Mt. Tom

25 Jun 1997 - by David Harris

Wednesday being Peak Day again, I journeyed from Mammoth down to Mt. Tom, the enormous mountain above Bishop. Mt. Tom is perhaps smaller than Williamson, but appears more massive than any other Sierra peak and has a classic, nearly conical shape with many ridges and valleys scoring the slopes like on a Cascade volcano.

After waiting 20 minutes for road construction putting gravel on Highway 168, I found the dirt road leading through interesting rock formations toward the Horton Lake trailhead. My low clearance station wagon had an adventure of its own as the road became rocky, so I ditched it right before a stream crossing about a mile from the gate at the Wilderness boundary and continued on foot from just under 8000 feet. I'd packed an ice axe and crampons but seeing that there was almost no snow on the peak, left them in the car.

Horton Creek must be responsible for the amazing multitude of plants and animals in this otherwise desert region. A variety of wildflowers were just past peak bloom. Butterflies and lizards and quail and lots and lots of flying bugs darted before me--the bugs were rather annoying all the way up to 12000 feet.

The route is very easy to follow and makes for fast walking. An old mining road climbs to Horoton Lake, then switchbacks up an unlikely steep face to a saddle at 12000 feet. The road is not shown on the Forest Service map, but is on the 7.5 minute Mt. Tom topo. I could have made better time if it were a bit steeper, but given the rotten rock and scree everywhere else I can't complain about having a road.

Secor says to follow the southwest ridge from where the road crosses it up to the summit. I'd suggest staying on the road another half mile rather than talus hopping the lower flat part of the ridge. There are doubtlessly class 1 routes up scree and loose talus, but climbing was easier staying near the class 2 crest of the ridge to the summit. I reached the top in 3 hours and 40 minutes with almost exactly 6000 feet of elevation gain.

Mt. Tom is set out from the crest so it has a fabulous view of the Palisades, the Rock Creek peaks, Darwin, Humphreys, and many other peaks. The snow is remarkably sparse for this time of year in the Sierra, though couloirs and some of the very high peaks are still covered. I had a leisurely lunch and met another group from Mammoth on the summit. I also saw Steve Eckert and Craig Clarence signed in on a May ski trip.

I tried descending scree and talus rather than the ridge, but the pieces were big and loose enough to be very tedious. The mountain looks like a great spring ski trip for expert skiers. I started down the road, but rather than hike 2000 feet of gentle switchbacks opted to cut over a rib to a scree chute in the next gully east. Unfortunately, descending from the rib involved a 30 foot steep loose 2nd class chute. On the way down I dislodged two good size rocks above me. One rolled over my wrist, leaving a bloody gash. Fortunately nothing seemed broken and evidently there is very little blood in the back of the wrist because it didn't continue bleeding. There wasn't much to do but cradle the arm and hike out. I can't put much weight on the hand now, but it looks like I was very lucky and have no serious damage. Given how much more seriously I could have been injured, I should probably wear my helmet even on class 2 peaks where it looks really silly.

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