Mt. Abbot P750 SPS / WSC

Tue, Aug 7, 2001

With: David Wright

Etymology Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile
previously climbed Tue, Sep 8, 1998

Sierra Emblem Challenge 2001 - Day 4


I awoke at 5a to the gentle beeping of the alarm. As one might expect it was pretty dark out at this time, but I was getting used to rising early now after doing the same the previous four mornings. After a shower and breakfast in the room, I packed up the remaining gear and loaded the car. I left town and headed south on US395. I turned off shortly at the Rock Creek exit, and headed the nine miles up the road. Little Lakes is one of my favorite areas due to the great views that are had with almost no effort. The road takes you up to 10,000ft where there are a dozen peaks within a short distance, and the views from the valley are nearly as good as those had from the peaks.

The road ends at Mosquito Flat, and during normal hours in on weekend summers the lot here is usually full. But 6a wasn't a normal hour, and it wasn't the weekend, so I found plenty of space. More surprisingly, I found David mulling about his car at the very end of the lot closest to the trailhead. I waved a greeting and parked my car next to his. This was a surprise indeed. I thought he had given up on me and my foolish escapades after Lyell, but not so. He explained that he had decided to take a day off to rest, had stayed somewhere else, and came out early to the Abbot trailhead to be sure he didn't miss me. To be honest I had mixed feelings. On one hand I enjoyed having company, and David made for fairly interesting company. On the other hand, I was a bit concerned that David's slower pace would hold me back and keep me out on the trail longer than I anticipated. At least Abbot was the easiest of the bunch. If I got back a few hours later than expected, it'd probably still be well before dark and I would get plenty of rest. Abbot was rated class 3, which I think was on the scary side for David. It was in the days to follow, hikes to Humphreys, Darwin, and North Palisade that would require class 4 climbing and a good deal of mileage for which I was most concerned.

Though David was at the parking lot before me, he wasn't quite ready, and it was 6:25a before we headed out. I carried my pack today due to the inclusion of the axe and crampons that would be needed later on the glacier. We turned right after the first half mile and headed up the trail towards Mono Pass. The trail climbs fairly steeply here, rising almost a thousand feet in a little more than a mile. On the positive side, it affords some nice views of the valley and the surrounding peaks. Mt. Morgan towers up to the east, by itself forming the walls of the valley on that side. While Mt. Morgan was still in the shade, the sun was now shining on the peaks along the Sierra Crest, from Bear Creek Spire on the far southern end, to the Ruby Wall closer to the west. There is a beautiful creek that flows out of Ruby Lake above down to Rock Creek, and a picturesque meadow below Ruby Lake to go with it (right where one leaves the main trail and heads on a side trail to Ruby Lake). Here we stopped to enjoy our first views of Mt. Abbot and take some photos. In a previous trip I remember being similarly impressed with the scenery here, only to be run off by hordes of mosquitoes. Today there were only a few mosquitoes to bother us, and even those didn't seem to have the energy to be real pests.

At Ruby Lake the trail ends, two miles from the trailhead. We made good time, arriving in less than an hour, but now we had three miles of cross-country to Mt. Abbot's summit. There are a number of very nice campsites near the lake's outlet, and several of them on the north side of the creek were in use. We crossed the creek on some boulders and contoured around the east side of the lake, following its main source uphill. Heading southwest, we climbed up boulder field after boulder field. Most of the terrain for the next two miles is nothing more than moraines left by retreating glaciers that had carved out the valley below. It was quite tedious, and David was having a tough time of it. A mile from Ruby Lake one encounters Mills Lake, almost naked lying among the heaps of boulders at 11,700ft. Along its western shore there are small vestiges of grass that just barely seem to eke out an existence in the few months when the snow is clear. We took full advantage of the easier travel afforded here. We soon had a great view of Abbot and the North Couloir (not much of a couloir, really) warming in the morning sun. To the right is an interesting feature called the Petite Griffon, a rock spire at the col between Mts. Abbot and Mills. I had climbed the couloir to this spire by accident on my first climb of Mt. Abbot a few years earlier. From this angle it seems ridiculous to make such an error, but coming from Treasure Lakes under less ideal conditions, it was an easier mistake to make (or at least that's the excuse I'm going to stick with).

