Bairs Creek Cirque — Page 4

Mount Williamson - Bairs Creek Cirque

The Hero's Traverse

Confronting despair is one of the great challenges of Williamson. The mountain can induce a crippling sense of hopelessness, and over the past year's 'training,' I have repeatedly warned myself to be ready for it.

Success will seem impossible. The mountain will grow higher, farther, steeper. I have told myself these things, and yet, when I reach the Notch and stare into the rugged Bairs Creek drainage below, I am nonetheless paralyzed by the view.

Scree and Me The Hero's Traverse Overhanging branches Andy Traversing Looking back toward the notch

The Cirque is maddeningly distant. The summit isn't even visible. Just to get to the creek, I've got to traverse perhaps two miles of steep, trailless scree blocked by cliffs and low-hanging trees.

If I get to the creek, the Cirque—and the snow—are another 2000 vertical feet above.

One of the nagging questions this past year has been whether the Williamson Approach was really as bad as my memory insisted.

Now, as I begin the slow, painful traverse to the creek, I realize my memory has indeed failed me. The reality of the climb is much, much worse.

Slipping, sliding, stumbling, I start across the north side of the drainage.

From the Notch there is a semblance of a trail, which quickly breaks apart as the brush thickens.

Whether these faint paths were made by carefree scampering animals, or humans staggering beneath 50lb backpacks and skis, I cannot say, but I will note the paths travel repeatedly underneath overhanging branches.

The branches inevitably catch my ski tips, threatening to tip me over. I resort to crouching, bending over, and hiking backwards to try to pass through these obstacles.

When that is not possible, I'm forced to ditch the pitiful trail and hike up or down the cascading rock and scree.

Theoretically, it might be possible to maintain an even traverse to the creek and thus avoid excessive climbing and descending. In reality, however, the traverse soon winds around gullies and cliff bluffs, which force me to climb up and down, and even backtrack.

It is utterly withering. Recalling my attempt a year ago, I find myself impressed I got as far as I did. The Traverse goes on. The heat is positively baking me. I'm carrying two liters of water, and I'm already running low. I'm reconsidering my earlier thoughts on not wanting a trail.

My mind begins to wander, seeking escape. I christen this part of the route "the Hero's Traverse", for it requires a heroic effort to press onward, rather than simply collapse into the sandy earth. I keep going.

next: Ode to Williamson

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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