Williamson Day Hike via George Creek
George Creek May Make You Hate Yourself - July 5, 2014
There are certain things you don't do before a big hike like 14,375 foot Mount Williamson: you don't decide to day hike it the night before, and you certainly don't ever start at George Creek. My boyfriend and I managed to do both. That wasn't the original plan – Jason and I wanted to do Shepard's Pass, but permits were sold out which only left George Creek. We also planned to take advantage of the long holiday weekend for July 4th and climb it over two days, but as I read trip reports the night before our hike, I declared I thought we should day hike the roughly 12 miles and 8K of gain. In ten hours we would wake up and toss our sleeping bags and tent out of our packs. At 4:30am we were off!
We were well aware of the nightmare stories that came out of George Creek – a primitive canyon with no sanctioned trail, and a nasty bushwhack that sends many back to the trailhead with their tail between their legs.
Within a minute of that thought we became utterly lost and turned around. There is a distinct jungle-like area of overgrowth and fallen trees that is not mentioned in the directions. For about forty minutes we pushed our way through thick growth and crossed the creek back and forth. We looked for a use trail or for cairns and found nothing. How quickly we became victims of George Creek’s snare! We would follow what appeared to be a use trail, only to find it vanish, or we'd chase someone else's footprints hoping it lead to a way through. “This might not be the best way” Jason and I would say to each other, “but it’s a way.”
By this time the sun was fully up and it was getting very hot. “This SUCKS!” we both muttered. We were demoralized to discover we were at 8,000 feet – we had only gained 2,000 feet in three hours! How the hell were we going to day hike the second tallest mountain in the state gaining 650 feet an hour? Begrudgingly we pushed on, following what appeared to be little sections of use trail here and there.
There is no official trail up George Creek, it is a truly wild canyon with only use trails and best bets. We were wasting time looking for the ‘trail’ and soon decided to ditch the directions and just
Finally we were making progress and it looked like we might actually be able to summit this thing when “cRaCK!” My carbon fiber trekking pole snapped in two. I let out the loudest groan possible with the little amount of energy I had to spare. “You’ve got to be KIDDING me!” I shouted. “I HATE George Creek!” Jason calmed me down and immediately started gathering sticks to splint the pole. I sat on a rock and grumbled that I thought we should quit. We were fools for thinking we could day hike Williamson from George Creek. I told Jason that if we were to hit the summit we would most likely be returning in the dark, and I was highly afraid of trying to find our way back in that mess by the tiny beam of a headlamp – it would be nearly impossible. If we were hiking it as an overnight trip we would be in fine position to set up camp and relax, but like ass holes we left all our overnight gear at the car.
While I worried aloud, Jason splinted my pole and handed it back to me. It held my weight surprisingly well. I set a turnaround time of 3pm – if we weren't on the summit by then we'd head back as fast as we could before darkness fell. We headed up the slope below the southeast ridge plateau, heading between the two beautiful rock towers. Out of the choking riparian terrain and into the alpine, I finally felt like I was climbing. Despite all our frustrations, George Creek is a lovely area and we tried to not let our hindrances distract us from the beauty.
Soon we were hiking up the broad, wide slope toward the top. The hiking was quite enjoyable when you could avoid the sliding talus fields. We topped out on the huge summit
It was 2:30 when we departed the summit, ten hours after we started. I predicted that there was a 100% chance that I would hate myself on the way down - we dreaded descending back into the maze and heat of the valley floor. Our main goal was to get back to the car before dark, and not get caught in the web that is lower George Creek.
Scree skiing down to the meadows was fun and quick. As the day turned to evening a few mosquitoes made and appearance and we sprayed a little Deet, fearful that we might get eaten alive as we climb lower. Thankfully the swarm never came, despite the fact it was July 4th weekend. The low snowpack from the dry 2013-14 winter seemed to produce a mellow season for mosquitoes.
On the hike down, the trail that Bob Burd describes in his directions clearly came into focus! All the markers and creek crossings we hopelessly missed on our
Quickly and easily we descended hoping to beat the sun. When we arrived again at the jungley part of our hike, despite having found 'the trail,' we got ensnared again. Slowly we picked our way through as the last light of the day vanished. We turned on our headlamps as we arrived back at the waterfall. This was the 'easy' part of the hike in, so we thought it would be a quick escape back to the car. But, standing there in the dark with nothing but the narrow wedge of light from our lamps, everything looked like a trail. If I had just brought a brighter light! Jason then proved his worth by pulling out his trusty 100 watt LED flashlight that he had thrown into his bag last minute while packing that morning. The light was a life saver!
We pushed our way downstream thinking we were on the right path before realizing we should have come to the last creek crossing by now. We got out our trusty cell phone to see where we were on the GPS only to find that we were directly across the creek from our car! We had missed the last creek crossing a half a mile ago and the 'trail' and cairns we were following were a figment. We had not been taking the best way, but it was a way.We certainly didn't care, we were just happy to be done! We took off our boots and waded across the creek and nearly sprinted back to the car. It was 9:30pm, 17 hours after we set out.
- Foremost was the priceless 100 watt flashlight Jason brought for route finding in the dark. Without it we would have wasted tons of time searching in the dark.
- This trip also solidified my fear of route finding at night on unfamiliar trails. If we had been delayed by just an hour we would have ended up making our way through the worst of the bushwhacking in at night which would have mutated our long day out into a crazy epic. On future day hikes like this I might feel safer having a sleeping bag or bivy knowing how much stress I'd save myself just by hunkering down for the night and enjoying a night of camping. I love having the ability to day hike 14ers and pushing myself to do so, but there's nothing wrong with slowing down once in a while and going overnight.
- Also priceless in George Creek is a bottle of Deet or bug repellant.
- Marking where your car in on a GPS!
- We took garden gloves and mosquito nets as was advised but never used either of them.
- I'd also say long pants are a must. We both wore pants and even still our legs got pretty cut up.
Many times during the day I cursed George Creek, but truly I love this place. This unique area shows the stark contrast between the tamed paths of other trailheads, and a canyon unbridled. So easily we take for granted the ease at which we can soar up to alpine terrain on well beaten, annually maintained tracks. George Creek is wild and untouched, seldom visited and lightly tred upon. (Yet, there are many reminders of others presence there, as the area is scattered with garbage and old cans dating back decades.) We need places like these left on the map, places untouched and almost virgin. Too easy it would be to build some bridges over the creek and plow a trail up the canyon. Instead we have the legendary George Creek, which never lets anyone pass without a fight.