Mount Tyndall (14,026′) via North Rib (Class-3 Mixed Scramble)

The east face of Mount Tyndall towers above Williamson Bowl.

The east face of Mount Tyndall towers above Williamson Bowl.

Mount Tyndall is a 14,026-foot (4,275-meter) peak located in the Sierra Nevada of California. It measures as the tenth-highest point in California. Although it is situated less than two miles west of its taller neighbor Mount Williamson, the east face of Mount Tyndall is a formidable sight: an arching wall of pristine granite rising above the turquoise lakes of Williamson Bowl. The familiar pointed summit can be recognized from almost anywhere in the southern part of the High Sierra.

The first ascent of Mount Tyndall was made by Clarence King and Richard Cotter in the year 1864 for the California Geological Survey. They spotted the mountain from the summit of Mount Brewer (far away on the Kings-Kern Divide) and declared that it must be the highest point in the continental United States. Their ascent took several days, and is documented rather melodramatically in King’s Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada. Upon reaching the summit, they laid eyes upon the true high point of the lower 48: Mount Whitney.

King wrote in his journals: “If nature had intended to secure the summit from all assailants, she could not have planned her defenses better; for the smooth, granite wall which rose above the snow slope continued, apparently quite round the peak and we looked in great anxiety to see if there was not one place where it might be climbed.” A similar impression is felt by those who approach the mountain from Shepherd Pass, but close investigation of the north face reveals a shallow rib of swollen granite that extends from base to top. This is the North Rib route, which offers over 1,000 vertical feet of quality class-3 scrambling.

The north face of Mount Tyndall perfectly reflected in the small tarn at Shepherd Pass. The north rib is the obvious shallow ridge bisecting the face.

The north face of Mount Tyndall perfectly reflected in the small tarn at Shepherd Pass. The north rib is the obvious shallow ridge bisecting the face.


SUMMARY: I climbed Mount Tyndall with Giselle in late June of the year 2015 during our 50-day northward trek along the crest of the Sierra Nevada. Coming off the summit of Mount Whitney, we followed the John Muir Trail northward until reaching the Bighorn Plateau. From here, we turned east and scrambled several cross-country miles to the tarn at the top of Shepherd Pass. We made camp on the snowy shore of the lake and ascended the North Rib of Mount Tyndall in the afternoon, returning to camp at sunset by the same route. We remained camped at Shepherd Pass in order to climb Mount Williamson the following day.


17 JUNE 2015

It’s 10:30am when Giselle and I reach Bighorn Plateau (11,500 ft). We’ve covered more than four mundane miles of John Muir Trail already this morning and it’s a good time for a break. In fact, this is where we plan to branch off from the trail and head cross-country for Shepherd Pass.

A quaint little alpine tarn sits peacefully in the center of the plateau, seeming to be also the center of the California highland universe. Unbroken chains of silver mountains adorn the horizon in every direction: the icy red palisades of the Kaweah Range to the west, the silver silhouettes of the Kings-Kern Divide to the north, and magnificent Sierra castles to the east and south.

Panorama looking northwest from Bighorn Plateau.

Panorama looking northwest from Bighorn Plateau.

The author at a quaint tarn on the Bighorn Plateau.

The author at a quaint tarn on the Bighorn Plateau.

We rest awhile by the tarn before starting our long cross-country trek to Shepherd Pass. Being above timberline now, the two of us are able to contour the southern apron of Tawny Point at 11,650 feet with no obstructions. Traveling on foot through the Sierra Nevada is absolutely liberating.

Hiking eastward up to Tawny Point from the Bighorn Plateau. The range on the horizon is the Kings-Kern Divide.

Hiking eastward up to Tawny Point from the Bighorn Plateau. The glaciated peaks in the background are part of the Kaweah Range.

Cresting a small hummock, the view of the Sierra crest is mesmerizing. The jumbled cluster of craggy peaks before us happens to be centralized on Mount Tyndall; it would make most sense to attack the summit directly from this angle, were it not for our knowledge of the outstanding North Rib scrambling route on the exact opposite face of the mountain.

Hiking eastward up to Tawny Point and the main Sierra Crest from the Bighorn Plateau.

Hiking eastward up to the main Sierra Crest from the Bighorn Plateau.

