"Rock! Rock!!" A cold wave of fear swept through my body as I helplessly watched the softball-sized volley of rocks hurdling like a runaway train towards my friends below. What the hell is with all this loose rock? This is one of the Hundred Classic Climbs! Are we off route?
It was the making of a fine day when Bob Suzuki and I met Jim Curl, Dot Reilly, Jeff and Dee Dee Jones at the Mosquito Flat trailhead. Our objective was to climb the north face of Mt. Dade and descend the south side via the Hourglass Couloir, carrying full packs - a sort of mini-expedition, alpine-style climb. It's one of those fantasy climbs of mine where I make believe I'm Mark Twilight clinging to some desperate ice-encrusted wall somewhere in Alaska.
Our route took us up the Mono Pass trail, cross-country past Ruby Lake and on towards the huge glaciated cirque below Mts. Mills, Abbott, and Dade. The going was like a smooth, open stretch of I-5, mostly over consolidated, yet soft snow.
Once under the seductive North Face of Dade, the merriment came to an end. Here, the snow turned to wet, loose sugar. Snorkel and fins may have been more appropriate as we "swam" towards the toe of a rock rib. Rock on the lower part of this rib was as loose as Madonna's morals. Fortunately, the rockfall we unleashed spared my teammates and everyone was all right, this time. Stunned, we realized how quickly disaster can strike in the mountains!
Above, the rock improved dramatically. Bob and I were giddy with delight as we climbed over solid blocks, clean cracks, and knobby faces. Scrambling above the abyss, we encountered the final obstacle barring the summit; a wicked looking diagonal crack. With trepidation, I cautiously moved up the crack only to reveal big hidden hand-holds surrendering the summit rather easily. We had made it from trailhead to summit in six hours!
While waiting for the others to arrive at the summit, I started to daydream about what a restaurant at the top of Mt. Dade would serve. The day's menu would have chicken-head soup for starters. Entrees of chock-stone stew, knob ka-bobs, and quartz veins would follow with snow cones served for desert.
Our descent to Treasure Lakes was fast and easy, including a long glissade down the Hourglass Couloir. Because we carried full packs over the mountain, I had to make certain sacrifices. As a result, the '93 Cabernet I uncorked for dinner (actually, I unscrewed a Nalgene bottle) had a pretentious nose but the finish lacked a certain inevitability. Yet it went perfectly well with our glop.
The next day, Jim, Dot and I slept in while Bob, Jeff and Dee Dee climbed Mt. Mills. Lounging around camp over a three- hour brunch, we slowed time down to enjoy the scenery. All too often in our lives we rush to work, rush to do this, rush to do that, rush to the mountains, rush to climb a peak, and rush to drive home. Here, amidst the Sierra's beauty, we enjoyed the moment and realized how precious the mountains are to our lives.
Jim's account of an earlier trip