weather right after my first expedition to Nepal in 2010. I soloed the Casaval Ridge in 27 hours…Stanford to Stanford. Just 11 hours on the route proper. One of my finest days ever in the mountains. Sunrise from the Catwalk was among the best I’ve ever seen.
Sunrise during an 11 hour winter solo of Casaval Ridge, Mount Shasta