Our path to the opposite face of Mount Tyndall takes us down into Wright Basin and then up past several tranquil tarns to the broad 12,200-foot pass between Tawny Point and the southwest ridge of Mount Tyndall. The mosquitoes are ferocious here, so we don our face nets and make haste on the 500-foot ascent.

Giselle hiking around a tarn below Tawny Point.

Giselle hiking around one of the Wright Lakes below Tawny Point.

Giselle hiking past a tarn below Tawny Point.

Giselle hiking past the uppermost Wright Lake below Tawny Point.

Just past noon, we crest the 12,200-foot pass between Tawny Point and the southwest ridge of Mount Tyndall. Incredibly clear skies permit a prime vantage on the Kings-Kern Divide; we spend several minutes gazing at the skyline, tracing the surreal shapes of each unique bump along the crest.

Looking west at the fantastic line of mountain shapes on the Kings-Kern Divide.

Looking west at the fantastic line of mountain shapes on the Kings-Kern Divide from the 12,200′ pass between Tawny Point and the southwest ridge of Mount Tyndall.

The two of us shift our attention northward, where a giant ramp of grassy wetland tilts gradually upward to the 12,025-foot precipice of Shepherd Pass. It looks easy enough to navigate, provided we can descend the north side of the pass on which we currently stand.

Looking northeast across Shepherd Basin at Junction Peak (center) and Mount Keith (right).

Looking northeast across Shepherd Basin at Junction Peak (center) and Mount Keith (right). Shepherd Pass is just barely off the right edge of the photo.

Relying on Giselle’s pragmatic senses, we skip downslope through the unstable pile of large talus and land safely on the spongy marshland of Shepherd Basin. Traveling through the boggy basin is rather tedious, involving countless creek crossings.

Giselle resting by the wetlands of Shepherd Basin.

Giselle resting amongst the wetlands of Shepherd Basin.

In time, we reach the base of the final slope leading up to Shepherd Pass. From here we must ascend several hundred feet of wobbly talus in search of a tarn supposedly located just south of the pass.

Scrambling across talus piles at the base of the northwest ridge of Mount Tyndall.

Scrambling across talus piles at the base of the northwest ridge of Mount Tyndall.

We succeed in finding the aforementioned tarn, which sits above the pass at 12,400 feet with no inlet source save for the copious amounts of snowmelt from the surrounding 14,000-foot peaks. This being such a dry year, the lake appears to have receded significantly from its normal size, now sitting pathetically in the middle of a lunar wasteland.

Nonetheless, this tarn is to provide us with drinking water for the next couple of days while we launch successive ascents on Mount Tyndall and Mount Williamson. Both of these mountains are proudly displayed from this angle; in fact, both of our planned routes (north rib of Tyndall, west face of Williamson) are clearly visible.

Looking south at Mount Williamson (left) and Mount Tyndall (right) from Shepherd Pass.

Looking south at Mount Williamson (left) and Mount Tyndall (right) from Shepherd Pass.

The north rib of Mount Tyndall is an unmistakable furrow of dissected granite cutting straight up the sheer north face; it is a feature that absolutely begs to be climbed. It traces a perfectly linear path directly from the talus apron at the base of the mountain to the craggy wall at the top, adorned in aesthetic fashion with a gaggle of blinding snowfields and artistic black water streaks.

The north rib of Mount Tyndall seen from Shepherd Pass.

The north rib of Mount Tyndall seen from Shepherd Pass. Note the figure of Giselle (bottom left) for scale.

The clock strikes 4:30pm and we’ve gotta move now if we’re to make it to the top and back down before nightfall. We frantically construct a rudimentary stone wall to protect our camp from the vicious highland winds and head for the base of the north rib. We carry ice axes to simplify our movements on the upper section, which appears to be riddled with residual snowpatches.

The author hiking southward from Shepherd Pass to the base of the north rib on Mount Tyndall.

The author hiking southward from Shepherd Pass to the base of the north rib on Mount Tyndall.

From the moment we step foot onto the heavenly granite slabs of the north face, we are treated to 1,500 continuous feet of glorious class-3 scrambling. The face is a massive canvas on which we are to paint our alpinist masterpiece, and it matters not whether we stick religiously to the rib itself. There exists almost no risk of falling on such low angle terrain, but it looks (and feels) gnarly anyway.

Class-3 scrambling on the lower part of the north rib on Mount Tyndall.

