George Creek Might Make You Hate Yourself

George Creek Might Make You Hate Yourself

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 36.64920°N / 118.23547°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jul 5, 2014
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer

Trip Report

pano from the summit of Williamson
pano from the summit of Williamson

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!

Early morning twilight
Early morning twilight

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.  

the waterfall
the waterfall
But I had also read plenty of “It’s not really that bad.”  I decided to believe in the latter, and with Bob Burd’s directions in hand we made our way past the waterfall in quick time.  We awed at the unique topography of the narrow canyon as the twilight made the walls glow a beautiful blue.  “I don't know what the big deal is ” I thought to myself, “this route finding is pretty easy.”

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

super fun tree crossings
super fun tree crossings
choose our own path.  We crossed to the north side of the creek and strong armed our way up the terrain for the next three and a half hours till we made our way to the base of the 11,200 scree slope at 11am. 
looking up toward the Trojan-Barnard basin branch
looking up toward the Trojan-Barnard basin branch

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

atop the ridge, looking at the broad slope below the summit plateau
atop the ridge, looking at the broad slope below the summit plateau
the slog up to the top of the southeast ridge plateau
the slog up to the top of the southeast ridge plateau
plateau and spied the summit on top of a short 300 foot pile of boulders.  The broad summit was nothing like I expected.  It was odd to have an area the size of a soccer pitch just below the summit at 14,000 feet.  The summit was a rounded pile of rocks that gave me an unusual sense of safety, unlike many other precarious Sierra summits with huge exposure and plunging drops on all sides.  The view from Williamson is also one of the best perches from which to see almost all of the California fourteeners and pick out other prominent peaks.  We were surprised that only four other parties had summited that weekend so far, despite it being a long holiday weekend. Willy certainly isn't Whitney, that is for sure.

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

still smiling after 9.5 hours
still smiling after 9.5 hours
way up were easily distinguishable on our way
looking down onto the huge summit plateau
looking down onto the huge summit plateau
down.  It also became apparent that the faintness of this path would be difficult for the unknowing hiker to follow. 

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.  

The Takeaway

view of Whitney from Willy
view of Whitney, Russell and Morgenson from Willy
coming down the slogging slope, you can see the rock towers in the background
coming down the slogging slope, you can see the rock towers in the background
I took away some lessons from our hike that I'll try not to forget.  
          • 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.

striking lighting as the sun sets
striking lighting as the sun sets
racing the sun to the bottom
racing the sun to the bottom


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-11 of 11

Marcsoltan - Jul 12, 2014 6:52 pm - Voted 10/10


engaging Trip Report. I am happy to say that I was the third person to click on this page. Now, all we need are some photos, if you have them. But, even without them, it's still a great report., and thanks for sharing.



Voxaether - Jul 12, 2014 11:41 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Another...

Thanks Marc! Photos are posted. I wish there were more but I was concentrating on things other than taking photos on this trip.


seano - Jul 19, 2014 3:09 pm - Voted 9/10

George Creek strikes again!

I had the same experience in George Creek for the Sierra Challenge -- unless you find the trail, you're in for a world of hurt, and it ain't easy to find on the way up. Nice work dayhiking this.


Voxaether - Jul 25, 2014 12:30 am - Hasn't voted

Re: George Creek strikes again!

Thanks Sean! It means a lot coming from you. We were actually just reading your 14ers record trip report a few weeks ago - sounds like an amazing challenge. We'll stick to day hiking them all, for now.

Bob Burd

Bob Burd - Jul 31, 2014 6:03 pm - Voted 10/10

The fun of it all...

The first few sentence caught my attention on the main page. Why would someone do such a thing at the last minute? Doh! Sorry if I contributed. There have been several major avalanches in George Creek since I first ventured up there, and they've swept whole hillsides worth of trees into the canyon, changing it almost beyond recognition in places. I've been up there five or six times now and never taken the same path twice. Great fun!


Voxaether - Aug 1, 2014 6:16 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: The fun of it all...

Ha! No, Bob, you only contributed in the best of ways with your wealth of knowledge and vast experience, not only on this climb but on so many others. We appreciate all you do! It was our own hubris that lead us to day hike it. Always and adventure for sure, it really is a special and unique place.


awilsondc - Aug 1, 2014 10:18 am - Voted 10/10

Nice read!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, thanks for posting!


oleata - Aug 1, 2014 6:01 pm - Hasn't voted

bushwhacking is fun

I like the story, I did it last summer and enjoyed the labyrinth of the canyon entrance. It was difficult, not to find the way, just climbing over and under all the trees and brush in the heavy pack. But I couldn't make the toe of Carl Heller and gave up. I'll try in winter next time for the adventure of it all.


bechtt - Aug 3, 2014 9:56 am - Voted 10/10


Three times up George Creek and the third time ended up bivying after losing the trail ... which we found 10 feet from where we spent an uncomfortable night. Would have loved to have that flashlight.


wrunkle - Aug 9, 2014 2:05 pm - Hasn't voted

Bairs Creek

Congratulations! Awesome accomplishment!
I like the Bairs Creek route myself because the CLMRG always went up that way. In 2005 Mike F, Dan G and I day hiked Williamson. It was a heavy snow year and Bairs Creeks was still full of consolidated snow in May. It was the best day hike of my life. We started from the trailhead at 0342 and were on the summit at 1245. Then it only took us 3 hours flat to get back to the car because we were able to glissade almost the whole way back down to the "notch"! Pictures are on my Flickr account at


JKolter - Feb 16, 2019 9:42 am - Hasn't voted

All familiar

Anyone who has been up George Creek, or anywhere on Williamson for that matter, understands the conflicting natures of the experience. On one hand you have the pain, misery, exhaustion, and feelings of utter defeat - and on the other, appreciation for the remoteness, beauty, and wild aspect of the area. I have been up George Creek three times, and while doing it hated most of it. Yet in my memory it stands as some of my fondest, and greatest adventures. I have also been up N. Bairs Creek twice with the same experience. It is my favorite sierra peak, probably because of my "history" with it. To sum it up, I love Mount Williamson, and I hate Mount Williamson – but I think I love it more. Y'all understand. :)

Viewing: 1-11 of 11