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TR: Mt. Williamson, CA...attempt (from 2005)

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thought I would re-post this old TR of mine. Was on a hike recently that reminded me of this a bit, and thought I'd put it up here for some summertime reading. It was definitely an adventure even though we didn't make our goal. Sometimes the journey is the destination


Peak Mt. Williamson, CA (14,375 ft.)
Goal: SE Couloir (appox. 3,000 ft.)
Trip Distance: From trailhead to Summit...8,175 vertical ft.
Players: Bullet, Tyrone Shoelaces, Tarkman, CS

All photos by Bullet except were noted

Mrs. Shoe knew something was up. Typically when I'm preparing for a ski trip, during the preceding days I'm like a giddy 6 year old constantly talking about where we're going, the lines we'll ski, what a great time it will be, etc. etc. But this time was different...I just wasn't exactly sure what was in store. After signing up for this trip just a few days before, I was pretty much silent. I poured over maps, guidebooks, and searched for trip reports to find out just what the hell we were getting ourselves into. The first few thousand feet of the climb through George Creek would be below snowline and other's have described it as an unspeakable hell with multiple stream crossings, scrambling up steep loose rocky faces, and a labyrinth of thick nests of brambles & willows with no really discernible trail to follow...all while carrying 40-50 lbs overnight packs and hiking in AT & Tele boots. I was definitely excited, but definitely a little apprehensive. But really, how bad could the approach be?

Bullet dreamed up this trip just after his recent, successful Mt. Whitney summit and ski (from the summit). From the top of Whitney, he pointed his camera north and snapped this enticing pic of the South face of Williamsom. Our goal was to click into our bindings at the summit, then ski the ridge flowing lookers right in the pic, and then descending via the thin sinuous couloir that slashes downward from the looker's right side. Sweet no?

So Bullet recruited myself, Tarkman, and CS....and it was on. Bullet and I would rendesvous in Mammoth Lakes Friday night and then we'd meet up with CS and Tarkman at the George Creek trailhead at the crack of dawn Saturday morning. We'd give ourselves all day to get to our base camp somewhere's between 10,000 - 11,000ft. Then Summit and ski our line Sunday. FKNA.

Leaving Mammoth at about 4:30 AM Saturday morning, Bullet and I raced South down 395. As the sun made it's slow appearance we were greeted with tantalizing views of our goal (photo by me):

Check out the narrow couloir on Big Willy's North Face (photo by me):

Big Willy from the George Creek turn off from 395...It was all dirt roads from here:

The dirt roads led us past the Manzanar National Historic Site. Site of the Japanese detention camps during WWII:

Bumping along the dirt roads en route to the Georg Creek trail head. The trailhead starts and follows the gorge on the lookers left of this pic and is the home of the "unspeakable horrors" that we had read about in previous trip reports we had dug up (photo by me):

The reports of the route up the George Creek drainage were very cryptic. They were all slightly different, but basically they each said something like...Start on north side of creek, go up until blocked, look for creek crossing, go up south side of creek until blocked, look for creek crossing, head back up north side until blocked...and on, and on, and on....

Within in 5-10 minutes of starting our hike...we were faced with our first blockage of brambles & willows and need to figure out where to go. CS and me with the "point":

There was no way to cross the creek at this point, so do we crash through the brushes straight ahead? Scramble up the sidehill?:

We decided to go up...notice how were srambling in all directions trying to find the path:

Bullet looking down at the creek after our first scramble:

Once done with this first scramble we found ourselves back in the drainage in the thickets. The trail was elusive...it would open up for a few steps giving us brief intense moments of glee and giddiness, and then it would snap closed in an instant, often times dropping us to all fours to crawl beneath branches and underbrush:

This scene was pretty much par for the course on our 12 hour expedition. CS fights his way through. Notice the sharp broken off branches. We all have various holes in our bodies from getting repeatedly impales on those suckers:

Thank you Mr. Vibram:

Tarkman scrambling down some scree to the drainage and our first creek crossing. Even in the early morning, the sun was already baking the rocks:

One of the rare sections of open trail...but look ahead:

We were blocked. There was no way to climb up and no way to move forward without the aid of a bulldozer. Looks we had to cross the creek for the first time......but there was nowhere to cross....time to build a bridge:

Bullet beginning construction (photo by me):

There was nothing else to use but dead, rotting logs around us. So we had to shed our heavy packs, cross one at a time, and then ferry the packs over by themselves. Bullet with the first successful crossing....this was the smallest cross and really only required one step of faith on our logs (photo by me):

To be continued.......
post #2 of 9
Thread Starter 

Part II.

