Mount Williamson

7-9 May 2004 - by Mike Mcdermitt

Bairs Creek is an alternate route up Mount Williamson. Basically the entire route is visible from Highway 395 and as such (unlike George Creek and Shepherd Pass) it had always intrigued me. When Doug Mantle mentioned last year that he needed Williamson and was thinking about the Bairs Creek route I spoke up right away. As a result, early Friday morning May 7 found Doug and I speeding along Foothill Road towards the trailhead. We parked Doug's car at the small unsigned trailhead parking area at about 6200'. It was the only car there on what, due to the bighorn sheep restrictions, was the third of only four weekends in Spring that the peak is open from the east/ southeast.

By 7.40 am we were walking up a good use trail on the south side of the creek. The trail soon enters a modestly forested area providing shade. The canyon walls steepen. Before long the creek makes a sharp curve around a headwall (as indicated by the map; the creek is generally not visible in the lower part of the canyon). The trail climbs up the headwall from left to right to a notch (left of a large spire) which is passed over with about 15' of third class climbing though a crack 11/2' 2' wide. The notch is about 1000' above the trailhead. The trail continues with ducks often appearing where the trail passes through rocky or sandy areas. As the canyon opened up the creek was covered with snow from about 8000' the remains of an avalanche and we found easy going on a firm surface. At a point where a snow-covered gully came in from the left (south) side we took it for about 50 yards, turned right up in a dry gully and then onto the nose of a ridge. From here we generally focused on following reasonable terrain rather than worry about if we were on the use trail. The terrain is steep and multiple routes are possible; we just kept heading upward on mixed snow, rock and dirt. No significant brush was encountered anywhere. The snow level was about 9500'.

We pulled into camp, approximate elev. 10,350' at 2.30pm. Roughly 4200' net gain was made in probably no more than 3 miles. The campsite had a number of gnarled pines and a flat area devoid of snow with two or three small tent/bivy sites cleared of rocks. There was no water but plenty of snow. Camping any higher would have required being on snow with no trees to break the wind. The campsite has a spectacular view of the Owens Valley, the Inyos and various ranges beyond. Before long a strong steady wind picked up. We had an early dinner, melted lots of water, and were in our bivys by 5pm. (Note: this camping area is so very small that climbers should plan to pack out human waste or at minimum crouch among rocks to spare the trees.)

Saturday we were off by about 6.30am under clear calm skies. Again the route is obvious up the generally snow-covered bowl for about 1600' gain to a headwall and then up the obvious couloir slightly to climber's right for another 400' or so to Williamson's broad southeast ridge. The sun had softened the snow sufficiently so that the couloir, although steep (up to ~45 degrees), was not particularly difficult given crampons and ice axe. The wide ridge had little snow. Whitney, Russell and other nearby peaks to the south came into view. After about 800' gain the ridge levels out and reaches a small bowl at the bottom of another snow covered face. We cramponed up this wide face which gains about 800' and reaches a good 40 degrees to attain the summit plateau, which separates the true peak from the horns'. Another 400' of climbing over rock and snow brought us to the actual summit, which I reached around noon and Doug some 20 minutes sooner.

We lounged enjoying the terrific calm weather and great views for 45 minutes. There was no register to be found but we added our names to the single sheet of paper left by Sid Rao and another climber some days earlier, and placed same in a plastic baggy.

By early afternoon the snow on the east- and southeast- facing slopes which largely comprised our ascent route was quite soft and glissading was effective and safe. As a result we ended up glissading approximately 2500' of the 4000' back to camp, which we reached shortly after 3pm. The descent time of 21/2 hours included 15 20 minutes chatting with a group which had come up from George Creek but had run out of time, on the southeast ridge. We also benefited from a thin high cloud layer which allowed the snow to soften but not overly so and kept temps mild.

Saturday evening the wind did not pick up and we enjoyed a pleasant dinner watching the sunlight fade from Inyos. Sunday we were packed and walking just before 7am. The steepness of the route is painfully obvious on the descent you need to have gas left in the tank to get out. But we managed to do so without incident and reached the car around noon.

Route Notes The directions to the trailhead on Climber.Org are good, although only the only creek crossing on the approach to the trailhead is Bairs Creek North Fork; Bairs Creek proper goes under a culvert. The Bairs Creek North Fork was about five feet wide and about 8 inches deep at center which Doug's heavily loaded 2wd Lexus sedan crossed without any problem; in a heavier snow year or a different point in the season the crossing could pose more of an issue for low-clearance vehicles. Many thanks to Tom Sexton and Bob Rockwell for their trip report from May 1995 posted in the SPS archives which was helpful and is accurate. The entire bowl from about 8000' up to and including couloir are clearly visible from 395. There is also a good view of the southeast ridge and the face above it from the Whitney Portal Road at about the 6000' level.

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