This report is dedicated to Tony "the snowstorm" Cruz, who has tried two springs in a row to do Williamson via George Creek.
I was with him last year when knock-you-down winds turned us back from the lip of the summit plateau (or maybe the lower shoulder). It was snowing and we could not look into the stinging wind and several people had cold extremities. Good call to turn back.
This year, Tony put together a merry band of climbers and lengthened the trip in the hope of getting higher and increasing the odds of a short and sweet summit day. But then again, you probably read Rich Calliger's trip report about getting snowed out on a solo pre-climb conditioning trip. Icy base with a foot of fresh snow on top. We cancelled the scheduled trip in deference to avalanche danger, and because a second storm was bearing down. Oh, well.
Some of us, however, refuse to unpack our packs until we get the job done. I was interested in scouting a CMC trip in the area, so David Harris and I headed up George Creek on Friday (4/26/96) still thinking about whether to try packing up to 11000 and summiting the second day or packing two days in a row to get up to 12000. Our packs were laden with all the stuff that we needed to survive Rich's snowy experience, much of which we never even unpacked!
If you've never been up this drainage, DON'T follow the guide book suggestions. Stay on the north side of the stream, never more than 50 feet above it, where there is a nice trail from road's end to the first big turn of the stream. Lots of fake trails go up the sandy slope, but if you stick near the stream you will re-discover the good one. When you get to tall cliffs in a major bend, you need to cross to the south side. The trail goes to the stream here, but you should cross 100 feet downstream where there is a big log.
Once on the south side, you are set except for two obstacles. One is a 20 foot cliff that can be scaled with the aid of fallen limbs (which we did, dragging the packs up with an ice axe) or you can cross the stream and IMMEDIATELY cross back. If you make the mistake of staying on the north, you will pay with scratched legs. The second obstacle is where the stream brushes against a rock wall. We chose to hop the stream and come back, but you may be able to climb above this one. Stay on the south side all the way to where the stream forks, then go to the north of the north fork and stay there until you hit campsites in the 10000-11000 foot range. There are many places to dig in a tent if you don't mind snow camping. There is also a flat spot around 9000 feet, but that would make a 5000+ summit day.
OK, back to the story: I was encountering some "intestinal distress", and almost turned back at 11000 feet on peak day (day 2 of the trip). David graciously offered to carry almost all of our gear, and we managed to maintain about 800 feet/hr average to the peak, arriving at noon. The snow was crampon-hard, even with plastic boots, until it warmed up later in the day and at about 13000 feet.
A couple was camped near us, and had summited the day we packed in, but they were monosyllabic in their responses. Our favorite was when we asked them if they had lost a water bottle. No response. We told them we found one on the way in. "Good for you." We dubbed them The UnFriendly Couple, and remarked to each other that we had never before been unable to get info on conditions from someone descending.
Another group, climbing Bairs Creek, was nice enough to start at 4:30am on the same day we summited, and left a nice trail of kicked steps up to the final summit plateau. (They were Sierra Clubbers from LA, but not on an official trip.) We had lunch, admired the view, checked out my intended loop of Barnard/Trojan/Versteeg (which can't be done via the route I wanted to take because one chute is too steep for safe snow travel), chatted, took pictures, etc. All that summit stuff we love so well.
Back in camp by 2, we decided to shoot for dinner in Lone Pine. It had taken 8.5 hours to pack in from 6200 to 10000, and it took 5 hours to pack out. Tough both ways, but it was nice to have someone else cook dinner after a 13 hour summit day. If you're going this year, do NOT take plastic boots. You won't want them until 11000 feet, and there are a lot of logs and rocks to climb over.
Let's all drink a toast to Tony, and encourage him NOT to take the easy way in this summer. Save Williamson for the challenge and the views as the high sierra unfolds during your climb out of the George Creek drainage next year. It's a two-day trip if you are in good shape, and if you can drive back the next day or crash at someone's house in Ridgecrest!