Mt Williamson, NE Ridge
(East Horn from Owens Valley)

19-20 Jun 2004 - by Ron Hudson

This was a California Mountaineering Club trip organized by R.J. Secor. Five CMCers started at 4AM from the Shepherd Pass trailhead (Symmes Creek). We hiked about a mile SW (1870 meters low point) to the roadend on Shepherd Ck, crossed the creek, then went upward WNW on the ridge starting at the W side at the creek outlet. There was good forest, in places, of pinyon and then limber pine. Much evidence of deer or bighorn sheep there. At 9AM we got to the spot at 3020+ m (wilderness boundary) where the ridge flattens out for a few hundred meters.

Next some of us went around and others over point 3070+. R.J. was going slowly and Mike was low on water. They decided to turn around, and Werner Landry, Matt Haynes, and I continued. We next climbed up a ridge peak (3240+) and then down to the significant notch at 3180+. We didn't try to climb the next peak (although it seemed climbable OK); instead we downclimbed the E side of the notch about 150m into the N tributary of the N branch or Bairs Ck. On the W side of this broad bowl were snow patches, so we rehydrated, at 2PM. At one spot here we were lower in altitude than 4 hours earlier. I typically don't drink much water, but this day I drank more with the constant hard breathing of about 7000' of gain, in the (dry but not hot) air. The group had started with 3 to 5 quarts of water each. Next we continued N to the top of the bowl at about 3400m.

We then used our rope and some chocks for two pitches of traversing the E-W knife edge ridge. It was class 4 in places. After that, using a couple notch passages, we were able to go down and across the smaller drainages N of the main ridge. Then it was a matter of just climbing class 2 talus about 250 m to what we saw to be the best flat spot, near the point a 3760m+. So, at around 12,200' we prepared our sleep site; I spotted some tin can remnants and an old Sterno container previous bivouac. With some work there was sandy flat space for 4. We had stopped for the night at 6:30 PM. No wind, warm; we melted snow, ate dinner, and appreciated the beautiful view and sunset. Two of us had light sleeping bags with bivy sacks and slept well; one had only a bivy bag over clothes and was able to sleep only a couple hours.

At 6AM we continued up along the ridge, mostly class 3, and entered the next bowl. There we saw a few bivy sites used by others; it is the drainage used for the Williamson Creek access to the East Horn which I had ascended in 1999. Then we went up the 2nd class talus slope at the top of that drainage (visible from Owens Valley) to the East Horn Summit. We got there at 9AM. Interesting in that the register had in it that only about 8 parties had climbed the Horn since my ascent in 1999. And from 1979-1999 only about 8 parties signed the book. And a party of two had signed the register also on this day 6/20/04! I yelled and looked but saw nobody. But we did see glissade tracks from the West Horn into N Fork Bairs Ck. The E horn at 14,125' is considered a fourteener by some and is a worthy goal. The way Mt Williamson sticks out, separated from the main Sierra crest, makes it very impressive. It is the second highest summit in the Sierra. And when you are on the E horn, you are on top of Owens Valley below.

We wanted to go to the higher W Horn and Williamson summit, but the climbing looked too formidable. The main notch was behind two towers, and we could not see its depth. Probably climbable 5th class, and certainly rappellable (300'?,) but we did not have a full rack, more than one rope, nor lots of time. I doubt more than a few have ever done the traverse to the other Horn, after reading the register entries. So we decided to go down, heading back via Williamson Creek. We then used the route I had ascended in 1999. It was mostly class 2 with some 3 and required staying about 200-300m W of the main watercourse draining the bowl. We used our ice axes in a couple places, but they were not essential. We didn't use the crampons we had carried. Near the bottom I couldn't see the route down past the cliff, but Werner found a good tree that we used to rappel the last obstacle. We reached Williamson Ck, at the 3040m level, at 2PM.

The canyon downward remaining was tough going. It involved talus, avalanche debris, loose hillsides, crossing the creek with fairly high water, dense growth, carrying our packs with climbing gear and weary from the climb. The five miles took five hours. There was an animal trail the last half mile on the N side; we did get back to our cars before dark.

So the trip involved two 14 hour days, 41/2 miles along or near the ridge with about 10,000' gain with all the ups and downs. Climbing on the ridge proper with some class 4-5 moves, but mostly 3rd class (often exposed with much care required, while carrying packs) since there usually were solid hand and foot holds. It was an enjoyable challenging alpine climb that few parties tackle.

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