I completed the West Face of Mt. Williamson in a day trip from Shepherd Pass Trailhead. This is how I did it.
I live in Big Pine, and I left at 11:22pm. I drove to Independence, which takes about a half an hour. Then I drove up to the Shepherd Pass trail trailhead arriving at 12:15am. There were about 15 vehicles parked at the trailhead with no one around. There are no bear boxes at the trailhead.
I prepared to go. I put on sun lotion and bug spray. Once all prepared, I left with GPS taking tracking information at 12:35am.
I hiked up in the dark, listening to CD music. My LED headlamp worked wonderfully and the trail was pleasant to hike on and peaceful in the Sierra night. There are 4 water crossing near the bottom of the trail which aren't too difficult to cross over large rocks in the water. The trail soil is easy to hike in running shoes (which I wore) and is soft and is easy on the feet. The trail is also in fine shape with minimal plants across it.
I continued on up and soon made my way up the switchbacks. The grade is never too steep and it is easy to hike on up the trail. There are about 50 switchbacks that make their way through some large pines. I saw a tent on a switchback corner with 2 packs by it. Just up from the tent, was a bear container by the trail. I never saw bear tracks the whole day. At 3.81 miles (GPS tracking), I arrived almost at the top of the hill. I had taken the numbers near the top, thinking I was at the top. The very top of the hill, before the descent is about 4 miles up trail. To the top of the hill, it took just over 2 hours.
From the top of the hill, in the dark, I began running down the hill. The hill descends 1.445 miles (GPS tracking) from where I began running. Since I started about .2 below the top, it is actually about 1.25 miles of descent. The trail is easy to run-same soft footing, although not slippery. I enjoyed my run where it ended at the bottom of the hill 5.25 miles (GPS tracking) from the trailhead. I was at the bottom of the hill in just under 3 hours.
I hiked on up and past Mahogany Flat. There are lots of Manzanita bushes around there. The trail passes some campsites and continued on up through the area. I enjoyed the peace and serenity. At about 4:45am, I could see without my headlamp and turned off the light. The sun came up pink/magenta in color.
I continued hiking up and arrived at the Anvil Camp sign at 5:20am. It took just under 5 hours to get there. This was 8.24 miles (GPS tracking) up the trail. There was one tent at the camp. The camp is in the trees and it was peaceful and pleasant in the new light of day.
I continued on up and passed some very pleasant scenery. The trail makes its way through city park groomed like bushes and streams. It is very peaceful. The trail goes up over sidewalk like glacier concrete and over some small stones that cover bigger rocks. The trail goes over small hills and eventually I came to some snow across a tiny space between the small hills. It was about 30 yards. I easily crossed the snow in steps left by other hikers. It is easy to go around the snow as desired. The terrain is more rocky as it continues toward the pass. The trail is good through this rougher terrain. There were two tents by the trail and I said hi to a fellow by them. I continued on up and neared the foot of the pass' steeper terrain. The trail increased in grade and I left a small cairn where it was too steep to safely run down it (running down was my intent). This is at 9.93 miles (GPS tracking) up the trail. This was at 6:44am.
I continued up the switchbacks toward the pass. The trail continues up at fine grade that isn't too difficult to ascend. I did so in running shoes, with no hiking poles and carrying about a 10 pound pack on my back. I just hiked on up the thing. Approaching the pass, the trail and scenery is very scenic. Near the top of the pass, the trail crosses snow in a shoot. Although I brought along instep crampons, I didn't use them, and hiked carefully in the steps dug into the shoot and across it. The shoot crossing almost goes level grade across the snow. The crossing of the snow was about 40 yards. The last little bit to the top of the pass is not very steep in grade and the panorama opens up to you!
Once up on the pass plateau, Mt. Tyndall, Mt. Williamson, the Williamson Bowl and Lake 3661 are before you. The pass below is in sight. The views are great-bring your camera! Just up the trail from arriving at the pass, is the official Shepherd Pass/Sequoia National Park sign. This is where I took my numbers. I arrived at 7:14am, which was just under 7 hours. It was 10.29 miles (GPS tracking) from trailhead to Shepherd Pass sign.
From the sign, I set out toward Mt. Williamson. From the pass sign, the terrain is easy to hike on for about a mile. I spotted a tent by Lake 3661. I continued on the similar-to-trail dirt. This dirt is tiny little granite pebbles and this is how nearly the entire Shepherd Trail is. At one mile to the Southeast from the pass sign, there is another sign. The sign says you are entering the Bighorn Protected Area (the area was left it at pass sign) that is protected from July 16 through December.
Soon after a mile to the southeast from the pass, the terrain gets more rocky. You make a descent to the ridge between Lakes 3713 and 3597. These are boulders to cross over and around. Some of the boulders are car size and others are more like a bean bag chair. I noticed on the way back, that if you go a little to the east and stay adjacent with the center of the ridge to the southeast, the boulders are a bit easier to cross.
Once arriving between Lakes 3713 and 3597, the better route I found, was to go near Lake 3713. Then stay to the south and go around a small cliff on its south side. Then continue right over to the Lake 3733-right to the shore that is a good place for final water pickup or good on the way back.
