Tyndall in a Day
- A Little History
- Shepherd Pass
- Climbing Mt. Tyndall
- The Summit Ridge
- Skiing a 14er
- The Cirque
- Hiking Out
SHEPHERD PASS, CALIFORNIA — the plan was simple: climb and ski Mount Tyndall in a single day. There were good reasons to try it in one day—and good reasons not.
But it is the lot of the occasionally ambitious ski mountaineer to want to do something interesting every now and then, so I drove to the Shepherd Pass trailhead and started climbing at midnight. Ten hours later I turned back, crushed by the scale of the effort. Now, exactly one week later, I am back to try it all over again...
At the Trailhead
Shepherd Pass Headwall
As a rule I am quite fond of creature comforts. I like to sit on my sofa; I like warm beds and down pillows, indoor plumbing, a cup of jasmine tea. I am not an ultramarathoner or a triathlete. I do not consider myself a hardman.
So how do I explain an endeavor like Tyndall in a day?
Sometimes it's as if these ideas are beamed remotely into my head. Next thing you know, I'm soloing in the middle of the night heading up, up, up as if nothing else matters. Afterward I stand around a little lost, a lot sore, thinking well thank goodness that's over. Or maybe that's not it at all...
At 14,025’ in elevation, Mount Tyndall is easily California's most remote fourteen-thousand-foot peak.
The shortest approach travels via Shepherd Pass trail, starting at a meager 6300’ in Owens Valley, climbing a hard 3000 vertical feet to Symmes Saddle before whimsically dropping and regaining 500 vertical feet, then climbing the hard push to Shepherd Pass.
That puts you about a mile from the base of Tyndall. Figure roughly 24 miles round trip to the actual summit, with a combined vertical gain and loss just under 18,000 feet, and you've got about as tough a haul as you can find in the Sierra. The route is especially ill-suited to the needs of the skier. Much of the trail travels waterless south aspects, and much of these can be expected to be bare even in a big winter. I had long wanted to get up Shepherd Pass with skis.
The Williamson Bowl region holds some of the Sierra's most formidable ski descents—if you can reach them. But as I contemplated ways to somehow ski the region, I found myself always rejecting this strategy or that as lacking feasibility. The sticky point was always the same: for a 140lb climber, the extra weight of overnight gear seemed untenable.
And then it came to me: why not forgo overnight gear altogether? To avoid carrying skis plus boots plus overnight gear up the abominably long Shepherd Pass Trail, I'd try to do the whole bastard in one continuous push, starting in the middle of the night. The proposition was madness—sure—but all the alternatives looked at least as loony.