Continuing up, we encounter some patches of old, hard snow around 12,000ft. These are hiding in the shade and under rocks in the shallow canyon we are ascending. I can't decide if it is easier to stay on the boulders are climb on the snow, and I switch back and forth depending on my mood at the moment. Somewhere in this shallow canyon, almost imperceptibly, the patches form larger continuous areas of ice under the rocks, and without realizing it we found ourselves climbing over the toe of the glacier. I hiked up to the last patch of rocks near the base of the North Couloir, where the snow begins to climb steeply. Here I stopped to wait for David who was about five minutes behind. When he had caught up and had rested a bit we put on our crampons and manned our axes. I left my back pack on a large flat rock and switched to a fanny pack for the rest of climb. Now for the fun part!

I had put on sunscreen before we headed out, a wise move. It was pretty warm out on the glacier and in collusion with the sun it fairly maximized the amount of UV rays we could be exposed to. I climbed steadily up the glacier, resting only briefly at a few spots, and left david well behind me. The views grew grander as we gained altitude, Mt. Morgan to the east now visible again behind Treasure Peak. There were only a few scattered clouds in the sky, nothing of any serious threat As I climbed up the steeper angle heading to the upper half of the couloir, I heard a number of small rock falls off to the left. The steeper walls on the left side of the couloir seemed to unleash small slides every few minutes. Some of the rocks picked up tremendous speed as they came screaming down the couloir, and would probably kill a climber with a direct hit on the noggin. Neither of us had brought helmets, and I was happy to see that the rocks seemed to confine themselves to a fall line a safe distance away. The couloir itself was not filled with as much snow as normal, and where I could remember climbing two thirds of the way up the wide couloir before reaching rocks on my first ascent, the snow didn't even reach halfway up today. This had two problems. The first was that the snow at the top was very old, very hard, and mostly ice. Even with crampons the last part was tricky to negotiate. The second problem was that the absence of snow had exposed about 60-70 yards of steep, loose sand and rock that was very unstable.

At the top of the glacier I removed my crampons and waited for David. I was perched a little precariously on a rock the size of a basketball that would begin to slide in the loose earth if I moved too much. There just wasn't much to hold onto here. Around me on the glacier I noted many rocks of various sizes imbedded in the snow, clear evidence that stuff falls down on this side as well. David wasn't too happy either about that last part of the glacier, and looking ahead wasn't feeling any better about what was to come next. With a little coaxing I convinced him that the hillside was reasonably safe - yes everything seemed to come down with each step, but like a pile of sand it wasn't likely to avalanche or come down suddenly. To be sure it was quite tedious climbing. A good deal of dust was kicked up, much sand ended up in our boots, and we had to stay out of line of each other to keep from kicking rocks down on the other. I tired of the sandy section quickly and moved more to the right where I found some class 3 climbing. It would have been more enjoyable if the rock here wasn't loose as well, and I had to be extra careful to keep from knocking a small wall out from under me. After about 15 minutes we reached more solid rock and I was finally able to enjoy the climbing.

Just before we headed up on the more solid rock, David began to ask me about the route further up. Was it easier or harder than what we'd just done? He was beginning to have serious doubts about continuing, and would rather turn back sooner than later if it meant he could avoid more of the climbing he was less likely to enjoy. I replied that I thought it was easier because there would be more solid rock, but the exposure was sure to increase some. I was more concerned about the lower section we'd just climbed than what lay ahead. That seemed to offer some solace to David and he decided to continue on. The route from here heads to the right out of the couloir, then left where a minor ridge is encountered with steep rock on the other side. There are cairns at various points, but there is no single "correct" route. The cairns are useful mainly to ensure you are on a reasonable route as there many variations. Up we climbed a good deal of class 2-3 rock, very enjoyable from my perspective. David was much more cautious, and as a result much more deliberate with his climbing on each move. I tried to be patient and help David through the tougher sections, but I was beginning to worry about the clouds that were beginning to develop overhead. Where did those come from, I wondered. It was past 11a now, well past the time I had thought we ought to reach the summit. When we started I thought we could reach Ruby Lake in an hour (which we did) and then take three hours for the final three miles, which would put us on top at 10:30a. Ok, that last part was a bit optimistic. Still, we were going slowly...

