By: Dan Richter
Asher Waxman and John Fischer joined me for a day hike of Mt. Mills to mark my return to the Sierras after a five year lapse. I had chosen Mills as it would get me up to altitude in a relatively easy manner and had some 3rrd class climbing.
The approach was quite straightforward. We left Mosquito Flats about 5 a.m. and followed the Mono Pass trail to the side trail that leads to Ruby Lake. We passed the lake on the left, rising to Mills Lake and then angled up over slabs and talus to the East Couloir of Mills.
Since it was a low snow year we found the entrance to the couloir full of sand and rubble. There were occasional piles of chick-pea sized hail left from a storm the day before.
At the base of the couloir a large chockstone about ten feet high presents itself. It was easily climbed on its left side as it offers a fist-sized jam crack as well as creating a dihedral with the left wall of the couloir.
Right above the chock stone another 8-10 foot flake must be passed, which is easily climbed with some high holds and stemming.
Above the flake the chute rises all the way to the aręte full of sand and loose rock.
In order to avoid the couloir we took the Jackie Van Dalsem and Dave Heany variation. Directly above the flake on the right side of the couloir is an alcove from which John pulled up onto clean 3M class ledges that led us up to the top of the aręte following above the right wall of the couloir. We crossed over the aręte and followed a short section of 2” class rock to a 3rd class pull up on to the summit plateau. From there it was a short beautiful top-of-the-world walk over to the summit.
After a break for a snack and to enjoy the view, we left to get down the chute before a developing August afternoon storm moved in. On the descent we avoided the back of the aręte by crossing the top of the sandy East Couloir over to the 3rd class ledges which took us quickly down to the flake and chock stone at the bottom of the couloir.
Approaching Mills Lake, I mentioned that the Norman Clyde had climbed the East Couloir also in August on his first ascent of Mills in 1921. John, who had climbed with Norman, observed that it was a typical Clyde route.
As we stopped for water at the inlet to the lake, the storm hit and we were regaled with hale and rain as the summits of Mills and Abbott behind us were pounded with thunder and lightning. Magnificent!
As a variation, we hung a left just below Mills Lake and dropped down the bowl to Long Lake enjoying the hail, rain, thunder, and lightning.
Asher encouraged me to write this up for the route description of the East Couloir.
I want to thank John and Asher for accompanying me on my return to the Sierras.
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