Ascent of Mt. Dade

21 May 2000 - by Tony Cruz

My first Sierra peak of the new millennium was Mt. Dade, which is about 13,600 ft. Early Saturday morning, Rich Calliger and I met about a mile and a half from the Treasure Lakes trailhead at a parking lot above Rock Creek Lake, next to the Hilton Lakes trailhead. We could drive no further because the still-icy road was closed. An early start was nullified 45 minutes later when I returned to my car to make sure it was locked. Despite this delay, we made easy progress on well consolidated snow, which completely obscured he trail after about a mile, and we reached camp early in the afternoon. We set our tents on snow next to one of the Treasure Lakes. I had my brand-new Bibler I-tent and Rich deployed an old trusty three-season tent. The heat of the still-young day was so oppressive that we used our ski poles to prop up our tents for shade.

As we lazed away the rest of the afternoon, we watched the leader of an SPS trip, Nile Sorenson, scout the route. He quickly zigzagged up the "hourglass," a broad, easy, 35 deg. couloir visible from the trailhead, looking like the tail flukes of a giant white whale. Nile continued until he was just short of the top of the couloir. Upon his return he paid us a visit and asked if we had heard or seen the large avalanche on the east face of Dade (Rich had). We slept comfortably under a moon so bright that we could have climbed that night without our flashlights. There was hardly a puff of wind during the whole weekend and we didn't even stake our tents.

We got up early the next morning and to my disappointment, the mixed-gas stove that I bought in France last summer did not light. Rich had predicted this failure, but I had been told by a friend that this type of stove is often used in the Andes. I guess if it's 25 degrees out it is best to sleep with the canister in your bag. Shortly after six a.m., Rich and I tied our tents to a tree and set off behind the tightly clustered group of seven SPSers. In minutes we reached the lower portion of the hourglass. Rich caught up to me and said that despite all the Advils he had taken, his feet were killing him and he couldn't make it. Nevertheless he took another pill and gave it a shot, powering ahead of me after I took a photo of him with the debris of the large avalanche in the background. About half way up the couloir, Rich retreated.

When I reached the saddle at the top of the chute, I realized that I had all day left with only a few hundred feet of elevation to go. So I rested for nearly an hour, contentedly snoozing on and off. I imagined I would climb the mountain on the other side of the saddle when I returned from Dade. I unpacked most of my stuff, leaving among other things my unused crampons, parka and snow pants. I met the SPS group on their way down in a band of exposed rock near the summit (i.e., free of snow; there is no exposure at all on this route). I thanked them for the excellent steps they had kicked to my benefit. Along with two young, unemployed guys who had packed in from Ruby Lake and had witnessed yesterday's avalanche on Dade, I reached the summit with just a few minutes left in the morning. Thanks to whoever added the new register; my name is on the first page. For twenty glorious minutes I basked in the beautiful scenery of the Mono Recesses, the Treasure Lakes drainage and the rest of the wonderful snowy world. From this vantage point I came to realize that the neighboring mountain that had been my object of fantasy was none other than Bear Creek Spire, which is not an easy peak. It would be enough of a challenge for me to get to my car before dark.

I plunge-stepped to the saddle, put on my Gortex and rocketed down the chute on my butt. Above me the two guys glissaded to their skis and lazily zig-zagged above me as I marched out, a little envious of them. I steered around a frozen lake that we had all crossed in the morning, ignoring ominous cracks, because in the full sunlight from above I could see blue ice. At two p.m. I reached camp, which had already been abandoned by Rich and the other group. I took a long rest, boiled some honey mustard chicken and packed up. I deviated to the right on my way down and consequently hiked by a different set of frozen lakes. In doing so I lost about an hour but managed to get back well before dark. After a cup of coffee and drive of several hours, I was back home in time for a decent night's sleep.

I strongly recommend an early season ascent of Dade, particularly when the snow is as good as it was on this weekend before Memorial Day. The approach is short and easy, even with a heavy backpack and the mountains are stupendous. I avoided the crowds and didn't posthole. By the way conditions changed drastically in the week between my climb and Memorial Day. The snow on Toloumne Meadows disappeared and the remaining snow on the peaks got mushier. Thanks to Pat Ibbetson for introducing me to the Rock Creek drainage. Dade is the first peak I climbed in this area since we did Mt. Abbot a couple of summers ago. I can't wait to get back.

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