Mt. Williamson and Mt. Tyndall Ascents

Mt. Williamson (14,375 feet) is the second highest peak in California, behind Mt. Whitney (14,505 feet). The few feet it lacks in elevation it more than makes up for in difficulty and the work involved to climb it. There are no easy ways up this peak, nor are there any easy ways up Mt. Tyndall (14,015 feet), Williamson’s neighbor just to the west. The good news is that both these peaks are much less often climbed than their higher companion to the south (Whitney) and both offer astounding views and an enjoyable amount of moderate mountaineering. Mt. Williamson’s west face route was first climbed in 1903 by a group led by the redoubtable Joseph Le Conte. The route is primarily class two and three, but just below the summit plateau a short steep headwall blocks the way. A short rope length takes us through this and on to the summit. We descend the same way.

Mt. Tyndall is a far more graceful peak than its neighbor and our chosen route, the Northwest Ridge, is a perfect fourth class ridge. Often in the Sierra, the easier routes tend to be loose and mainly covered in talus. This ridge, however, offers great scrambling over huge blocks and narrow ridge traverses on wonderful rock. For trivia buffs the peak is named for the scientist who first developed a theory as to why the sky is blue.


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This area lies within the range of the Sierra bighorn sheep and we need to be aware of these animals and the need not to disturb them. There are few of these magnificent animals left and we will be doing our part to avoid disturbing them.

For a map look at the Mt. Williamson 7.5 minute map. Guide books include Secor’s “The High Sierra; Peaks, Passes and Trails” and “Climbing California’s Fourteeners” by Porcella and Burns.

This is a strenuous trip. The climb to camp at the pass involves around 6000’ of elevation gain on day one, with a full pack. If you would prefer to add an extra day to the trip, please contact us to work out details. This would allow us to split up the first day’s ascent into two days, and allow for more acclimatization at the start of the trip.

Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.

Return to Classic Alpine Rock Climbs

Our standard scheduled trip is filled with constant motion and involves a lot of climbing.

Day One:
We meet in Independence at 7.00 a.m. and after a pack check start the long steady approach climb up and over Shepherd Pass to a camp just west of the Pass. The trailhead is one of the lowest in the Eastern Sierra and the trail to the pass is about ten miles long. Once at the pass we set up a basecamp adjacent to Summit Lake under the eastern slopes of Mt. Tyndall. The trailhead is 6400 feet and the pass is 12,030 feet. Plus we have to drop 550 feet when crossing over from Symmes Creek to Shepherd Creek.

Day Two:
We head off to Mt. Williamson. We have to climb up and drop down into Williamson Bowl and its small lakes (For the fishermen among you, one of the lower lakes is the only stock of pure Colorado cutthroat that were transplanted here in the 1930’s to avoid cross breeding with other species which has occurred in their native habitat.). We have to negotiate complex terrain around the lakes and then head up towards the rock band mentioned. Once through this the summit is 10 minutes off. We descend the same way back to camp.

Day Three:
We head off to Mt. Tyndall and this is not such a long day as Mt. Williamson. We plan to climb the Northwest Ridge, We will ascend narrow ridges and climb over large rocky steps to reach the summit. We will descend the class 3 North Rib, which was the original ascent route in 1864 (by Clarence King and Richard Cotter).

Day Four:
We pack up camp and descend the trail back to the parking lot where we hope to arrive early in the afternoon. Even as a hike out downhill, it is still a long day and there is the 550 foot climb back out of Shepherd Creek (Did we mention this before?).

Elevations and Distances:
Trailhead to Summit Lake Camp: 8.5 miles, 6550’ of gain, 930’ of descent
Summit Lake Camp to Williamson: 2.5 miles, 3200’ of gain, 850’ of descent
Summit Lake Camp to Tyndall: 1.4 miles, 2100’ of gain, 150’ of descent
Summit Lake Camp to trailhead: 8.5 miles, 930’ of gain, 6550’ of descent
These are big days indeed so come fit and prepared!!


Program Prerequisites:

Technical climbing skills are not required but prior backpacking experience is recommended as is experience at altitudes above 12,000’. This is a physically demanding trip and you should be in good condition and have the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with a moderately heavy pack.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits, all necessary group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear and breakfast, lunch and dinner daily (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.

Local accommodation is not included.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details, itinerary, and equipment list for your trip
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

Williamson/Tyndall map

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.