Dear Vaca Russ: Mt. Williamson, Sept. 5-9, 2018

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Dear Vaca Russ: Mt. Williamson, Sept. 5-9, 2018

Post by Shhsgirl » Fri Sep 21, 2018 12:56 pm

Dear Vaca Russ,

We never met in this life. I wish we had. Over the summer I read and re-read your trip report from last year about your climb of Mt. Williamson. Your report was so detailed and informative that I was able to get a good picture of the mountain and what might be involved in climbing it. Your report made me think that I might be able to actually do it. I printed out your text and pictures, put them in the truck, and took off for a month in the Sierra with my husband, always with you, your climb, and your generosity in providing such a great trip report, in the back of my mind.

Since we had a month, I entertained myself with a five-day warm up trip into Sabrina Basin with some girlfriends, some car camping, and day hiking on the East Side. The weather was mostly clear, but then a week of thunderstorms moved in. I watched for a weather window, and then told my husband I was going. He said that well, he would come, too. We packed five days of food and set out at 7:00 a.m. (we aimed for 6:00, and 7:00 was pretty good for us) at the Shepherd Pass trailhead.

We carried three liters of water each, since we didn't know whether there was water after the first four crossings of Symme's Creek, which occur in the first mile of the hike. Luckily, the thunderstorms hadn't quite quit, but weren't right on top of us, so we got a partial cloud cover and a few sprinkles on the brutal hike up, which went a long way toward keeping us cool. (Looking at all the lightning -struck trees all the way up, there is no way I would have proceeded if I had thought there was ANY chance of lightning nearby). The hike up the Symme's creek drainage is first through a narrow canyon, then up the southern flank to the Saddle. Most of it was in the shade of the canyon, which was also lucky.
At the lowest point after the Saddle, there was a pretty little creek that crossed the trail, with a lush tree shading some great sitting rocks, so I took an hour's break from a few sprinkles and distant thunder. I probably could have gotten by carrying one liter of water, instead of three, given the cool day and the unexpected water. More luck.

As I approached Anvil Camp, the weather worsened and rain appeared imminent. Looking up the trail at the tree-covered platform that is Anvil Camp, I was struck by the rock formation in the photo below. It looks exactly like an old-fashioned cobbler's anvil (like a shoe last), and I wondered if that is why the camp is named Anvil. My cursory research later revealed no other good reason for the name, so that's my theory and I'm sticking to it.
I pitched camp at Anvil Camp at about 3:00 p.m., in a spot that looked like the Comfort Inn, complete with large rake and shovel. I ate quickly and got in the tent, as the rain started a bit more seriously at about 5:00. Still, it was nothing bad, even though it so easily could have been. I knew my husband, 71, would be a few hours after me, hiking by his headlight, and sure enough, there he was next to me in the morning. He likes to go slowly, stop for naps, take side trips, collect things, so we communicate by the InReaches we each carry. That way I know he's safe, and he knows where to find me. Still, at our age, it was lucky we were both safe so far.
We got up early, our tarp-tents were dry, so we packed up and headed up Shepherd Pass.There is plenty of water all the way up to the base of the pass. Once again, we had partly cloudy weather, which made hiking uphill as delightful as it can be. At the base of the pass I passed through the deer fall from a year or two earlier. There was one doe, remarkably preserved, who appeared to have, after she fell and was mortally injured, laid her head patiently on a rock, and gazed down the trail, waiting for death. But, of course, she didn't wait for anything. She lived only in the present moment, and, thank God, did not have the ability like we humans do, to contemplate her own suffering. Of course, my thoughts turned to you, Russ, and I knew that, even if your death was sudden, you did not have the same consolation animals do. Even if only for an instant, we know when we are dying, and we suffer because of it. Maybe this is because we know life is precious, we fight for it, and we don't want to lose it. I felt sorry you had to go through that, even though your death helps me realize that the very same is my fate, and all of ours. With those thoughts passing (actually, peacefully) under the surface, I continued what seemed to be a fairly short, easy hike to the pass.
At the top I met a nice young man who was day hiking Williamson from the Shepherd Pass trailhead. He wanted to know what had happened to the deer, so I explained migration and ice snow patches as well as I could. I watched him take off toward Tyndall. Later I found out that he got to the lip of Williamson Bowl and turned around. He wanted to get back by dinnertime. I thought that showed excellent sense! I hung out on top of the pass for about an hour, but didn't see my husband below.

