Mount Dade is one of the high peaks in the Mount Abbot Group, on the Sierra crest between Mount Abbot and Bear Creek Spire, at the head of Rock Creek Canyon. The Little Lakes Valley at the head of the canyon is is one of the most picturesque regions of the Sierra Nevada, yet it is relatively easy to reach. The high summer trailhead at Mosquito Flat (10,300 feet) offers short approach routes to these magnificent peaks.
Writing many years ago, Norman Clyde said that Mount Dade is "a handsome mountain as one looks up the Rock Creek Basin. To the north it breaks away in sheer cliffs at whose base lies a small glacier. It has been ascended only a few times, although the view from its summit is a very good one." Although it has been climbed a fair number of times since then, the views are still spectacular from the summit. Fortunately, Mount Dade is one of the easiest peaks in this area, offering a challenging but doable class 2 route up its south slope. This route involves climbing the famous Hourglass Couloir which can be choked with ice even in late summer. Mount Dade is also a popular winter mountaineering peak, with excellent skiing terrain from the very top down its moderate south slopes, followed by the 1,000 foot, 40 degree slope of the Hourglass.
The easiest trailhead is at Mosquito Flat (elevation 10300 feet), at the end of Rock Creek Road which branches from Highway 395 between Mammoth Lakes and Bishop. Rock Creek Road is about 15 miles from Mammoth Lakes, paved all the way to Mosquito Flat for about 12 miles. Mosquito Flat is the highest trailhead in Sierra Nevada with an elevation of 10300 ft. This offers short, easy approach to a multitude of high peaks.
For hikers looking for solitude and ease of permit acquisition during popular summer weekends, go to the Pine Creek trailhead (elevation 7000 feet), at the end of Pine Creek Road which branches off Hwy 395 a few miles south. Follow trail to Morgan Pass, which leads into the Rock Creek drainage from the south. Caution: although the length of approach is only about 5 miles longer, you will have to overcome 3000 feet extra of elevation gain, due to Pine Creek's low trailhead. The steep-walled Pine Creek canyon is very avalanche-prone in winter.
Backcountry camping requires a free permit in the John Muir Wilderness, which encompasses the entire area. No campfires are allowed. Permits can be obtained at the National Forest ranger station in Bishop on Main Street (US-395), or the ranger station in Mammoth Lakes on Highway 203 east of town. Since the permits are on a quota system in summer, it can be difficult to get on popular summer weekends. Advance reservation of wilderness permits is a good idea (fee charged).
Rock Creek Road is closed for winter season from October to May.
When To Climb
Summer offers the best weather for climbing, from May to September. In late summer (July - September) the snow couloir may become icy and thus more challenging. Winter ascent requires longer approach due to road closure. Nearby Rock Creek Lake resort offers cross-country skiing services and accomodations in winter.
Backcountry camping requires a free permit (see Red Tape section) in the John Muir Wilderness, which encompasses the entire area. No campfires are allowed. Campers are advised to use bear boxes to store food in order to deter black bears. Roadside camping is generally prohibited except in the 11 fee campgrounds along Rock Creek Road. Commercial lodging can be found at the Rock Creek Lake resort just 1 mile from Mosquito Flat trailhead, or in the town of Toms Place (closest), Bishop, or Mammoth Lakes.
It appears that the crux to the North Couloir is reaching the summit from the Cat Ears Notch. Parties appear to get sucked up a 5th class corner directly off the notch, then rappel into loose sandy gullies to get past the East Cat Ear and regain the ridge on the South side.
INSTEAD, follow a improbable-looking 6-foot wide ramp that climbs up and LEFT for 100' (4th class). Once you turn the corner (out of sight), the difficulties become third class as you cross under the NORTH side of the East Cat Ear.
DESCENT: A 3rd/4th class traverse also exists from the Notch on the North side of the West Cat Ear, gaining a 2nd/3rd class descent on sandy ledges to the Dade-Abbot Col. A mellower snow slope (up to 35 degrees) leads down to the Dade-Abbot Basin.