3 day, 2 night backpacking trip up in the Sierras during a cold spell in late September. We started in Onion Valley outside of Independence after a comfy night’s sleep at the Mt Williamson Motel.
I knew it would be a lot of climbing– 6,000ft elevation gain the first day! I had never tackled that kind of climb in a day (even on JMT), but the beautiful scenery was distracting from some of the huffing and puffing . It was much greener than I expected and had 4 creek crossings within the first hour.
We took a snack break at an incredible look out point, where we could see Mount Williamson. It was chilly and we were nervous we wouldn’t be warm enough that night, so we continued our trek and setup our base camp in the early afternoon at Anvil Camp.
We had all our layers on and it definitely got cold! Woke up in the middle of the night to the soft sound of snow falling, and woke up to a light dusting on our tents. We packed up for a day hike and hiked up a fairly nonexistent trail up Shepard Pass. There was a lot of loose gravel and rock, had to really watch your step. This put us at an altitude of 12,000′ and crossed us into Sequoia National Park.
After scoping out the possible ascent path to Mount Williamson (second highest peak in the Sierras after Mt. Whitney) and calculating the minimal window of time we had, we decided to attempt the neighbor peak, Mount Tyndall (14,025′).
There is not a trail up Mount Tyndall, at least on the side we were ascending. It is a lot of rock scrambling, a bit precarious with big rocks that look stable, but are not necessarily. It was important to go slow and make sure you always had a solid hand and foot hold. It took a few hours to steadily scramble up the side of the peak, and ultimately we hit an impassable area of snow and had to turn around. Going down was scarier than going up, as your weight distribution is different and it’s much easier to slip. If you attempt, please please go slow and be careful.
I was very relieved to have both feet on the ground and to be able to stand up straight at the bottom. It was chilly up there; my Camelbak mouth piece had froze, so I kept it tucked in my jacket to keep it warm.
We made our way back down the steep part of Shepard Pass before dark. At camp, we boiled up water for hot chocolate and my favorite backpacking dinner to date, garlic mashed potatoes (I always get jealous of my hiking buddies who remember to bring delicious quick cooking meal options like instant mashed potatoes, and this was the first time I actually remembered to bring them! Just add boiling water and stir for 2 mins. Delicious!).
That night was colder than the previous (no cloud cover), and I woke up to condensation that had dripped onto my sleeping bag and froze. A slight “crunch” noise when I sat up in the morning. This fleece hoodie was the best $12 I spent for the trip, I wore it soon as the sun went down and made for extra warmth while sleeping. This was a quick trip for our crew, so we packed up our camp and headed back down the mountain to return to work the following day.
We initially set out to summit Mount Williamson and/or Mount Tyndall. As we said, we “had a really close look,” but due to weather and time we weren’t able to get to the tippy top of either. Maybe we’ll attempt again next summer when we can camp at the top of the pass, instead of underneath, then we can have a longer day to explore the high peaks.
An adventure as always– good friends, beautiful nature, and a butt kicking workout.
For great backpacking and hiking tips, trails and photos check out my friend Sarah’s website– TRAILove.com. Without her I wouldn’t go on half the hiking trips that I do. She’s so organized and passionate about backpacking and the outdoors, I’m glad she’s sharing her knowledge and talents with everyone. She is also the one to appear in many of the photos above!