“Polychrome Peak” is the little spur 0.6 miles east of Shepherd Pass. It’s class 2 from the lakes just southeast of the pass, and provides a welcome delay before diving into the unrelenting madness of the Williamson Bowl. Although the summit plateau is rather broad, the very summit is gained via a short scramble.
Chester Versteeg, who gave unofficial names to so many Sierra peaks, apparently chose this moniker as well, at least according to an early edition of The Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra (c. 1972, edited by Harvey H. Voge and Andrewe J. Smatko). Unfortunately, the name did not persist into the current edition
(© 1976 by Sierra Club Books, edited by Steve Roper).
Ah Shepherd Pass... to quote Secor:
“The Shepherd Pass Trail has a well-deserved reputation of being long, steep, and difficult.”
The High Sierra - Peaks, Passes and Trails
© 1992, 1999, 2009 by R. J. Secor
Indeed. In June 1990, the carcass of a horse was prominently displayed just below the headwall of the pass, seemingly as a warning to those who might take the eleven mile, 6200'+ climb lightly. I’m not sure who drove this poor beast to its death (it was clearly still going uphill), but s/he was probably in a foul mood after the trail descended 500' in the middle of the climb in.
Take 395 to Independence, then the Onion Valley Road west for 4.5 miles. At this point, zero your odometer for the (cumulative) mileages below along the dirt road (no need for 4WD or high clearance):
0.0 Miles: Turn left (south) onto Foothill Road (dirt)
1.3 Miles: Take the right fork
2.8 Miles: Continue past the corral at the stock trailhead
3.3 Miles: Take the right fork
3.8 Miles: Take the right fork
4.0 Miles: Take the right fork
4.7 Miles: Park at the Shepherd Pass Trailhead
From the trailhead (6299'+) climb 1600'+ to the Symmes Creek Saddle, then immediately give up 500' of this hard won altitude before climbing another 2900' to Anvil Camp (10,302'+, total 8 miles from the trailhead). Muster your courage and continue climbing for another 1700' over 3 miles to Shepherd Pass (12,008'+).
Continue on the trail for a bit, then head off to your left (east) up the broad slopes of “Polychrome Peak” south and then southeast of Lake 3661m. Continue northeast to the summit plateau, then scramble up to the top.
I highly recommend R. J. Secor’s The High Sierra, Peaks Passes & Trails
(now in its third edition). This is the definitive climbing guide to the Sierra and was the source for many of the details on my SummitPost pages.
Like most places in the Sierra, you need a Wilderness Permit for overnight camping in the summer.
Although the east side of the Shepherd Pass Trail runs through the California Bighorn Sheep Zoological Area, the only restriction for the trail is that pets are not allowed. That said, most peakbaggers will probably be interested in getting (at least) Mts. Williamson
on the same trip, and the former can only be climbed from this side December 15th through July 15th. As alluded to before, the blind scrambling up the endless minor hillocks dotting the Williamson Bowl can make one pine for the long climb up to Shepherd Pass.
Detailed information on permits, regulations and trailhead access can be found on Matthew Holliman’s excellent Eastern Sierra logistics page
It’s certainly possible to climb all the way to Shepherd Pass from the trailhead and camp there on the first night. I would instead recommend that you stay at Anvil Camp, which is accessible even after a relatively long drive in. From here, it’s possible to climb to the pass, where you can lunch before or after climbing “Polychrome Peak”.
From a camp at Lake 3661m you can climb Mts. Williamson
on successive days. Another option is to move camp up to Lake Helen of Troy, which provides access to Mt. Versteeg Trojan Peak
, Mt. Barnard
, and “East Barnard”
(in addition to Williamson), but then you have to carry your pack across the bowl.