After hearing tales of bushwacking up George Creek for a better approach to Mount Williamson by Galen Rowell, I decided it was mine. Mount Williamson has the appearance of a Gothic Cathedral, with its hanging valleys and chutes that lead nowhere. Very few Sierra Peaks have such complex glacier carving. Here it was, a route that had everything. Long approach to an Eastern Sierra Fourteener, chance to get it from the Class 2 North Ridge, a strait forward ascent compared to every other route.
The men credited with the first ascent of this route back in the 1930’s went on to climb with Sir Edmund Hillary in the Himalaya. Leigh Ortenburger was a young mountaineer when he found this route to the top of Williamson. It was one of many first ascents he would makein the Sierras, Tetons, and Alaska. Because most of his routes are on highly technical faces, this was my first chance to do one of his routes. Nice to follow someone so early in their climbing career. Later Ortenberger found the Yeti on a high altitude trip with Sir Edmund Hillary, the year after he finished Everest. Well, the Yeti turned out to be the rare blue Himalayan bear, and foxes, and Tibetans are afraid of anything that can go higher than them. And they should be, because that is us. Yes ladies, anyone that can reach us is abominable. I wonder what I'll go on to find.
It was nothing short of promised. The route followed a sand gravel basin, with steep sides. For all of its vertical gain, it is such a slog. It's the thought of the top that gets you going on these obscure side routes, with no view of the top, and this was no exception. This river valley is as wild as Brooks Range Alaska. And as you ascend, each canyon leads to impossible couloirs and aid climbing, except the one North Ridge route. This was what I had set my objective on. Its not that I think I can do anything that world class climbers can do, but the thought of doing it in my own backyard, and theirs, was unstoppable. Anyway, I'm so excited I can't stop bopping.
For those mountaineers that like to get above tree line and jet, this is not for the weak. No easy movements, and to say there is a trail would be misleading. Secor claims this is a straitforward route, but I had major misgivings about it. By the time I got up out of the bush, I had missed the turnoff for the single entry point to the North Face route to Williamson. I overshot by a longways, and as there is no visibility from the river bed, one has to know map and compass travel intimately to find the right canyon. After realizing my mishap, I continued up, thinking there may be another chance at a success. I was so high anyway, and figured there has got to be another peak to summit. The boulders got larger and larger, the field obviously the path of a glacier that had come and gone. Travel through here was much faster, and I finally got into my rhythm.
I can see how this would be the perfect training place for the Himalaya, as it is very wild, and uninterrupted, with no sense of logistics. This is a fall path, of an active mountain, and not a place you would be likely to go, which is the case for traveling on avalanche prone sections of K2. Again, have an objective in mind, and think big. This is where the big guys come to train, so treat everyone here with respect. There are many points to get lost, and it takes guts to get up it. Don't think back, and just think forward. Just like on Everest, with a turn around time, be serious. Up here we can survive with a late night bivy, but up there, chances are slim. Can you imagine speeding up to make the 2pm deadline of Everest, or even turning around 200 m from the summit? What would you say to yourself, every day, hereinafter?
Now that I think like an objective I can be a lot closer to my hero, Kit DeLauriers, the first person to ski mountaineer the seven summits. She completed her task in 2006, and I can only imagine how good she must feel now. Talk about the biggies. Now its like, anyday, anyway.
The route has large fixed talus, which the Eastern side is known for, deposited talus from the rock fall of peaks. I like climbing on it because it is big and i am light, and together we make harmony. A rock with many sides has a small balancing point, but in a talus field, will sit based on the friction of its position, and its mass. Rarely can your mass outweigh the center mass of a boulder, and with all the friction of the way they lay, they are immovable. Rarely can we be so big in life. Save by water, ice, or glacier.
Very quickly I saw the first peak of a ridge connecting to the crest. I climbed it, and then recognized it as Mount Barnard, another thousand feet higher. Only a narrow ridge connected to the Sierra Crest. That was all I needed. When you see it, in its sight. I was so happy to have something to reach, and nothing to go to. I looked over at Williamson, just a few hundred feet higher, and all the epic climbing I would have done. Could I have reached it in a day? I don't know. I may have camped or rested near the summit with the fastback I have now from Gregory, which I really like. Just enough space for a shelter and all upper body movement.
There were a few hours of daylight left, and a lot of hiking to do to get back down. The light was just coming up when I reached the trailhead at George Creek. Just another five miles to go to get back to the parking lot. I may be back in a couple years to see if I can make it mine.
You never remember the ones that get away, only the ones that stay. Even though I didn't make it to the actual summit of my planned objective, I got to the ridge of the Sierra Crest, which was breathtaking, and there are plenty of other mountains to choose from. So don't be picky. I also learned how to kill time while waiting for the moon to rise to increase visibility for descent. I guess there are those magic moments, knowing that you've achieved not just up but down, and that nought was lost in the making of. Really brutal, really worth another go.
As an addenda, I have since climbed and summited Williamson via the Standard Route. See details on climbers log.