Williams Mountain South C, Williams Mountain South A, Williams Mountain South B, Williams Mountain, Williams Mountain North
Trailhead: Lost Man (Hwy 82)
Elevation Gain: 5,767'
Time: ~13 hrs (7.5 hrs along ridge)
Difficulty: class 4 - 5.easy
September = The end of monsoons. Dry stable air. Perfect weather for big alpine trips! So I made plans. Trained hard. Bought gear for trip. Lined up all the details.
BOOM! 100-500 year flood. Raining for days, roads washed out, trapped at home on my island. Plans ruined. The Universe has spoken. NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! At least my house didn't flood. It did the year before from a faulty toilet hose - so I know the pain and trouble neighbors are feeling all too well.
What to do now? Always look on the bright side of life!
Saturday looked like a brilliant weather day in the northern Sawatch. I had cancelled plans to do the Williams Traverse on 3 separate occasions due to bad weather forecasts, choosing something easier and shorter instead. It seemed appropriate to put this plan on the docket with the good forecast, and Oh would I need all day for this traverse!
Drove up to the busy trailhead Friday night after dinner (with beer) at Tommyknockers, and got in my sleeping bag for the chilly night ahead. Did not sleep well. Too much stress lately and thoughts in my head or something. Did not want to get out of warm bag in the morning. So I stayed in it... for a long time. Crap, it's light out, better get up and out there. Got a super alpine start of 7:15am! So to make up for it, I set a crushing pace up the switchbacks on the trail, completely forgetting the chilly temperature. I have cold-induced asthma. I started to feel the onset, so I threw on the brakes and started pressure breathing. My altimeter watch batteries had died that very morning, and so I didn't realize how fast I was cruising uphill at. Dang, hope this doesn't come back to haunt me later...
First part of the day was pretty easy, as I decided to stay on the nice trail to make up some time, instead of sticking to the ridge. Met a hunter with his horses near my trail turn off. He looked rather surprised to see a solo female cruising by! The first summit was quickly reached a little before 9am. Man, this was going to be a long, but fun day!
View of first peak from the Midland trail. I took ridge to the left up to summit.
Approaching the first summit - Williams C
Once on the summit of Williams Mtn South C, you get the first good views of the ridge run to come. the first part zig zags a little, but it looked fairly easy. Only one false bump along the way for added elevation gain. The ridge was not very difficult. Standard class 2 talus hopping, with some 2+ if you stick to the ridge. Easy breezy... so I spent much of the time focusing on my thoughts, and not necessarily on my feet. I had a lot to think about, being away from elevation for a few weeks with chaos in between. So you could say I was distraction hiking at this point. So distracted I tripped on a rock and bashed my knee bloody. Owwww! Woke me up from my internal reverie. I knew the traverse to come was going to involve some serious scrambling, route finding and exposure. No time to be distracted! If I didn't get myself out of this funk - it seemed like I was having an off day - I was going to have to bail off the ridge and do this another day. I seriously didn't want to bench myself for being a space cadet, but I would if I had to. Thankfully I had some easy ridge to hike for a while. So I went back to some meditation techniques I had taught myself a few years ago, and got my brain re-centered to the task at hand. Ridge run scramble = Focus!
View of ridge run to come!
Some class 2 (2+ on ridge proper) on way to 2nd peak, Williams A
Looking back at Williams C from ridge
Once on Williams Mtn South A, and feeling much better, I get a good view of the first ridge obstacle. It's at about the saddle with the false ridge bump to the next peak. You can see the slabs and gendarmes to bypass and scramble.
On Williams A, looking at ridge to come. The first scramble is prominent along ridge to false summit.
Zoom of Williams Mtn in sun
Zoom of Williams B in sun
So at the first crux, you start by bypassing the gendarme to the east, then take a ledge along the slabs on the west. When that ledge runs out, do not try to downclimb and follow ledge (I started to, until I realized my folly, as the ledge ends in a cliff). So at said cliff, go up and over the slabs back to the east side. Went back to ridge proper until I found some class 3 slabs descending the east face to get around the final ridge obstacle. From there, the ridge goes back to easy class 2 for a while.