I continued on up the sandy plateau, and crested the lip of Williamson Bowl at about its middle. From your pictures, Russ, I realized I was not far enough to my right, so I traversed the talus until my view of Williamson and the black stain looked like yours. Of course, this took a while, but finally I was down at the first lake, and started my way around it. I was basically talus-hopping, but with several inches to several feet of cold water beneath me. About two and a half hours (!) after I crested the lip of the bowl, I finally pitched my tarp on the northeast side of lake WL 3733 in a little flat spot I was lucky to find. It was about 5:00 p.m., and I was worried about my husband trying to come over all that talus in the dark, no matter how skilled he thinks he is, so I messaged him to camp near the lake at the top of Shepherd Pass, and under no circumstances come over in the dark. As I ate dinner, i looked at Williamson, the black stain, and wondered where the heck that chute was that was supposed to be so obvious. I couldn't see it from where I was for the life of me. But, the rain was gone, the wind was reasonable, and I had made it across the talus alone without breaking my leg, so that was lucky.

I got up at about 7:00. demoralized because I hadn't heard from my husband. As I sat warming myself in the sun, sipping my coffee, I heard my name. I answered with his, and there he was! Not having checked his messages, he had come over the lip of the bowl in the dark, by headlight, and had camped on the other side of the lake. About midnight, as he was pitching his tarp, he saw a light (me, peeing) on the other side and knew who it was. Very, very lucky. in fact, insanely lucky. I am beginning to think this trip is charmed. We sat there, enjoying the sunshine, until at about 10:00 I decided I might as well mosey up the mountain. I assured my husband that I would turn around the moment I felt uncomfortable, since I was going alone, and had never climbed something like this. But, I had your clear guide, Russ, in my mind, and I felt confident in your information.

I swung around to my left from the edge of the lake, and followed the path of the least talus resistance up to just below the black stain. I used my hiking poles, and I carried a fanny pack with water, a snack, my phone, my InReach, my first aid kit, and a windbreaker, and wore my bright orange styrofoam climbing helmet.

At the black stain, which I recognized like an old friend because of your pictures, Russ, I climbed up, deciding to do a little class 3 through it, rather than the scree to my right of it. At the top, I looked a bit to my left, and there was the chute, just as you photographed it. With no doubts whatsoever, I started up. Perhaps because I was acclimated, perhaps because I took my time, the chute didn't seem that hard. I found there to be two class 3 sections on the way up. Maybe they are class 2 for young men with very long legs, but I had to use my hands. Whatever-they weren't hard. Before I knew it, I was at the chimney! Again, I recognized it because of your picture.

Now, here's where I became convinced that you, or maybe someone else, was involved in this whole thing, Russ. Just as I got to the chimney, after seeing not a soul besides that one young day hiker since leaving Shepherd Pass trailhead, two young men showed up right behind me. I had not heard or seen them as I came up. One was wearing sneakers, a large straw lifeguard hat, and a T shirt. The other was wearing a windbreaker and carried a large, expensive camera in one hand. They offered to spot me up and down the Chimney! Okay, I thought. This isn't just luck anymore. Someone really is looking out for me. So.. I didn't get time to decide whether I could or couldn't do the Chimney. Up I went.

Russ, you said the Chimney was the easiest part for you. Maybe that's why I wasn't a bit afraid. I watched the two young men go up. The one with camera, Gen, seemed to float over the rock. Jim, the one with the lifeguard hat, joked that he wasn't as good as Gen, but he did his yoga moves all the way up. I came up the first fifteen feet, not inside the chimney crack, but using handholds and footholds to my right of it. At one point, when I had moved to inside the crack, I had to hand up my fanny pack so I could fit where I needed to. Having a new right hip that was only six months old, I had to be very careful not to stretch my right knee all the way to my chest, to avoid dislocating the hip. Thus, on several footholds my mental GPS said "recalculating." But pretty soon, almost al of sudden, there we popped, out onto the summit plateau.