We topped out on the ridge and were treated to some fine views to the west, Mts. Gabb and Hilgard the most impressive of the peaks to be seen that way. Immediately below us to the west were Mills Creek, and the lakes which in this upper valley that drain into the Second Recess. We hiked along the ridge until we came to the knife edge separating us from the summit plateau. We stopped, and David gave it a long, serious look. After about 30 seconds he decided he'd gone far enough, saying he'd wait there for me to return. I tried to downplay the climbing, knowing it wasn't any more difficult than the sections we had already climbed, it was just the exposure that had increased a bit. David wasn't buying it. I offered to show him by example how easy the climbing was and let him make up his own mind once I was on the other side about 30 yards away. Reluctantly, not yet convinced, David agreed to reconsider after watching me cross. I headed off, around one boulder on the left then crossing over and down a bit on the west side by a series of ledges, boulders, and a few short cracks. I tried to make it look as easy as possible, never hesitating and moving as assuredly as I could. It took but a minute to cross this section, and up on the other side where I could see David again, I turned to see if I was at all convincing. I wasn't. The reconsideration had been completed before I had finished, and David was firmly staying put. I felt bad because I knew the rest was easy class 2, and a short distance to boot, and I would much rather have been able to have David join me on the summit. Promising to return shortly, I turned and left.

It took but ten minutes to climb the remaining distance to the summit, arriving at 11:55a. I stayed about fifteen minutes on the summit. It gave me a chance to take in the views which extended for many miles on all sides, take a few photos (south & southwest, north & northwest), and have a snack. I found my previous entry in the summit register from 1998, but many more entries had since been made. Mt. Abbot is a very popular peak. I also had a better view of the developing weather, and it looked as though it was going to start raining before the day was through. After making a new entry in the register I packed up my things and headed back down. I always find it amazing to see wildflowers at such elevations in the most inhospitable of locations, and I paused to take some photos of several examples. Nearing the airy bridge, I could just make out David camped on the same rock for the last 30 minutes or so.

Reaching David, I found that he'd had a relaxing and enjoyable rest, but was eager to head down as well. Off we went. Having noted a key cairn when we had come onto the ridge earlier, we used this same cairn to indicate our exit point back off the ridge. We retraced almost our exact steps all the way back to the top of the glacier where we'd left our axes and crampons. Retrieving our gear, we cautiously crossed over the iciest section and moved down the steeper part of the glacier facing into the slope. It was just after 1p. Once on the easier slopes where we could face outward and walk down at a faster pace, I made sure David was comfortable for the return journey before leaving him. Moving much faster over the cross-country route, I expected I could be back at the trailhead an hour earlier. We made plans to meet up in Bishop at the Sportsman's Lodge after David got off the trail.

Once on my own, I jogged most of the way off the glacier. There was still plenty of sun, but the clouds continued to gather. As I put my crampons and axe away and shouldered my pack I got a last photo of David back on the glacier. It took a little more than an hour to cover the three miles back to Ruby Lake. I spent so much time watching where I was hopping and stepping as I kept up a fast pace, that I hadn't noticed the skies growing ever darker. When I finally did look up, It looked like the lightening show might start very soon. Back on the Mono Pass Trail, a few raindrops started to come down and I could hear thunder echoing from the south, from around Bear Creek Spire. The weather was moving from that direction, but it never brought any significant rain my way, and the lightening and thunder was short-lived and kept its distance. Later, David also reported only getting a small amount of rain an hour after I'd left. I returned to the trailhead at 3:10p, changed into some comfortable shoes and headed to Bishop. I realized as I pulled up to the motel that I'd gotten the name wrong. It was the "Outdoorsman" Lodge, not the "Sportsman's" Lodge. I was close, but that might not be too helpful for David. After checking in I moved my car out near the main street so that David might spy it while cruising the boulevard looking for the wrong motel. My mistake did cause some delay for David, but he found it well enough even without seeing my car to guide him.

We had dinner at Jakes after David had a chance to clean up, and discussed plans for the next few days. David had no expectations about climbing class 4 peaks, and we both agreed it would be best if we went at our own pace for the next several days. I was going to need to move more quickly to cover the increasing miles, and David was equally interested in going at a more enjoyable pace. That took out all of the stress I was feeling going forward. We finished dinner, and back at the motel I uploaded more pictures before we hit the sack. This time we had two queen size beds so we'd both get to sleep comfortably. Ah, the hardships of roughing it in the great outdoors...


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