(as above, all photo's by Bullet)

So now on the South Side we enjoyed a few minutes of easy trail hiking. We had crossed the stream successfully for the first time, we were hiking in the cool shadows...but soon we were blocked again by a cliff on the south side that had a nice waterfall spilling down it...looks we had to cross to the North side again:

This crossing was tough. We searched around, backtracked, and debated for about 45 minutes how to cross this sucker without our heavy packs. To our dismay, it seemed the only way was to take of our boots and wade through the freezing cold water:

This sucks:

So now we're back on the North side of creek and began to follow what we THOUGHT was a trail...In retrospect, we should have crossed back over to the South side immediately...but how were we to know? We just crossed, and found a "trail" and were making some progress:

Got machete?? This was the "trail" we were following:

If BD would design a pole that unsheaths to reveal a sword or bolo machete...I'd be the first in line to buy. The mountains in the distance mock us:

After scrambling, hacking, climbing over, climbing under, and climbing through brush thorns and willows, we became utterly blocked again. We hiked about an hour on the North side and realized that it didn't go. We realized we had to cross back to the South side.....It tooks us about 45 minutes to scramble and battle the brambles and thickets down from our perch back to the creek where we found another log to cross. CS in front with Nodica's, I'm on the log crossing, and you can barely make out Tarkman past me in the brush:

Again on the South side....we were beat. We had just spent about 2 hours fighting our way up the wrong side of the drainage and then backtracking to cross back to the other side. It was physically and mentally draining....after resting for about 30 minutes, we picked up the trail again, which led to more slipperly sidehilling, and then back down to another creek crossing. We were fairly spread out at this point, and when Bullet and I got to the creek we see Tarkman pulling his hat and pack out of the water...just about to the end of the log he slipped and fell in...luckily he was unhurt and nothing got too wet. This was a sign of how tired we were all getting however. Our balance on the logs was getting shaky, each shift of our packs caused us to stumble, and we were moving really slow.....

The brush was unrelenting:

By now the temps were getting really hot, our packs were weighing us down, and I hit a major roadblock. Just as I was about to attempt to climb over the log in the foreground of the above pic, my left quad siezed...cramped right up...I spend nearly 10 minutes massaging and pounding the crap out of it to work it out. Turns out that during the entire hike (we were nearly 5 hours in at this point) I was unconsciously favoring my left leg as my right leg is still not 100% recovered from ACL surgery (6 months post-op)...so each time I had to climb over something, I'd use my left leg. 5 hours of doing this with a 50 lb pack, hot temps, and slight dehydration takes it's toll. Once I rested a little, got over the log, we came to a clearing and discussed our options:

CS chilling...hey at least we hit snow!

While I rested, ate, and re-hydated Bullet, CS, and Tarkman scouted ahead.....they came back with dissapointing news....it still looked as though we had miles of more unrelenting bushwacking, routefinding, and stream crossing to reach a point where we'd be able to put on skins. Based on that, my cramping quad, the amount of time it taken us to get to where we were, and the prospect of having to come back down this route after a potential long and tiring summit day on Sunday, we made the decision to turn back. Disappointing, but definitely the right choice.

Our goal mocks us in the distance:

So at roughly 3:30 PM, we turn around so that we can ski something else Sunday..hopefully quad has recoved enough to get back down all the **** we just came up:

More stream crossings...me crossing using a big branch for balance...the creek moved super fast and wanted to rip your poles out of your hands...Tarkman observing:

Tarkman crossing:

CS ducking under branches...it's unconcievable how much time we had to spend in this hunched over position...those packs are really heavy right now:

And finally, the last stream crossing.

It took us another 2.5 hours to scramble back down the drainage from when we turned around with no breaks. My quad cramped up one more time near the end, but I was able to figh it off.

We ended up back at the cars at around 6:30 PM....roughly 12 hours after starting out. Sickness. We headed back to 395 where we gorged on milkshakes and burgers and contemplated alternate ski plans for Sunday. We decided upon Indpendence Peak which CS has already written about here:

Even though we didn't make our goal, was painful, tiring, and all that stuff....but it was oddly fun.
post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 
heh...and here's what my freaking arms looked like the next day. (both of them, front & back, back of the neck....ughhhh).

post #4 of 9

An Adventure?

What? I thought you guys met at the trail head, exchanged the secret handshake and then breezed up the secret game trail to the goods.

A picture of someone stepping through 1 foot of snow into 10feet of bush or actually falling into a creek would have made it real for me
post #5 of 9
Now that's commitment! Glad it was fun, despite the obvious pain. I'm about 5 months post-op from an ACL recon, and can identify easily with favoring the good leg over the bad during hikes, and having it cramp up earlier.

Looking forward to some more sick lines and TRs!
post #6 of 9
Wow, that's a lot of work. I hope you got to ski!
Where IS the skiing part? :
post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 
No no, skiing was done on Williamson. All that effort just to barely reach snowline and to realized that we were so far away from our objectives and in such worn down shape by the time we got there, we figured it best to cut our losses, head back down, and hit a different objective the next day.

The TR from the next day is here (I didn't write it or I would have copied the whole thing right in this thread). There are some pretty sweet photos in it with the valley floor so far down below:

post #8 of 9
There should be a backcountry Hall of Fame.

You guys are nuts!!
post #9 of 9
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Sugaree View Post
There should be a backcountry Hall of Fame.

You guys are nuts!!
Thanks...but Hall of Fame? More like Hall of Shame . We got now where near our objective and had to retreat. I'll get it someday and then maybe THAT one would be worthy.....but definitely not this one.
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