Class-3 scrambling on the lower part of the north rib on Mount Tyndall.

Looking up at Giselle on the class-3 slabs on the north rib of Mount Tyndall.

Looking up at Giselle on the class-3 slabs on the north rib of Mount Tyndall.

Looking east at the author on the class-3 slabs on the north rib of Mount Tyndall. The golden mountain in the background is Mount Williamson.

Looking east at the author on the class-3 slabs on the north rib of Mount Tyndall. The golden mountain in the background is Mount Williamson.

…higher and higher we scramble, making blazingly fast progress on the bomber granite slabs. In a sense it’s a rather monotonous climb, but by that reasoning it’s somehow one of the best of its difficulty to be found in the Sierra. Looking down at our pathetic little orange camp beside the miniature snowmelt tarn gives us a measure of our progress.

The author on the class-3 slabs on the north rib of Mount Tyndall.

The author on the class-3 slabs on the north rib of Mount Tyndall.

Looking down at the author on the class-3 slabs on the north rib of Mount Tyndall.

Looking down at the author on the class-3 slabs on the north rib of Mount Tyndall.

The author on the class-3 slabs on the north rib of Mount Tyndall.

The author on the class-3 slabs on the north rib of Mount Tyndall.

In hardly any time at all, we stand among the snowfields just a couple hundred feet below the summit crest. We scan the face for a dry route, but conclude that the most practical method of reaching the crest is to climb the snow couloir that leads up to the lowest notch in the ridge. We find a comfortable ledge to seat ourselves and apply crampons to our boots.

Giselle looking up the final section of mixed rock/snow on the north rib of Mount Tyndall.

Giselle looking up the final section of mixed rock/snow on the north rib of Mount Tyndall.

The author crossing a snowfield on the upper north rib of Mount Tyndall.

The author crossing a snowfield on the upper north rib of Mount Tyndall.

The couloir turns out to be a good choice; it’s a lovely ramp of soft snow that gradually steepens to an angle of 50° near the top. Another fine aspect of summer mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada: ice-climbing in a T-shirt.

The author climbing the snowfields on the upper north face of Mount Tyndall

The author climbing the snowfields on the upper north face of Mount Tyndall

The author climbing the snowfields on the upper north face of Mount Tyndall

The author climbing the snowfields on the upper north face of Mount Tyndall

The author climbing the snowfields on the upper north face of Mount Tyndall

The author climbing the snowfields on the upper north face of Mount Tyndall.

An overwhelming feeling of elation washes over the two of us as we clamber up the final bit of snow to the rocky crest of the mountain. We’ve just ascended 1,500 vertical feet of mixed class-3 terrain in less than two hours; this sensation would be otherwise known as “runner’s high” were it not combined with the ecstasy of cresting a 14,000-foot ridgeline on the roof of California.

Looking west at the author's silhouette on the summit ridge of Mount Tyndall.

Looking west at the author’s silhouette on the summit ridge of Mount Tyndall.

A short but interesting class-3 scramble leads us along the ridge, over a series of false summits, and up to the one true 14,026-ft peak. At such a late hour in the day, the entire western horizon is an indistinguishable haze of mountain silhouettes. Instead we revel in the most amazing view of Mount Williamson: the full brunt of the ragged west face is displayed in complete splendor, and we take a moment to trace the route that we have planned for the following day.

Looking east at the author dangling feet off the 14,037' summit of Mount Tyndall. The mountain on the left is Mount Williamson.

Looking east at the author dangling feet off the 14,037′ summit of Mount Tyndall. The mountain on the left is Mount Williamson.

Allowing our eyes to drift southward along the Sierra crest, we see the “twin” summits of Mount Whitney and Mount Langley protruding above the rest. The “trapdoor” geometry of the Sierra Nevada is quite obvious from here: the hinge is located in the west, while the hatch opens to the east above Owens Valley.

Panorama looking southeast at Giselle (center) on the 14,037' summit of Mount Tyndall. The mountain on the left is Mount Williamson, while the most prominent mountain on the right is Mount Whitney.

Panorama looking southeast at Giselle (center) on the 14,037′ summit of Mount Tyndall. The mountain on the left is Mount Williamson, while the most prominent mountain on the right is Mount Whitney.

We choose to descend the same route because it’s so late in the day. Going down the snow couloir is decidedly more risky than going up, so we exercise caution in order to avoid a clumsy mistake.

