On the morning of Day 5 we got up early and packed up, saying goodbye to Pavla since she was heading in a different direction than us. Her plan was to meet up with some other friends who were heading out via Mt Whitney. Meanwhile, David and I were heading over to Shepherd Pass to set up a base camp for the next couple of nights in order to climb Mt Tyndall and Mt Williamson.
We exited Wright Lakes basin via the simple cross-country Rockwell Pass, a shortcut that would quickly connect us to the trail heading towards Shepherd Pass from the JMT. Rockwell Pass is famous as the location of the highest observed tornado, but I was perfectly happy avoiding such excitement when we visited.
Once we reconnected to trail, we headed east towards Shepherd Pass. The trail climbs gently and easily on this side of the pass, and just before the high point we veered off to the right to lake 3661. The terrain up here is open and unforgiving in bad weather, so once again we appreciated the beautiful day we had going for us.
A few other groups had set up camp around the lake, but we found a fantastic spot with a bit of protection from the wind (should any pick up) and out of the line of sight from pretty much any other campsite around the lake. By 10:30 am, our tent was set up and we started preparing for the rest of the day: a climb of Mt Tyndall.
Mt Tyndall is the lowest of the California 14ers, only about 30 feet higher than its neighbor and yesterday’s climb, Mt Barnard. Numbers are really arbitrary, aren’t they? Just because its elevation starts with 14, Tyndall gets all the attention. ANYWAYS. We had gotten a close look at the southwest slope of Tyndall from Wright Lakes basin, but this was my first time seeing the classic northeast side view in person, complete with beautiful slabby looking ribs. It really was a lovely view from camp.
I was looking forward to the route, following the prominent North Rib to the ridge. In fact, when I had been asking around about my original plan of climbing this peak from Wright Lakes, I was strongly advised that the north rib was a classic route that I would enjoy tremendously, and skipping it would be a crime. So, the North Rib it is!
The North Rib of Tyndall is a class 3 climb of mixed talus, loose dirt with ball-bearing sized rocks, and solid slabs. Once can choose their route along the rib depending on which they prefer. The slabs were a bit steep, and my feet kept sliding on the dirt, so I tried to stick to the large talus as much as possible. It was mostly solid, but if I got too close to the dirt the talus would slide.
The slope is steep and there is enough loose stuff that I wore a helmet, mostly because there were other people on the route above me and if they kicked a rock down in the wrong spot I would have been toast.
After an hour or so of enjoyable climbing up the rib, we were just under the upper ridge and facing the trickiest part of the climb. Getting onto the ridge can be a difficult affair since most of the chutes lead to class 4+ terrain. There is one class 2 chute that works, and finding it is the hardest part. I had studied photos and trip reports and was certain I recognized the correct one. I scrambled up the chute with about 20 feet of vertical class 3 climbing, only to find a wall of class 4+ rock on the other side. That definitely wasn’t it.
We decided we had somehow veered off of the rib and gone too far to the right. We could see where the true rib was, and it was a few hundred feet off to the left. The problem was the terrain in between the chute we were in and the correct rib was slabby but just steep enough that I didn’t trust friction-walking across it. So we descended until we could cross over at a safer spot, finding some convenient cracks in the slabs to wedge our feet into.
Now we were standing under another chute and it also looked like the right one. I can definitely see how people get stymied by this part of the climb. I scrambled on ahead, not enjoying the loose sand and rocks in the chute, but when I popped out at the top I had the view I wanted – the easily-scrambled pile of boulders that led to the summit of Mt Tyndall.
A few more minutes of easy scrambling got us to the summit of Mt Tyndall. Woo hoo! My 5th of the California 14ers and probably my favorite climb of one so far. I’ve done all the ‘easy’ ones so I really enjoyed the more challenging terrain on Tyndall. The views of Williamson Bowl and Wright Lakes Basin are out of this world, and we took the time to take photos, browse the summit register, and stare at Mt Williamson with furrowed brows.
The only tricky part of the descent is finding the top of the notch again. It had been well marked with cairns and I had made sure to visually memorize the 360 degree view as well as mark a GPS waypoint on our ascent. So it was no problem picking our way back to the top of the chute and descending back down to the rib.
The loose ball-bearing dirt was even more annoying on the descent and I had to be careful to keep my feet from sliding out from under me. I ended up staying as close as possible to the top of the rib, sticking to more solid but larger talus boulders. It wasn’t a super quick descent since it was necessary to watch every step, but it was faster than the climb up!
Back at the base of the peak, we regrouped, sucked down the last of our water, and set off across the easy alpine terrain back to our camp. We still had plenty of daylight left for some basic camp chores and fishing. In fact, we both pulled several large trout from the lake, but decided to throw them back and eat the food we had carried all this way instead.
Everyone else camped at the lake had left while we were on Tyndall so we were pleased to have this beautiful place to ourselves. The sunset light on Tyndall was a perfect way to end this great day.