Weather Thwarts Abbot
Mid-June in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Things didn’t look hopeful for tomorrow. Light snow showers had persisted all day and for all we knew, would get heavier during the night. Our party of eight (a Sierra Peaks Section outing led by Kathy Rich and Alexander Smirnoff) was camped in the Treasure Lakes area where good tent sites are hard to come by.
Earlier in the day, we had set out in the early afternoon toward Mt. Abbot. But the snowfall slowed our big group down considerably. We got to about 12,000 feet, where we had a mini-lunch break as the sky continued leaking white flakes and the clouds blanketed any view. On the descent back to camp there was lots of post-holing, often to thigh level. We all had our turn practicing that familiar embarrassed look as you awkwardly try to liberate yourself from the grip of the hole you’ve sunk into. No way to make that self-extraction look graceful.
We had been on the go all day, packing in from the Mosquito Flats trailhead, setting up camp in the snow, preparing summit packs, and then making a go at Abbot. The white stuff was still coming down steadily upon return to camp. I was spent. It was cold. I retreated to my tent, fired up my Jetboil in the vestibule and prepared a bowl of spicy mashed potatoes with cheese topping. Even the food didn’t rejuvenate me. I mustered enough effort to prepare my pack for tomorrow and to find a place for my bear canister upslope from the tent.
The wind gusted and the snowfall continued. I didn’t relish the thought of having to get up in the middle of the night to toss snow off the top of the tent. I put my camera and a full water bottle inside my sleeping bag and called it a day. Luckily, it stopped snowing during the night.
A Come Hither DayI slept fairly well and 5 a.m. came fast. So hard to get out of the bag and don boots and gaiters. Harder still to get cold, stiff body through the tent opening and out to meet the frigid morning. Turns out that half our party was not ready for this ritual (actually, one person had gone back to the trailhead the previous evening because he had come for Abbot and we hadn’t gotten her). So only four of us departed Camp Frigid toward the Hourglass Couloir. The mountain gods had arranged for the weather to clear and we would even get some sun.
We moved fairly fast and got to the bottom of the couloir in less than an hour. There certainly would be no need for crampons today. The snow was fresh, soft and in too many places, post-hole deep. Those conditions make obviously for greater effort in breaking trail than with hard pack. The four of us took turns leading and we worked diligently for each of those 1,000 feet of ascent.
The video clip below is me nearing the top of the couloir.
At last we reached the cirque at the top of the couloir. Altimeters read 12, 800’ or thereabouts. We hung a big right and started up the ridge leading to the summit. This was mixed terrain; lots of slippery, wet rock and deep wells next to large boulders to entrap a careless leg. We encountered a sole 20 foot section where we got some very hard snow below the surface fluff and made us consider strapping on crampons. But the leader at that point managed to kick adequate steps for everyone to follow comfortably without additional aid.
The ridge gets you to a point where it appears the summit is right in front of you, but in fact isn’t. We went left around this ”false” summit and continued up until we reached the high point on the ridge. The views from the summit were your standard magnificent Eastern Sierra panorama. The main attraction was the eye-candy that is Bear Creek Spire. She always looks "hot," beautiful shape and all.
After a few minutes on top, including leafing through and signing the register, we hurried back down the ridge in anticipation of an exhilarating glissade down the couloir. Everyone got their slippery pants on and away we went. It was as much fun as we expected. An hour and a half to get up the couloir and just a few minutes to get back down. Where is the balance in mountaineering?
Alas, Back to the Blackberry and TwitterWe were back to camp just after noon time and regaled the three that had stayed back with tales of daring and adventure. Then the mundane world reappeared and we had to undertake the tedious task of breaking camp. My pack felt heavier on the way out than coming in and the 4 or 5 miles back to the trailhead seemed endless. But within an hour of reaching the cars, we had all converged on a pizza joint in Bishop to gorge on fat calories and watch part of the Laker game. Life is good.
A couple of days away from Blackberry vigilance and Twitter restoreth the soul.