From Lake 3733, if you look directly due east, you will see the "Black Stain" so often mentioned. This is water run off from actual shoot to ascend to the summit. The Black Stain is at coordinates N36.65432, W118.31733. The Black Stain may be viewed on a satellite photo of the area (See the program USAPhotoMaps to view the satellite photo).
I ascended toward the Black Stain. It is steeper here than anything encountered thus far. The grade here is similar the entire .5 mile/1500' to the summit. The Black Stain is water falling over a grade 3 small cliff. Although it is possible to ascend the cliff without ropes, it is not necessary. The actual shoot to ascend to the summit stands directly behind the Black Stain. The most logical thing to do is to go around the 75 foot wide cliff on the scree on either side of it.
I left my pack near the Black Stain to reduce weight. I brought my camera and GPS.
I chose to go on the right/south side of the Black Stain. I made my way up and needed to climb up a little steeper terrain-nothing spectacular. Some have called this section a little class 3. This steep section contains about 10 feet of steeper rocks.. call it what you will. At this point, I checked my GPS and saw that I was indeed south of the true route up the shoot. I headed north and this where I made it to the route up the shoot once more. This was directly above the Black Stain, and truly in the shoot just up from it. Basically, you need to get above the Black Stain and take the shoot up from it.
I continued my climbing up the shoot. There are small hiker trails between the scree. These trails will help on finding the route the entire way up the shoot. The route is not difficult to follow, although the small trails assure you are going the right way. The small trails are made from coming down the shoot-when sliding and hiking down is easier. The way up however, is difficult to ascend on these small trails since they are slippery in ascent. I found it best to parallel the trails and step on large rocks for grip. I also found that by using my hands to hold onto these rocks was useful. The ascent is steep, although not at all scary. I found I needed to rest every 15 or so steps. I sat resting letting my heart relax and it was peaceful. My heart would go up to 150-160 beats a minute during my bursts of climbing.
Eventually, the shoot arrives at some snow covering the way. There is a difficult to pass cliff on the left side of the snow, and the snow is about 30 yards wide. On the right side of the snow, are rocks. Far to the right of the rocks is another shoot. When I had arrived at the snow, I wasn't sure what to do. I had read someone else had gone on the rocks on the right side of some snow. I guess this was the snow. I at first headed a bit up the shoot on the right side of the rocks that are to the right of the snow. This was the wrong way. I read this in the R.J. Secor "High Sierras" book. This is a good book. I printed out his description of the route and also the description in the book "Climbing California's Fourteeners". The printout of the book's descriptions came in handy while on the trip. I also used topo map printouts. Before I continued up the shoot to the right of the snow, I read my printouts from the books. I saw it was the wrong way to the right. I instead, carefully, made my way up along the rocks on the right side of the snow. I also spotted some steps in the snow and stepped in the steps myself. I found with some patience and care, I could make my way around the snow. I persisted and soon was around the about 50 yards of snow. The steeper section of rocks were only about 30 feet in distance. These snow detour rocks may be considered class 3, although they are similar to climbing a jungle gym at a city park.
After the snow, I continued up the shoot. I rested, climbed, rested, climbed. I eventually came to the very top of the shoot and found it to be a sheer drop into the Owen's Valley! I knew at this point, that it was time to traverse to the right as I read in the descriptions of the route.
I easily made my way to the right on the typical scree in the shoot. I came to the class 3 cliff described so many times before.
I faced the class 3 cliff. There was a cairn at the bottom of the class 3 section. I read in the Secor book that to the right, there was a class three and the alternative version was class 3 to the left. Seeing the route to the right, that was a ramp, it looked unsafe without rope or balls. The alternate route that was up a crack to the left that looked much more safe. There were some rocks wedged in the crack. Holding onto these wedged rocks, I stepped up and looked ahead and saw the "Chock Rock" that is described in the Secor book. I knew that this was probably the route I wanted to take. I carefully pulled myself up and felt pretty good in the chimney/crack. The crack was wide enough for me to hold onto rock edges along the way and pull myself up between its sides-about 2 feet wide. It's steepness was about 60-70 degrees and not a sheer drop. Using care and patience, I carefully made my way up the chimney/crack. I tested each grip rock edge and eventually came to the Chock Rock. This Chock Rock is a boulder that is wedged in the chimney/crack at the top of the class 3. The Chock Rock is at the very top of the class 3. Secor's book says crawl under the Chock Rock to emerge at the summit plateau. I crawled under it and climbed up about 10 feet of Class 2 with the Chock Rock and more behind me, and was astonished at the beauty! The Summit Plateau was a wide open and huge, level area!! I was safe!! There were some several small spotty patches of snow and I promptly ate some snow since I had left my water below and I was thirsty.
According to the topo and the actual lay of the land, I hiked onto the summit plain and around to the northeast of the true summit. From there, I hiked/climbed up over the boulders about 150 feet higher toward the summit. A couple climbers yelled hi from the summit plateau below me. One said that I was almost there! I yelled back, "the snow is good to eat!". The final boulder crossing to the summit is over about 4-8 foot wide boulders and is class 2.
