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Mount Abbot Ascent

Mount Abbot reflected in Ruby LakeThis was a 3-day backpacking and climbing expedition to the Rock Creek area of eastern Sierra Nevada, on May 26-28 of 2001. Vladimir Ulyashin and I succeeded in climbing Mount Abbot, 13704 ft./4177m. This is the highest peak I have ever summitted, and took a challenging 8 hours to ascend over a steep snow couloir followed by scary rock ledges.

We camped by Mills Lake (~~11700'/3550m), about 3 miles from Mosquito Flat trailhead via Mono Pass trail, branching left to Ruby Lake, then cross-country southward over much difficult loose snow. Over most of the route Mount Abbot's distinctive flat-topped summit is visible straight-ahead, making route-finding simple. The easiest route according to R.J.Secor's guidebook is through the northeast couloir, which is clearly visible in the middle. Overnight the air was cold and frosty.

The next morning we left camp at 9AM, when the snow on was still stiff enough for easier trekking. The high altitude gave us headaches and made the going slow. Vlad didn't get much sleep the previous night due to lack of acclimatization, but he was in good enough shape to press on. By the wayside we passed the bottom of the Abbot glacier, where the ice was breaking up constantly, hurling rocks and debris noisily into the icy cyan-colored pool below. It seemed the boulders we stood on would soon fall into the hole as well. Around 11AM we started climbing the northeast couloir with ice axes, taking a rest every 10-20 steps to catch our breaths. Gradually the slope steepened to 30 degrees, then to around 40, with massive snow glare as well. It was getting pretty scary to look down on the long steep snow couloir below, but the snow was soft enough and the run-out below was free of rocks or cliffs, so consequences of falling were quite benign. It must have taken us 3-4 hours to reach the rocky section of the route, where the snow couloir became horrifyingly steep. Resting on the rocks was a great relief while we left behind the ice axes and gloves.

We started climbing up the rocky ledges using both hands and feet. The grainy granite slabs made for excellent climbing, with very good holds at the sharp edges, though not sharp enough to cut skin. The exposure was not bad either until we got to the knife edge on top of the ridge. There the ridge narrowed to about 2 ft across, forcing us to down-climb to ledges to the right, which sometimes were as narrow as half a foot. On the left side of the knife edge was the head of the snow couloir with a horrendous 2000 ft drop. This section was thrilling to climb, but next awaiting us was a small snow field covering the top of the summit plateau. It is not very steep but its edges on both sides drop off to vertical cliffs. Without our ice axes, we gingerly negotiated this section, because an unchecked fall could be fatal. After crossing this last obstacle, we finally were able to walk over the last slabs to the summit, at about 5PM. There were many clouds moving swiftly eastward over the Sierra crestline at this time, with sometimes cold winds and a small amount of hail falling. I was a bit scared of lightening strike. Fortunately the clouds were not substantial enough, as the sun reappeared occasionally. At the Mount Abbot summit at 13704 ft / 4177m, the vista is grand: hundreds of snow-capped peaks in every direction, the giant vertical cliffs of the Fourth Recess to the west, north as far as Banner/Ritter peaks near Yosemite, south to Mount Whitney, the highest peak of contiguous United States. We signed the register in a metal box, then quickly started going back because of imminent bad weather.

Going down was much easier because we didn't need to exert quite as much in the high altitude. Soon we would glissade on the snow couloir which we climbed earlier. The snow was getting stiffer because the sun was no longer shining on it, but it was still a thrilling slide on our butts at good speed. I wished the slope could be steeper now, the same one I thought was too steep when going up. At one point my day pack left me and tumbled down the couloir for several minutes before stopping in the bottom. Laughter and fun is what glissading is all about. Finally we reached camp in about 3 hours from the summit. Exhausted, we went to sleep immediately and packed out the next morning. Some pictures from this trip:

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