Sometimes the best laid plans can force one into an unexpected decision. That is what happened this season when Fred Cochran, Clem Bingham, and I decided once again to accept the challenge of hiking to the summit of Mount Williamson at 14,379 feet.
July of 2012 was our first attempt following the George Creek Trailhead. Thunder storms forced us to turn around before arriving at the summit.
Once again, in August of 2013, because of thunder storms the previous week, the roads leading to both trailheads, George Creek and Shepherd Pass, were washed out.
In August of 2015, after checking with the weather service, we chose the trailhead at Sheppard Pass. Our reasoning was that we would be on a trail 80%of this hike and that would eliminate forging our way through thick brush along the George Creek route.
After picking up our permits at the Mono Visitors Center in Leevining on Highway 395, we continued driving south toward Bishop. Then it was only a short 40-mile drive to Independence to start our final leg to the Shepherd Pass Trailhead.
Guess what? Remember the “Rough Fire” that has been burning out of control for weeks within the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we arrived into a cloud of thick smoke. The mountains in this area were only a faint outline, concealed by the unhealthy thick smoke. Could this trip be another rejection?
After taking the advice from the tail crew repairing the washed out trail from two years ago, we decided to cancel our hike to Mount Williamson. Upon their suggestion, we decided to drive north beyond Tioga Pass Road. This forest fire hasn’t affected the areas north of Leevining.
The following morning, we drove back to the Mono Visitors Center in Leevining. The only response from Paul the Forest Ranger was “I told you so.”
Immediately we started reviewing our maps and came up with three separate alternate adventures in the Saddlebag Lake area. We set up our base camp at Sawmill Campground off of Tioga Pass Road. From there we drove the short distance to Saddlebag Lake at 10,066 feet, rode the Water Taxi to the west end of the lake and started our five-mile loop.
We chose the west trail as it skirted around Green Stone, Wasco, Cascade, Steelhead and Shamrock Lakes. To the west of these lakes are the 12,000-foot-plus peaks of Mount Connass, North Peak and White Mountain. Each mountain looked like a painting against the backdrop of the blue morning sky.
We continued toward Helen Lake, which is the head waters of Mill Creek that flows down over 1,000 feet into Lundy Canyon. Two years ago, we hiked that trail down into Lundy Canyon.
Today we’ll follow the loop back toward Lundy Pass at 10,320 feet. But first we’ll pass Odell and Hummingbird Lakes before arriving back to Saddlebag Lake to complete our loop. Just for reference, this is an easy class No. 2 trail hike.
Gardisky Lake was a shorter hike but a much steeper trail, also a class No. 2 hike. It was named after an early pioneer, Al Gardisky, who built a log cabin in the area in 1919; and in 1920, he also built a log-cabin store at the present Tioga Pass Resort location. This large lake at 10,480 feet is impressive, and it gave us a view of Dore Pass, which we hiked over two years ago.
Then our objective was to follow the footsteps of those early miners (12 men) in 1882 who pulled 16,000 pounds of mining equipment on a sled in the dead of winter over this pass before roads were available.
The third hike started at the west end of Sawmill Campground. Alpine Lake was the destination at 11,080 feet. The trail will pass the Carnegie Institute Experimental Station before the used trail starts at 10,250 feet. Somehow the trail disappeared but with the help of maps and GPS the lake was located. This lake is another hidden treasure snuggled into these local mountains. Coming back, the discovery of ducks (markers) made the descent to the used trail much easier - another class No. 2 hike difficult hike boulder hopping.
This six-hour adventure, coupled with the two-hour Gardisky Lake and six-hour Saddlebag Lake Loop more than made up for the loss of hiking to the summit of Mount Williamson.
Do you think Mother Nature wants us to forget about the Mount Williamson adventure?