Climbing Versteeg

15-17 Jun 2001 - by Steve Eckert (view roster page)

Ken Murray put this trip together, and invited some people he knew. They invited some people THEY knew, which is how I got to come along. The self-employed (Jim Clement and I) decided to break up the monotony of hiking to Shepherd Pass (6k gain, hot at the bottom) by putting in a few hours the night before everyone else started up. We killed time in Independence by trying out Rock-n-Rhino's pizza pub. Nice patio! Starting after the sun went behind the mountains, we did 1600' in about 90 comfortable minutes and crashed under a scrubby tree.

The plan was for everyone else (Greg Gerlach, Ken Murray, Steve Powell) to hike in to Anvil Camp while Clement and I pushed on up to Shepherd Pass. The next day the high group would bag Versteeg and hook up with the low group at Lake Helen of Troy (hereafter called Lake HOT) or any other place we could direct each other to via FRS radios, then we'd all climb Trojan and Barnard the next day. Right, sure...

The high group pulled into Anvil camp just after 11am, knocking off 2700' of gain before the temperature climbed too much. We stayed an hour and a half, dozing and eating, with no people and no bugs to distract us. This camp normally has too much of everything! Eventually we decided it was time to slouch on up to the pass, arriving there at 3pm with lots of time to relax and pat ourselves on the back for such a fine plan. There were patches of snow at the pass, and some ice floating on the lake, but the amazing thing (to me) was the number of people up there.

This is a barren exposed place, but developed campsites are growing at a pretty good clip. The lake, however, is suffering. From deep clear blue to yellow and cloudy in 2 or 3 years. We talked to three people whose filters had clogged with one night's use, and we chided a group from Las Vegas who were doing smart things like washing their pots and even shampooing their hair in the lake. One of them seemed to "get it", the others didn't. (Later we found toilet paper blowing around our camp in Williamson Bowl. Very sad.) I've contacted their climbing club but received no reply.

Clouds came and went, nothing to worry about, and Clement wanted to take a sightseeing stroll to look down at the Pothole from the pass around 7pm. Imagine our surprise when a voice yelled up "Hi Jim!" Powell and Gerlach had left Murray at Anvil with cramps, deciding to shorten the 4-day plan into a 3-day effort. We spoke to Murray on the radio, which reached easily from the pass to his camp, and agreed to check in around dawn.

Saturday morning didn't find Murray feeling his best, so the rest of us headed to Lake HOT not quite sure if he'd come up to the pass or not. Clement and I were determined to use all 4 days, and I really wanted Versteeg after passing it by on a prior trip, so we took our full packs while Powell and Gerlach took only day packs at the cost of having to hike back out of Williamson bowl that evening. The campsites at Lake 3733m were so fantastic we immediately ditched our plan to camp at HOT. Packing into Williamson Bowl really wasn't as hard as people thought it would be. We left 3733 with day packs at around 9am.

Powell turned back at Lake HOT. Might have been the steep snow sides that dropped into open blue water. Might have been two long days in a row. Might have been getting clear that doing both Barnard and Trojan out our morning pace would get us back after dark. Either way, the rest of us climbed over a rock buttress and jumped over open water from snowbank to snowbank before settling into a boring grind up to the Trojan saddle.

I thought Clement decided to turn around at the Trojan saddle, but he decided to climb Trojan on his own. He was feeling the altitude and didn't like looking across at Barnard with what seemed to be a sandy boulder field with bad footing between.

Gerlach and I dropped into the barren bowl and traversed to Barnard's summit partly on snow, partly on 3rd class rock, and partly boulder hopping. No loose talus or sand! We topped Barnard around 130pm, an hour before our agreed turnaround time. There is one empty page left in the old register, but a new book is waiting. I looked up my old entry from the very first Climb-O-Rama, which quoted Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb", also in my mind climbing this time. ("There is no pain, you are receding... I have become comfortably numb.")

We lounged in the warm sun for half an hour, then shot across to Trojan (1000' down and up plus the sandy traverse) in about 2 more hours. Clement, at Lake 3733, could hear us whooping from the summit! We tried but could not make radio contact with Powell or Murray, and assumed they were at Anvil. Clouds built more severely than the day before, circled our valley, and tossed a few snowflakes at us as we returned to Lake 3733 by 6p. (3900' of gain, an 11 hr day, and Gerlach still had to traverse the Williamson Bowl and climb back over the hump to camp.)


Even though the sun was gone for the day, I risked my ankles wading into ice-covered Lake 3733 and took a most refreshing dip while Clement shook his head at my stoopidity.


Sunday we left for Versteeg just before 8am. No alpine start for US!

Misreading Secor, I talked Clement into going directly up the nice ridge from the outlet of Lake HOT, which dead ends in class 4-5 bulge. Peering over the edge, we discovered the CORRECT saddle and a scree chute that leads up from Lake HOT. From the lake's "outlet", the north end, head south around the west side of HOT. The second scree chute south of Versteeg's northeast ridge is the right one. You should be able to see a huge pink boulder in the chute, which is about at the same elevation as the dead end we hit on the ridge. Beyond Miss Pinky, the footing firms up a bit and you are soon at the saddle (around 13k). It looks like you could reach this point from Lake 3733 or Lake HOT, but we didn't have crampons and the north face was hard steep snow.

Clement gave up on the loose chute just below Miss Pinky, ignoring my shouted comments that "it gets better up here". I suppose he's heard THAT before! Anyway, from the saddle I crossed about 20' of dicey snow by plunging my axe all the way to the head and supporting my weight while I kicked steps. A short sidewalk leads left onto the ridge proper, followed by 100' of steep and airy third class climbing. The ridge stays a classic knife edge but drops to second class from there to the summit. The view is AMAZING! Much better, in my opinion, than from Trojan or Barnard. Lakes on every side of you, and frontal views of the giants in the area. Even with a false start I was on top by 11am. This peak sometimes goes a whole year without being visited, and mine was the first signature of 2001.

The north face of Versteeg appears to be rubble on ledges, dangerous and not much more fun than the scree chute. I couldn't see most of it due to snow cover, so don't take my word as gospel! Both north face and northeast ridge routes are "splintery" rock, not clean granite.

Viewed from Lake 3733, the true summit is the squarish block, and viewed from the saddle at the north end of Williamson Bowl the true summit is the left of 4 bumps, as shown in the marked-up picture. The "northeast ridge" route is really only on the ridge for 500' of gain, but it's very aesthetic once you get to it!

We lazed around before breaking camp, and walked slowly so we could spend Sunday night at Anvil before hiking out in the cool of Monday morning. Unfortunately, mosquitoes had sprouted between our entry and exit, but once again there were no people at Anvil. We split up for the final hike out, Clement not being a morning person, but each spent about 3 hours stomping down and up and down to the cars. There was fresh bear scat on the trail, and Clement once chased a bear away from his car at the trailhead, but we saw no bears on this trip.

Photos

Discussion

Arun Mahajan adds:

I thought that one is not allowed to go to Williamson after the 30th of June due to the Bighorn Sheep Preserve restrictions...

Harlan Suits replies:

No, the cutoff date is July 15.

Arturo Crespo adds:

According to http://www.r5.fs.fed.us/inyo/vvc/trails.htm, access from Shepherd Pass is permitted 12/15-7/15 and from George Creek 4/15-5/15 and 12/15-1/1. I wrote in my permit application that I was going to travel cross country to Mt. Williamson and I got the permit, but I never talked to a ranger...

Mark Connell adds:

I am told it closes on July 15th.


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