Gen immediately started up the large talus so Jim and I just followed. It might have been simpler for me to walk on the sandy plateau about 200 yards to my right and then head up the small, sharp talus to the summit, but, whatever. At the top at a little before 2:00 p.m., they had their summit beers, and offered me some, which I declined. Beer at that altitude for me, and I might as well just jump off the Chimney on the way down! We took pictures, discussed our favorite beers, and headed down quite soon, because they still had to cross the bowl before getting to their camp at the lake at the top of Shepherd Pass. I would have liked to explore the summit plateau a little more but I wasn't going to look this gift horse in the mouth. Having them spot me on the way down the Chimney was priceless.
On the way down the Chimney, Gen went first, I came next, and Jim brought up the rear. There were a few long leg reaches for me, where Gen instructed me on foot placement, but no other problems. Down from the Chimney, I told them I would sit for a half hour and enjoy the view, while they hurried down. Otherwise, I knew they would feel obligated not to leave me, and to watch me all the way down, and I would slow them down considerably. As they reluctantly left me, Jim said, "Now, be safe. I don't want to read about you." I assured them I would and they wouldn't. After they left, I noticed my hands were shaking slightly, whether due to adrenaline or low blood sugar I don't know. I ate a few peanuts, but found I couldn't force food down, because I was too excited. I had made it! So I sat there, took in the sunshine and the view, and slowed everything down.
I was determined not to hurry down, because that is when accidents happen, at least to me. After about 20 minutes, when I was sure they were way down and wouldn't get hit in the straw hat by any rocks I might dislodge, I started. I took my time and enjoyed it immensely. Every step was careful, until...Just before I reached the black stain I side- stepped onto what looked like scree, and slip, boom! I had actually stepped onto a thinly buried scree covered flat rock, which, as scree-scramblers know, is the slickest thing in the world. My foot shot forward out from under me, and I came down hard on my elbows---c-r-a-c-k! The impact on the rock lacerated both of them, but, miraculously, neither seemed cracked or broken. I moved them, and they hurt like they were bruised, but I guess this osteoporotic old body isn't so bad, after all. I continued down fine, survived the seemingly endless talus hop below the black stain, and arrived back at camp to find six guys camped there.

My husband had moved camp to the far east side of the lake, so they had taken over our old spot. After talus-hopping over to our new spot, I immediately got in the lake, to wash my wounds and all the dirt off. I was still warm from my effort, still excited, and was an instant celebrity, to boot. The six guys, who were to climb the next morning, politely let me finish my bath, then all came over, asking where's the chute, why can't we see it from here, how long did it take you, what's the Chimney like, where do we go on the summit, did you use poles, how old are you, what did you take, if you HAD to say where the chute is from here, etc. I answered al their questions as well as I could, and asked if any of them use HST. None did, so I told them I used your trip report, and it almost made me feel as though I had already done it once before. I assured them that the hard part was not the climb, but the approach up Shepherd Pass and the traverse of Williamson Bowl, and knew that although they were nervous and couldn't believe me tonight, they would know it for sure tomorrow.
The weather was so nice that husband and I both cowboy camped that night. I was too excited to sleep, but I must have dozed, because when I woke every so often, the Milky Way had moved, and finally toward morning, Orion came into view. I had done it, and I knew someone had been looking out for me. I imagined it was you, Russ. Or was it my folks? Or was it blind luck, or coincidence? Sorry, I'm too old to believe in coincidence.

On the way out, we tried to stick to the shores of the lakes and otherwise stay as low as we could. Looking at one of my summit pics, I realized that the shortest way through the talus at the lip of the bowl was to head to our far right, around the east shore of the first lake, as illustrated below.
We camped that night at Anvil, and hiked out the next day.

Thanks, Russ, for the trip report, and for making me feel like you, or someone, was looking out for me. Thanks for the confidence that your good and carefully put together information provided, and thanks for being, while you were here, the kind of person that would take the trouble to do that. Maybe we can meet some time.
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Last edited by Shhsgirl on Fri Sep 21, 2018 2:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Dear Vaca Russ: Mt. Williamson, Sept. 5-9, 2018

Post by maverick » Fri Sep 21, 2018 2:11 pm

Hi Shhsgirl,

Thank you very much for your touching tribute to VC, he is a wonderful guy, who I had the great privilege to backpack with a few times, his presence continues on forever in my memories.
Professional Sierra Landscape Photographer

I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member:

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Re: Dear Vaca Russ: Mt. Williamson, Sept. 5-9, 2018

Post by oldhikerQ » Mon Sep 24, 2018 7:02 am

Beautiful trip report, Shhsgirl.
Thank you for sharing.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost

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Re: Dear Vaca Russ: Mt. Williamson, Sept. 5-9, 2018

Post by Jason » Mon Sep 24, 2018 10:58 am

That was lovely. Thank you for the wonderful report.

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Re: Dear Vaca Russ: Mt. Williamson, Sept. 5-9, 2018

Post by robow8 » Mon Sep 24, 2018 7:01 pm

This gets my vote for post of the year. Very nice.

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Re: Dear Vaca Russ: Mt. Williamson, Sept. 5-9, 2018

Post by giantbrookie » Mon Sep 24, 2018 9:54 pm

Terrific tribute to someone I miss a lot on this board, as do we all. You yourself are an inspiration, too, though, in an epic way. "Having a new right hip that was only six months old, I had to be very careful not to stretch my right knee all the way to my chest, to avoid dislocating the hip." You mean you had hip replacement surgery 6 months before you did this trip? Holy smokes, this puts you in very rare company, to be sure.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: ... ayshi.html" onclick=";return false;

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