Hiking Mt Tyndall

Notes by piero scaruffi | See Travel resources | See Other California hikes

Mt Tyndall (4273 m) is located next door to Mt Williamson and reachable in a (long) day hike via Shepherd Pass.

See this page for details on the trail to Shepherd Pass.

When you reach Shepherd Pass, you see Mt Tyndall in front of you:


Mt Tyndall can be hiked only from one side: the "north rib" (which looks like a black vertical line from Shepherd Pass), although it is more of a class-3 climb than a "hike". The very visible "spine" of the mountain is instead a deadly route because it has many peaklets that cannot be easily bypassed.

If you are into a very long approach, you can also climb Tyndall from the southern side that faces Mt Barnard: see the description of how to hike Mt Barnard, then descend to the Wright lakes, and from there ascend north via Lake 3645, an easy class-2 route.
Otherwise, as painful as the Shepherd Pass trail is, the route is via Shepherd Pass, a grand total of 39.6 km round-trip from the trailhead.

What you see from Shepherd Pass is the northwest spine. The summit of Tyndall is about 2 kms south of Shepherd Pass, the farthest end of the spine. From Shepherd Pass walk over the gentle plateau that heads southeast (left) towards Williamson (you will see the monster shape of Williamson emerge after a few minutes) but stay on the right hand-side of this plateau. At some point you will identify a "ramp" of stones that provides a bridge to approach the north side of Tyndall. The "north rib" is a line of boulders that seems to go up vertical, and it begins just above this "ramp".

This "rib" is a long tedious scramble up tallus rock that takes you to the ridge. The summit of Tyndall is to the left of this rib and it will become more and more clearly visible as you climb up the rib. Most climbers recommend to stay on the right of the rib (if nothing else because you get some shade) but towards the top you should move to the left of it, otherwise you may end up into the wrong chimney.

What the rib looks like:

At the top of the rib, you need to get into a chute slightly to your left: Enter this brief chute (20 meters) and head towards the "gate":

The gate:

The gate is on the very crest of the mountain. Most people walk down one or two boulders on the other side, where it is easier and safer to walk. At this point you are basically at the altitude of the summit. However, what you see on your left is not the real summit: it's a false summit about 100 meters away. From there it's another 60 meters to the real summit.

  • Trailhead: (1920 m)
  • First creek crossing: 25'
  • Fourth creek crossing: 40'
  • Saddle: 2770m, 5 kms (2 hrs 15')
  • Fifth Creek crossing (usually dry), end of downhill: 6 kms (3 hrs)
  • Sixth Creek crossing (never dry): 2620m, 7 kms (3 hrs 15')
  • Nice rock in shade and camping sites (3h 45')
  • Big pyramidal boulder by trail (4h 25')
  • Last creek crossing before Anvil (sometimes dry in summer): (5 hours)
  • Anvil Camp: 3.130 m (5h 15' hrs)
  • Pothole: 3.200m (5h 45')
  • Shepherd Pass: 3.672 m, 18 kms (7 hrs 15')
  • Bottom of the black rib: 8 hrs
  • Top of black rib: 9 hrs 45'
  • Summit: 10 hrs

From Whitney Portal

It is possible to reach Mt Tyndall or Mt Versteeg from the south, starting at Whitney Portal, following the route to the base of Mt Morgenson via the Carillon-Cleaver Pass (as of 2020 this route does not require a Whitney permit because it begins before the first Boyscout Lake). The downside of this route is that it involves climbing a difficult pass (not recommended in the dark, especially on the way back) and the Whitney Mountaineering ledges (not recommended downhill in the dark). Here is the route in blue (the red line is simply the border of the Inyo National Forest):

