Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trip Report: Mt. Tom Day Hike, April 6, 2011

Mount Tom at 13,658 ft is a large and prominent peak near Bishop, CA. Each year, I take about a dozen trips to Bishop during the bouldering season (normally between October to May). Wherever I climb, whether it's at the Buttermilks, Happies, or Sads, Mt. Tom lurks in the background as one giant aesthetically pleasing peak. It is often captured in everyone's climbing photos.
Basin Mountain on the left and Mt. Tom on the right.
Basin Mountain on the left and Mt. Tom on the right.
Normally, I would not even consider attempting a 13er, at least not until I finish all the 14ers here, but Mt. Tom just seems to stand out. I can't help but stare at the peak every time I'm in Bishop. I imagine what it would be like to be on top, what it would be like to hike it, and how cool it would be to just do it. Besides, I thought it would be good training and a good way to test my new gear (boots and crampons) before I try anymore 14ers this year.

My friend Kevin expressed just as much interest in summiting Tom as I did. So we planned to spend the first week of April in Bishop to do some climbing and to attempt Tom as a day hike. We paid attention to the weather forecast and avalanche conditions and decided to attempt it on Wednesday, April 6th.

The plan was simple, go fast, go light. The route we chose was to go from the Horton Creek Trailhead to Horton Lake and approach the peak from the west past the Tungstar Mine. We got an alpine start at 3:30AM with an elevation of about 7,600 ft, which was as far as my car could go without being stuck in the snow. The trailhead is at about 8,000 ft. It is normally a 16 mile hike round-trip with a gain of about 5,600 ft, but because we started at a lower elevation, my guess is that we did 18 miles round trip with a gain of about 6,000 ft.
Getting an alpine start. Almost at Horton Lake right before sunrise.
Getting an alpine start. Almost at Horton Lake right before sunrise.
The hike turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. Route-finding was not obvious and for the most part, we were not hiking along the intended route. There were no trails and no tracks to follow. We were the only ones on the mountain. After Horton Lake, we went up the wrong chute, which was the chute on the very right directly north of the lake. This chute took us to the south west ridge at about 12,000 ft. We did not want to hike back down, so we attempted to summit by climbing the ridge. This was a mistake as the climbing ended up being at least 4th class. Thus, we decided to just traverse the mountain until we got onto the intended route. When the Tungstar Mine finally came into view, we knew were on the right track.
Going up the wrong chute.
Going up the wrong chute.
At the ridge, ~12,000 ft.
At the ridge, ~12,000 ft.
Traversing until we get on the correct route.
Traversing until we get on the correct route.
What was even more unexpected was the last section after the Tungstar Mine. Until there, we were almost completely traveling on snow. This last section was the most dreadful part as we had to take off our crampons and hike up boulders and talus. We could not even see the summit until we were practically there.
Talus field right before the summit of Mt. Tom.
Talus field right before the summit.
We summited at about 12:45PM, way past the time we wanted to summit, which was around 9-10AM. Most of the delay was in part due to our failure to stay on the correct route. I was also especially affected by the altitude during this trip. At about 12,000 ft, right when we reached the ridge, it had felt almost as if I was drunk or have been drinking. I was lightheaded, slightly dazed, and felt a headache coming. I mentioned this to Kevin and he agreed, stating that I looked "relaxed". I took a few ibuprofens and continued on and was fine for the most part, but I also felt weak as I was trailing Kevin the entire time.
Kevin at the summit.
Kevin at the summit.
Me at the summit.
Me at the summit.
The views from the top of Mt. Tom were just amazing. The entire Owen's Valley came into view on the east side. The big hole in the ground being Owen's River Gorge was also clearly visible. On the west side, there was an endless sight of snow-covered mountains. A storm from the south west looked as if it was approaching us and we knew we had to get down fast.
Kevin and the western view.
Kevin and the western view.
Coming down was just as difficult if not harder than going up even though we had found the correct route. Glissading was not a possibility until about 11,200 ft. It was just too icy. The snow after Horton Lake became quite soft and we post-holed up to waist level all the way back to the car. We finally finished at 6:30PM, making this a strenuous 15-hour car-to-car trip.
Coming down.
Coming down.
Hiking back on the correct route through the Hanging Valley.
Hiking back on the correct route through the Hanging Valley.