Since the Bighorn Sheep Zoological Area and Mt Williamson will be closed from July 16 through December 14, this would be my last chance to hike Mt Williamson this year.
I headed out of the Shepard Pass Trail Head on a comfortable and moonless night (~1:30 am). Had to take my boots off to cross the first Symmes Creek crossing, while the other 3 creek crossing were tricky but manageable with boots on. Then up the switchbacks to Symmes Creek Saddle and down the sandy slopes and over to Mahogany Flats by ~4:00 am. The headlamp lighting of the sandy slopes made it difficult to tell exactly where the trail was on the tilted slope (a weird sensation).
Arrived at Anvil Camp at 5:15 am, got a refill of water, a snack and stowed the headlight. Saw the sunrise at 5:30 am as I approached the Pothole. Found it wise to use crampons to get up the morning-frozen snow pack on Shepard Pass. Left Shepard Pass at 6:50 and got to the edge of the Williamson Bowl at 7:30 where I met Ed who was also on a solo hike up Williamson from Anvil Camp.
We descended into the bowl and navigated through the moraine fields and tricky sun cups. These man-eating sun cups could be up to 2 feet deep and were frozen in the morning and thawed by noon (the thawed ones are the nastiest). Although only about 1 mile, as the crow fly’s, from entering the Williamson Bowl to the base of the West Face (just under the black stain), it’s actually about 2 serpentine miles and took us about 1.5 hours.
Once across the bowl, we put on the crampons and decided to head up the snow tongue to the right of the black stain to pick up about 500 ft and then made an easy traverse left across a scree slope into the snow-filled main chute of the West Face route. This avoided the black stain and 2 crampon on/off transitions. The main chute was filled with hard-pack snow which makes going up the chute much easier than when it’s filled with just scree. Dropped the packs at the end of the snow chute, then up the dry chimney pitch to the summit plateau and the final ridge scramble where we saw Tom & Tom of Pasadena as they were just coming off the top at 10:45. Tom, Tom, Ed and I were the only ones to summit on Sat. We stayed on top for ~40 minutes enjoying the spectacular views, snacks, very mild weather and signing one of the crummiest summit register in existence (a small rusty can with 3 pieces paper from a notepad). Hopefully Mt Williamson will be getting a more appropriate summit register that it deserves.
Back down the chimney pitch ~11:45 and down the snow chute with crampons on just to be safe. Around noon the sun had only thawed about the first inch of snow over hard pack. I suspect with another 1 hour of sun you could easily and safely descend with just plunge steps. Once at the bottom of the West Face chute we stowed the crampons for the last time. It took another 1.5 hours to get out the bowl with those nasty sun cups and got back to Shepard Pass at 2:45. At the pass we visited Griff, Marty (my brother in law and nephew), Tony and Jim at their campsite and where they were seeking refuge under a large boulder from the strong afternoon sun and planning for Tyndall the next day.
A quick and safe glissade down the sun-soften snow on Shepard Pass, then passed the Pothole, and arrive at Anvil Camp ~4:00. Said good bye to Ed at his camp site and thanked him for the camaraderie on a great hike.
On the rest of the hike back, I only saw 2 backpackers, 1 marmot, 1 grouse, but no deer. Approaching Symmes Creek I could see the magnitude of a very large avalanche that clogs the Symmes Creek for a thousand feet above the 3 creek crossing. Boots off again for the last creek crossing to cool off the tried old feet and then back to the car by 7:00 pm.
Overall, a great & challenging day hike/climb that took about 17.5 hours and involved about 28 miles and ~10,000 ft gain/loss.