Hilgard and Gabb

Mount Gabb is a fairly remote peak near Lake Italy in the middle of the Sierra south of Bear Creek Spire. It is uninteresting in the classic Sierra way, an alternation of blocky fins and loose gullies with no particularly easy or difficult route to its summit. The obvious summer route, which I had done on a backpack in 2013, slogs up one of the gullies from Lake Italy. Casting about for other remote regions of the Sierra to visit, I thought about the view of Hilgard and Gabb from Feather, and decided upon Lake Italy. I initially though to reach it from Pine Creek via Italy Pass, but upon hearing that the Rock Creek road was (finally!) open to the sno-park, I chose to come in from there via the Hourglass Couloir instead. This route is slightly longer, but starts higher, and the five miles of road to the summer trailhead are usually semi-groomed and fast.

Progress is slow

I drove up to the road closure the evening before, noted that I was supposed to have a sno-park permit before May 31, and neglected to buy one. I detest these sorts of nickel-and-dime fees for unspecified services: am I paying for the road to get plowed? Bribing the plow-driver not to bury my car? Buying insurance against being trapped by fresh snow? In any case, the rule does not seem to be enforced, and like the despicable “National Forest Adventure Pass” in southern California, it seems questionably legal. I had a cold but quiet night, woke to a dusting of fresh snow, and started comfortably after first light.

Summer trailhead

The challenging plowing had progressed only slightly since my last visit, with a stretch beyond the gate widened to two lanes and extended another few hundred yards. It is difficult work, with a grader cutting the snow down so a blower can remove the final few feet, and several avalanches had buried the road in a mix of ice-balls and trees, further complicating the task. The avalanches and partly-finished plowing made skinning challenging, but much of the upper road was fast and efficient. Reaching the summer trailhead, I found only the tops of the dumpster and vault toilet visible, and the trailhead sign completely buried. I followed an old skin-track along the summer trail, then left it to cross the lakes and follow their connecting stream up the valley. The Rock Creek valley is remarkably flat, making for a fast, easy skin up, but a challenging glide and skate down.

Correct col (l) and Hourglass (r)

I crossed Long Lake, then climbed more consistently through the Treasure Lakes toward the Hourglass Couloir. I found a fair amount of fresh powder in the couloir, allowing me to skin quite a ways up in switchbacks before putting my skis on my pack to boot the final section. I skinned around the large bowl in the saddle, then scouted the serrated ridge between Dade and Pipsqueak Spire for the way down the other side. I did not remember any difficulties when passing the other way on my summer backpack, but found the steep southern side challenging in ski boots on snowy rock. I skinned back and forth a bit, then dropped my pack to scout, finding a usable downclimb to the summer route near the lowpoint.

Abbot and Dade from Gabb

I made a few careful turns on the south side of the col, which was somewhat scoured and not at all powdery, then made a long traverse toward Gabbot Pass. Looking across the valley, I noted some fresh ski tracks leading down from near Italy Pass and up toward the saddle between Bear Creek and Pipsqueak Spires, which I belatedly realized was the “correct” route between Rock Creek and Lake Italy. I slid as far as I could, then put skins back on to make a long traverse past Gabbot Pass to the right-hand chute of Gabb. I started booting up the chute, but it was steeper than I had expected, with a hard layer underneath the fresh snow, and I eventually had to make a precarious transition to crampons. The upper chute was steep, but entirely manageable with spikes on my feet, and I reached the top without much trouble. I was surprised to find an old boot-pack coming from the southeast, and followed it for awhile before stashing my skis to clamber over the rocks to the summit.

Gabb after slide

The Mills-Abbot-Dade crest was impressively sheer, while Bear Creek Spire looked less impressive from its sloping west side. I saw that the col between it and Pipsqueak was gentler than the one I had taken, but also higher and farther away, and decided to return the way I had come. First, though, I had to get down the east side of Gabb, which had been baking in the sun all morning. I slid down the ridge a bit, determined that my ascent route was the best option, and made a few experimental turns. There was the expected wet slough, but nothing too concerning, so I continued making turns down the chute. Partway down, I looked left and noticed that I had started a decent-sized avalanche that was overtaking me, and had to take evasive maneuvers, straight-lining to gain some speed and get ahead of it, then turning sharply right to let it pass, starting another small side and awkwardly sitting down in the process. I waited for things to settle, then continued down the now cleaner slope and followed my traversing path back toward home.

Hourglass tracks

I skinned up to the base of the col, then carefully booted to the top, finding a cairn marking the correct summer route. From there it was a slow traverse around the bowl, then fun turns in heavy powder down the Hourglass. The fresh snow was getting sticky lower down, and I had trouble maintaining crucial momentum to get over the small rises heading down the valley. Even riding my tails through the grabby snow, I had to herringbone and sidestep to get through several places. Fortunately the lakes were firmer, so I was able to skate strenuously but quickly across them. The road down from the summer trailhead was quick and painless until I reached the grader. From there to the car, however, it was a choice between carefully picking my way through churned-up snowbanks on skis, and tediously clomping down the road in boots. The 23-mile outing took exactly ten hours, another useful datapoint in my quest to learn what is reasonably in a day on skis.

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