I arrived at the summit! The summit is clearly the highest of a few smaller peaks at the summit area. It is the highest peak to the southeast. The summit peak I arrived at was a level area about 20x20 feet. There was a brass survey marker with nothing on it. There was no summit register on the day I arrived. I took lots of photos and soon after left.
I made my way down from the summit along an easier slope to the northeast/right. I hiked across the summit plateau to my class 3 top. There is a cairn at the top of the class 3. I had a GPS fix of the bottom of the class 3 crack and verified I was at the right place by this nearby fix. I suggest either marking the top of the class 3 with your own cairn or take a GPS fix to make sure you are at the right place. I made sure I was at the place by peeking down and seeing the "Chock Rock".
Starting down looked a bit steep. I carefully got going. I arrived safely at the Chock Rock. I made my way under it and faced belly skyward as going down, turning a bit to the right holding onto rocks. I carefully lowered myself-using a lot of arm strength. I found that by using my hands gripping, and my arms, shoulders and hips wedging, I was pretty darned secure coming down the chimney/crack. I slowly made my way down and was soon in sight of the bottom! I carefully lowered myself the final feet and made it! Whew!
I began down the scree. It was MUCH easier descending than ascending. I didn't need a rest going down the scree. I followed the little trails on the way down the scree shoot. I stopped occasionally like a "hockey skate" stop-both feet parallel. Other times, I just kind of did zig zags with my feet. It was basically fun.
Eventually, I arrived at the snow. There were birds flying around the snow and stepping on it eating little bugs. I climbed down around it. It was easier than the class 3 crack and I felt good now about my body strength and I felt secure. About halfway on the snow, I stopped, and ate some. I watched the birds eating. It was peaceful-this was their home. I completed the snow detour and knew that the terrain was basically class 2 the rest of my trip!
I continued down with frozen "Helen of Troy" Lake in the distance. I soon was at the bit steeper 10 foot section to the south of the Black Stain. I picked up my pack. I had a GPS fix on my pack and this made it easy to find it. After arriving at the pack, I immediately took a drink-I was thirsty!
I headed down to Lake 3733, and picked up some water. I used Micropur Water Purifier Tablets. I drank the water after 30 minutes of "purifying" and the water tasted like chlorinated pool water. This is the first time I used these tablets. I was thirsty enough and drank it anyway.
I made my way around the left/west side of the small cliff and passed near the water's edge of Lake 3733. There were some campers by the lake and yelled hi and we exchanged waves.
I made my way up the last rubble pile of boulders and tried to follow any vague trails there. At the top of the boulders, was the dirt once more and easy sailing for the last mile to the pass sign. My round trip pass sign to pass sign took almost 10 hours. It was now 5:31PM. The hike from Black Stain to the Shepherd Pass sign was 2.66 miles (GPS tracking).
From the sign, I headed down Shepherd Pass trail. The hike down was nice and across the snow, I used my instep crampons, although I don't think I needed them. I hiked down the switchbacks to where I marked my "too steep to run" point. This is about a .3 mile (GPS tracking) down the trail from the pass.
I prepared to run and headed down the trail. The beginning was a bit steep. A minute later, the grade was just fine. I ran on down without trouble and crossed the little patch of snow (about 30 yards). I continued on down passed the smaller cobble like rocks in the trail, the sidewalk like glacial area and the city park like setting of upper Anvil Camp. I heard something and I discovered something fell out of my pack! I stopped and discovered my jacket also fell out of my pack. I hiked up, got the jacket about .75 up the trail and then hiked back and continued down running from there.
The run was nice-pleasant in the evening and I passed Anvil Camp, Mahogany Flat and came to arrive at the bottom of the hill.
I hiked up the hill the about 1.25 mile and then ran down the about 4 miles to the bottom. I needed the headlamp from the 4 miles/top of hill on down to the bottom. I arrived at the trailhead at 10:20pm.
There were about 10 vehicles at the trailhead with no activity going on there.
I left and drove back to Big Pine, where I live, without any trouble.
The next day, I was exhausted and spent most of the day sleeping and resting. The following day, being today I felt better. After drinking some "Ultra Fuel" (I use the powder since the liquid is with artificial ingredients) as I had on the hike/climb, I felt rejuvenated and felt good once more.
Regarding the distance of Shepherd Pass trail. My GPS is a Magellan Meridian WAAS enabled. It is very accurate and does well with tracking and distance reading. I also used a pedometer which came up with very similar distance readings as a verification.
Here are some distances I took down with my GPS for Shepherd Pass trail:
4 miles-Trailhead to Top of hill
5.25miles-Bottom of hill
8.25 miles-Anvil Camp
10.29 miles-Shepherd Pass/Sequoia National Park Sign
Overall, it was a successful outing. It was bigger than I thought it would be. This is why I wrote up this detailed trip report. I want everyone to know how it is-how big it is! Enjoy the report and the area!