Mount Thompson "caillasse"

10 Aug 2000 - by Anouchka Gaillard

Short report (i.e. useful info if you plan a trip there):

topo:         Mount Thompson Quadrangle, 7.5' series
trailhead:    Sabrina Lake
time of year: early August (00)
conditions:   little snow, great weather, some smoke afar from Sequoia fires
length:       2 days
elevation:    13494' Mt Thompson summit, 4400' elevation gain from trailhead,
	      camped at 11484' (Sunset Lake)
drive:        about 300 mi to trailhead from Sunnyvale, up Tioga Pass (120), 
	      down to Bishop (395)
equipment:    ice-axe
summary:      camped at Sunset Lake the first night, summited and hiked 
	      out on the second day
Summit Route: easy route finding , but very loose scree in steep 
              North facing chute to the col between Thompson and Powell

Long report:

"Caillasse" means scree in French. This was a private and bilingual trip, as we conversed in both French and English. And the word "caillasse" kept coming to mind while climbing Mount Thompson.

Peter Maxwell and I hiked in leisurely on Saturday. We set up camp at Sunset Lake, in one of the few rock free sites. On the way, we passed 2 beautiful meadows, above Baboon lakes. Sunday was going to be a long day, and lazing around camp in the afternoon seemed essential. And it was essential.

Up at 5:30am, we were on our way by 6:15am. Back at the car around 7pm. Tired, but safe.

So what happened?

I'll start with detailing the route.

We went around Sunset Lake by the right, then reached the yellowish rocky outcrop that separate two huge grey boulder fields, made of large rocks coming down from Thompson and Powell. We followed that outcrop almost to its end, at the base of Powell, but started traversing the so-called glacier [technically it is one, but it is more like a permanent snow field]. We reached the bottom of the gnarly chute, in the righmost couloir to the col. Steep, with ice slabs, loose rock, unconsolidated scree. The alternative was very steep rock. We proceeded with care, close to each other so that rock loosened by one of us would not have time to pick up momentum before hitting the other. At the col, we left the ice axes, and contemplated the chute on the other side. Not very appealing either, but better. We descended it to the bottom of the cliffs: no use trying to cut through the slabs. We then crossed to the bottom of the obvious class 2 couloir to Mount Thompson summit plateau. Another scree filled couloir.... We reached the summit at about 10:45AM: the summit looks like a tall stack of pancakes placed at the top of the plateau. Can you tell I was hungry by then? We came down the same way, filled with anxiety about having to go down the gnarly North facing couloir. It actually was worse than on the way up. I think it was partly due to the fact that the soil had loosened up with the heat. I opted for the "I'll try to stay on my feet while this whole side of the mountain is sliding from under me" approach while Peter gave a go at the class 3 loose rock. The amazing thing is that we did not get hurt. The return to camp was the usual slog. And the return to the car was also the usual interminable slog, with a special class 3 move on a cliff above Baboon Lake - just for fun ;-).

A few words about fauna and flora for the avid nature lover in you: I only saw chipmunks, and mule waste all over the lower part of trail. And a handful of backpacking bipedes, including a kiwi. Not a trace of bear. There were more flowers than I expected, in the blue and yellow tones.

The drive home was probably the most dangerous part of the day. We saw a bear who was crossing highway 120 in front of our car after doing his/her [could not tell - I was driving pretty fast] shopping at the Mono Pass trailhead. A lot of trucks and cars on 580, even this late in the night.

After complaining so much about scree, I know that I will experience "caillasse" amnesia, a well-known phenomenon of the brain forgetting the bad, and remembering the good. It was a great climb.


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