Attempting to climb second tallest peak in California

Mountain Secrets

Tony KrizanJuly 25, 2012 

One gets excited when discovering that a hiking area closed for decades has reopened. Last spring I was informed that the Mount Williamson climb was now open for year-round hiking. This peak is the second tallest in the state of California at 14,375 feet, second only to Mount Whitney at 14,494 feet. There are four routes to the Mount Williamson summit and only one is class two departing from the George Creek Trailhead.

Mount Williamson was named after Major Robert Stockton Williamson of the Army's Pacific Railroad Survey crew of 1853. He was acclaimed for his skills of mapping and surveying that allowed a route for the Pacific Railroad to be built through California. The first successful recorded accent of Mount Williamson was performed by W.L. Hunter and C. Mulholland in 1884. They hiked the rugged George Creek Canyon route.

Fred Cochran, Clem Bingham and I departed Oakhurst for the four hour drive to Bishop California to pick up our permits. We then drove to the town of Independence, taking Market Street to Frontier Road west and then started the eight miles of desert roads. A high clearance 4x4 vehicle is required one mile before reaching the trailhead.

The George Creek Trailhead is located at 6,345 feet. Since there is no established trail we followed the creek with game-used trails. Since George Creek is the only local water source, the presence of deer, bear and mountain lion prints follow along this creek.

The steep canyon walls confined us to the thick brush and willow trees that survive along this water source. Our creek crossings had their interesting moments, such as boulder hopping, rolling our packs under the thick foliage and crawling under large willow tree branches without the aid of a saw to clear a pathway. Once on the other side we continued boulder hopping and carefully negotiating the loose scree on the canyon slope.

The first day was quite difficult but on the brighter side this stream created a pristine path with many small waterfalls. Even those fallen ancient pine and cedar trees that graced the canyon walls for decades found a resting place creating natural bridges which aided our many stream crossings.

For our first campsite we shared the only flat area. Tents were impossible to set up for the lack of space. Fred slept on a rock shelf and Clem and I shared a space between a log and rock face.

Our second day was more of the same type of hiking, difficult stream crossings and unlimited boulder hopping. Those few markers we found were quite helpful. But if the markers were high on the canyon walls, we ignored that route and stayed close to the stream.

Again, we were disappointed with our progress on day two. We originally allocated five days to complete the adventure to the summit of Mount Williamson.

After our break we realized that the amount of food we had in relation to climbing time would leave us two to three days over extended. Knowing we couldn't reach the summit within our allocated time, our decision was to return early to the trailhead.

Our second camp was under a Willow Tree and within a dry seasonal stream bed . That evening the skies clouded up and between 4-6 p.m. we had rain and hail. Luckily, the rain was not heavy enough to affect our campsite in the dry stream bed.

The following morning the skies were cloudy but no rain. Also the rain yesterday must have stirred up the bear population. As we dropped in elevation the ground was covered with tracks. No sightings of bear, but they must be attracted to the stream and the fresh berries that grow along its banks. Those small red berries were sweet and I sampled quite a few on the return hike.

At the trailhead, looking back toward the mountains, dark black clouds blocked the view toward the peak. Weather predictions were correct. Thunder storms at the higher elevations.

If I attempt this adventure again, I'll be prepared for those hidden surprises offered by our Sierra Nevada Mountains.

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