The start of the ridge scramble... First gendarme is easily bypassed to east (right)
Looking back along slab ledges on west side (left)
Looking back at first crux. Note where ledges end on right side by giant boulder. - Don't go this way
The class 3 slabs down the east side of ridge
Past first crux section, looking at remaining ridge. The false summit can be easily bypassed on the east side (right)
Looking back on Williams A, crux in middle ground
Once on the other side of the ridge bump between Williams A and B, you get the first views of the ascent on Willy B. Giant blocky maze scramble. I stuck pretty close to the ridge until I had to choose the route. I initially went to the right of the ridge line, and found a bit of an exposed traverse scramble move I didn't quite like. So I thought if I went to the left of the ridge line, and then traversed over the giant fin, I'd get beyond that section. But I didn't like that way either. So I went back to the right, and went further over and then up a steep section of at least class 4. Feeling good that I had chosen a better way, I worked my way up the maze a bit. Then I found myself back in familiar territory... same exposed traverse section. Look to my left - there's the easy path I took from the ridge. Silly me! Well, back to where I started. This time I decided to take the steeper & harder option above me over the more exposed moves to my right. After the initial difficulty, the terrain eases off, and I found myself scrambling some easier class 3 to the summit block area.
The blocky scramble up Williams B
Start of scramble up Williams B
There's a route in there somewhere... Williams B
Looking back on false summit and Williams A
On the summit of Willy B, I take a little break to recover. I know the next section is the crux of the entire day. It's only a half mile, but much of the route finding and tough scrambling will occur here. Since the summit cliffs out almost immediately, I drop a little to the east to find passage back to the ridge. Miraculously, I see a cairn right above a narrow slot in the rocks that looks passable. Sweet! From there, I spot the very inviting notch to the right (east) of the big cliffy ridge gendarme. So I decide that since it doesn't involve elevation gain or loss, I would check it out. Turning around is never a big deal, as long as you can reverse your up-climbing moves.
On summit of Williams B, looking at the big prize, Williams Mtn
Oh look, a cairn! Dropping a slot off the summit of Williams B (Note giant gendarme in background with notch to right - This is the correct path)
Looking back at the notch off Williams B, from east (right) of the first ridge gendarme (from previous photo - below notch).
The view from going to the east of the first ridge gendarme. I scooted up the prominent crack on the left, under the boulders above. Got to the ledge to climb up to the upper ledge, and just wasn't tall enough, let alone confident enough to pull a major mantle move above the abyss. ABORT!
So then I decide that just going up to the right of the gendarme and along the ridgeline would work a little better. A much easier scramble than what you find around the corner, and you find yourself on the proper ledge along the ridge (the one that required the mantle move), that takes you to the other side of the gendarme. Then you get a view of the ridge to come... The center section looks pretty insane. As I make my way over to the ridge line again, and scramble down and around, I try to spy a route. From this distance, there looks like options, but I'm just not too sure. I'd rather not spend hours trying to only have to drop. But still, I persist until I find myself cliffed out along the ridge proper. I had loaded Furthermore's TR on my phone, and so I decide to recheck this section. With all the peak names being effectively the same, there was no way I could remember all the details! I had remembered him and Steve dropped off a nasty loose gully at one point. So reading up, it seemed I was in that same spot. He went to the west. But from my vantage point, the grassy gully to my east (right), looked much more pleasant for a descent and traverse than the scree on the west side. Plus from where I stood, I could tell my slope didn't cliff out below. Closer to the peak it was difficult to tell, and from further away, along the lower traverse - it does cliff out. So you do need to follow the ridge further to get to better terrain.
Just beyond the first gendarme off Williams B. A "cairned" ledge traverse back to the ridge proper
Ridge to Williams Mtn - muy picante!
Staying ridge proper till it cliffs out below...
Looking back up Williams B along ridge
Dropping the grassy slope on the east side (right). Note: first grassy gullies off summit cliff out on left of photo.
While I didn't want to drop off the ridge, this was a very fast work around and soon I was on the other side of the major difficulties looking for a good way back up to the ridge for the ascent on Williams Mtn. I went back up to the ridgeline just after the saddle/low point and had some easy scrambling before I got to a higher point to view the route ahead.
Traversing below the ridge gendarmes on the east side
Looking back at Williams B from the low traverse
Looking back at the gendarmed ridge to Williams B
Zoom of the summit ridge pitch off Williams B - Made it to the cliff right before the big pointy gendarme
Williams B in the sun, from higher up on Williams Mtn
What is this bird?