From the Carillon-Cleaver Pass, descend left to the southwestern tip of Lake Tulainyo. Don't descend directly to the shore of the lake, which has brutal scree and boulders. Follow an imaginary straight line towards the left corner of the lake. Once you are there, start gaining a bit of elevation and circle Tulainyo Lake to the left. Staying higher allows you to avoid the snow patches and to take a short cut around the base of Mt Russell, but no need to go much higher than the snow patches. This leads you to a vast plateau that descends gently towards Wales Lake. Mountains along the way include: Mt Tunnabora (4135m), which lies to the right of Tulainyo Lake, Mt Russell (4294m), which lies to your left, Mt Morgenson (4245m), a little further down from Mt Russell, and Mt Barnard (4264m) further down to the right of Morgenson. Stay to the left for best terrain, then follow the creek that dives into Lake Wallace. There are two ways to get down to Wallace Lake. If you simply follow the creek, you will downclimb class-2 boulders. This is the favorite way down. If you continue coasting the edge of the plateau, you will get to a green chute that descends more gently and on softer terrain. The chute continues all the way to Wales Lake but about halfway you can turn right towards Wallace Lake via a vast slope. This is the favorite way up, and it also allows you to enjoy views of Wales Lake and Mt Hale.

Stay to the left of Wallace Lake. There are actually three lakes, Wallace being the first one. After Wallace, you can cross the outlet and you'll be right under the long western side of Mt Barnard.

You circle northwest and then northeast around the western slope of Mt Barnard (trying not to lose elevation) and you enter the Wright basin with its multitude of little lakes. Depending on your elevation, you may be hiking in a forest (low elevation), through a nasty moraine, or on relatively flat scree (higher elevation). Once you reach the point where you see more than just one Wright Lake, the dull peak in front of you is West Tyndall (unnamed on most maps), which is a decent 4150 meter peak. Towering on your right, at the end of the canyon, is the ugly shape of Tyndall. As you enter the canyon and head northeast, you will also start seeing Mt Versteeg.

Mt Tyndall from Mt Barnard:

Mt Tyndall and Mt Versteeg from Mt Barnard:

Tyndall is all class-2 from this side but involves a lot of bouldering.

(Note: to climb Versteeg you need to gain the northeast side of it before the summit, the easier route that comes up from the Williamson Bowl)

  • Whitney Portal
  • First lake 1h30'
  • Small plateau 2h30'
  • Big plateau 3h30'
  • Chute 4h30'
  • Pass (4000m) 5h15'
  • Wallace Lake (3497m) 7h
  • Entrance to Wright Lakes canyon with first view of Tyndall 8h30'
  • Last of the Wright Lakes (3645m) 10h
  • Mt Versteeg or Mt Tyndall 12h
Pictures of this hike
Mt Williamson weather
Directions from Independence to Shepherd Pass trailhead:
From Hwy 395 in Independence, turn west on Market street, drive 7 kms to Foothill road, turn left.
The first parking lot (2kms on Foothill Rd) is the stock trail. In theory, only 4WD can go beyond this point. If you want to reach the hiker's trail, keep going on this very dusty road, and turn right at the next two forks. It's about 2 more kms than the stock trail, which means that it saves you 2kms of hiking. It easily takes 30 minutes from Independence to the trailhead.
There is no campground, but one can just pitch tent at the trailhead and leave the car there.
Dangers of the route from Whitney Portal:
  • The approach is via Whitney's North Fork route, which involves the Ebersbacher Ledges
  • Going up from the first Boyscout lake to the Carillon-Cleaver Pass is pretty straightforward, but coming down you might end up on the steep deadly granite slopes. Try and stay near the creek. I keep leaving cairns along the route. Please help by reinforcing them.
  • The chimney to the Carillon-Cleaver Pass is, at most, easy class 3, but it is easy to take the wrong direction and get into slippery sandy steep sections (in 2016 someone built huge cairns that are useful to identify the chimney but in my opinion they are on the wrong side of the chimney, the most difficult side).
  • The rocky south walls of Tulainyo Lake look like one gigantic moraine that is just waiting to collapse. As you downclimb or climb back up make sure to dislodge as few rocks as possible lest you start an avalanche that will bury you forever.
  • This is not touristy Mt Whitney: there is virtually nobody around in the region past Tulainyo, so don't count on help if you get injured or lost. Most likely you will meet nobody and find only one or two footprints.

Note: as of 2008 the unelected officials who run the unelected officials of the Inyo National Forest (paid with your tax money) have extended the "Whitney Zone" to Lake Tulainyo. While the route before the Lower Boyscout lake does not require a Whitney permit, coasting Lake Tulainyo requires one (yes, even for a day hike). Therefore the route that i described above does enter the Whitney Zone briefly. Please petition your Congress representative to dissolve the Inyo National Forest and return the wilderness to wilderness lovers.