Giselle traversing a steep snowfield on the upper north face of Mount Tyndall.

Giselle traversing a steep snowfield on the upper north face of Mount Tyndall.

However, it’s hard to stay focused with such brilliant alpenglow shining on the granite slabs all around us.

Looking east at Mount Williamson (background) and the north face of Mount Tyndall (foreground) drenched in alpenglow.

Looking east at Mount Williamson (background) and the north face of Mount Tyndall (foreground) drenched in alpenglow.

Looking down along the illuminated north rib of Mount Tyndall toward Shepherd Pass.

Looking down along the illuminated north rib of Mount Tyndall toward Shepherd Pass.

We’re grateful that there exists little or no navigational confusion on the descent of the north rib. The setting sun illuminates the small linear bump, and all we have to do is skip our way down to our camp by the snowmelt tarn.

The author starting down the illuminated north rib of Mount Tyndall.

The author starting down the illuminated north rib of Mount Tyndall.


18 JUNE 2015

We endure one of our coldest nights of the summer there at Shepherd Pass, awaking in the morning to a positively gorgeous panorama of Mount Williamson and Mount Tyndall.

Panorama of our camp at Shepherd Pass: Mount Williamson on left, Mount Tyndall on right.

Panorama of our camp at Shepherd Pass: Mount Williamson on left, Mount Tyndall on right.

We collect melted snow from the little alpine tarn, whose glassy surface displays a perfect reflection of majestic Mount Tyndall.

The author gathering snowmelt from the small tarn at Shepherd Pass. The north face of Mount Tyndall stands behind; the north rib is the obvious shallow ridge bisecting the face.

The author gathering snowmelt from the small tarn at Shepherd Pass. The north face of Mount Tyndall stands behind; the north rib is the obvious shallow ridge bisecting the face.

The north face of Mount Tyndall perfectly reflected in the small tarn at Shepherd Pass. The north rib is the obvious shallow ridge bisecting the face.

The north face of Mount Tyndall perfectly reflected in the small tarn at Shepherd Pass. The north rib is the obvious shallow ridge bisecting the face.

During our ascent of Mount Williamson, we are treated to fantastic views of the east face of Mount Tyndall. One might argue that this is the most beautiful monolith in the High Sierra, rising directly from the shores of a turquoise glacial lake in most epic style.

Looking south into Williamson Bowl, bound by Mount Williamson (left) and Mount Tyndall (right).

Looking south into Williamson Bowl, bound by Mount Williamson (left) and Mount Tyndall (right).

The east face of Mount Tyndall towering above Williamson Bowl.

The east face of Mount Tyndall towering above Williamson Bowl.

The east face of Mount Tyndall towering above Williamson Bowl.

The east face of Mount Tyndall towering above Williamson Bowl.

Panorama looking northwest into Williamson Bowl from the lower west face of Mount Williamson. The tallest mountain in the center is Mount Tyndall.

Panorama looking northwest into Williamson Bowl from the lower west face of Mount Williamson. The tallest mountain in the center is Mount Tyndall.


 

…and several days later, during my solo ascents of Junction Peak and Mount Keith, I am treated to several magnificent views of the north face of Mount Tyndall, with the north rib cutting a distinct line up the massive granite wall. Each time I look back over my shoulder at the peak, the familiar north rib smiles back at me, instantly calling to mind the fond memories of our experience climbing Mount Tyndall.

Looking south at Mount Williamson (left) and Mount Tyndall (right) from Junction Pass.

Looking south at Mount Williamson (left) and Mount Tyndall (right) from Junction Pass.

Looking southeast along the main Sierra crest from the 13,888' summit of Junction Peak. The trademark shapes of Mount Williamson, Mount Whitney, Mount Langley, Mount Tyndall, and many others can be distinguished.

Looking southeast along the main Sierra crest from the 13,888′ summit of Junction Peak. The trademark shapes of Mount Williamson, Mount Whitney, Mount Langley, Mount Tyndall, and many others can be distinguished.

The north face of Mount Tyndall seen from the 13,888' summit of Junction Peak. The north rib is the obvious shallow ridge bisecting the face.

The north face of Mount Tyndall seen from the 13,888′ summit of Junction Peak. The north rib is the obvious shallow ridge bisecting the face.

 

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