Getting closer to the summit of Williams Mtn, it reveals itself to be a real puzzle of route finding around the ridge gendarmes. It was here that I really started wondering about my choice to go solo today. I like to "gently push" my personal boundaries of endurance, scrambling difficulty, and exposure. I was starting to see that today was going to be a bit more like a shove. All the more reason to focus on the details of careful placements of hands and feet and route choice. You stick pretty close to the ridge line, as you make your way towards the 2 prominent giant boulders seen from far away. I wasn't sure how to approach them until I got closer. There are plenty of options, and I chose to take the narrow slot to the right of the giant blocks to squeeze through, over the highly exposed blocks on the ridge. Once through the slot, there was the option of a steep over hanging class 4-5.easy climb or a more exposed scramble. I chose the harder but less exposed option in the center. It was very committing, but I felt confident in my hand and foot placements. Once above, I found myself just feet from the summit proper. Woohoo! It felt so good to have reached this point. So I celebrated the spicy traverse with some spicy sausage I had found in Idaho Springs while waiting for my dinner companion the night before. Mmmm tasty and spicy!
Approaching the summit of Williams Mtn
Summit pitch of Williams - Note 2 giant blocks at top - aim for those
Upper summit pitch of Williams B - I took the narrow slot to the right of the giant blocks
Looking back through the narrow slot by the giant boulders
Final climb/scramble to summit. I stepped back as far as prudent to take this photo
Long break on summit as I contemplate my future. I know there is still more scrambling to go, and the ridge north off Williams Mtn looks... a bit scary airy! I'm fairly exhausted of route finding and scrambling at this point. So I decide to drop ~20' off the ridge and then traverse back onto it. I peer over the side of the blocks... uh no. So I drop and traverse another 10-20', and back to the ridge... still no. At this point I look into dropping a lot more off the west side... *Mental slap* No! Go back to ridge. So unfortunately I didn't take any photos at this point, since I had been doing so much scouting and backing off. But you can see the route I took in photo #22. Right before (to the right) of where the ridge turns north, there is a small divit. I climbed up this rather smooth feature, and found myself having to commit to some pretty smooth slab maneuvers. Being surrounded by harder options, I carefully spider-womaned my way across a precariously perched giant block and back up on top of the ridge. There was a cairn!!!!! Wow, how comforting that sight was. So was the view down the ridge. It would go, I had made the right decision to get back on the ridge. From here there was plenty more scrambling down to the saddle ridge gendarmes, but it was now easy class 3 (or at least easy to me by that point!)
Looking west from Williams Mtn, some leaves are changing in the valley below
Looking north from summit of Williams Mtn
View down north ridge of Williams Mtn
Rereading Furthermore's TR section, and he went east and west around the gendarmes, but thought west would be easiest. Once again, I have to disagree I stuck east on a high traverse, and quickly found myself on the other side, with just a short easy class 2 uphill to the final peak of the day Williams North.
More gendarmes along ridge to Williams North
Looking back at Williams Mtn from start of east gendarme traverse
Williams North from the east side gendarme traverse
Looking back on Williams Mtn, once past all the difficulties
On the way up the final few feet to the last summit, I felt my airways constrict. My asthma medication has worn off, and my folly from the morning is coming back to haunt me. It wasn't too bad on the downhill, but I had to go up and over a saddle on the east ridge of Williams Mtn to get back to the Lost Man Loop trail in the other drainage. That uphill took forever... I was sucking wind hard. At least the view from the top was nice. The sun was slowly setting and creating long shadows over the valley below. Quite magical, I had to sit and stare at it for a while. Made my way down to the trail, passing by backpackers tents here and there. Once on the trail, I knew light would be fading fast, so I set a brisk pace and finished the last 4+ miles in a hour and a half. Didn't make the trailhead before having to put on my headlamp, but that's why we carry them, right?
Looking down the gully off Williams North, with east ridge gully up and over in distance
Looking back at the grassy gully off of Williams North
From the east ridge of Williams Mtn, looking SE
Made my tailgate dinner, and made the long trek back home for some plans of another sort. With no motivation to keep training, and the weather looking horrid on Sunday, it was time to pick my life back up from before I had made silly plans foiled by the Spanish Inquisition!
Note: Should anyone want the GPX or more detailed/annotated images of the route I took, let me know. I do hate drawing on pretty photos!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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