Mt. Mills – 13,451’
I dumped a ton of photos in this one, sorry! This was a 3-day tour not far from civilization with unreal beauty. I used a point and shoot camera. A friend and IFMGA guide Howie Schwartz invited me on this tour. He said wanted to try it out on some friends, before advertising to his clients. I’ll tell ya what, if Howie calls, I’m going. His friend Davey McCoy came along too. I didn’t know anything about Mt. Mills, as I hadn’t seen it from the other peaks. He knew of a wide couloir reaching the summit plateau on the north face, located halfway between Bear Creek Spire and Red Late Mountain. His tour took us over BCS col on day one, and we camped back on the west side of Mt. Mills in between the two Mt. Mills lakes. I had been through here 2 years earlier to ski Mt. Gabb and Mt. Hilgard, and just got that post online here too. Bear Creek Spire Col is a sweet spot to cross the Sierra Crest at 13,000’ as you can see in these shots. The grand view of many beautiful peaks will ease the pain of schlogging out maybe 8 miles and 3200’ just to reach this high crossing.
Skiing out of Rock Creek into Little Lakes Valley is something you need to do. I have added tours online here of some 1- day ski objectives like Mt. Starr, and Morgan South. Also, I have a post for Mt. Dade in a one-night bivy, and a 3 day tour over this col to ski Gabb, Hilgard, and Julius Caesar. I’m sure there are more tours worth doing. We started the Mt. Mills Tour before the road was open to get to the trailhead, and we were prepared to skin or walk 3 extra miles from the lower gate. Luckily a Rock Creek Cabin employee happened to go through the gate just in time to offer us a ride about 2 miles in her pickup to her property. Then we just settled into the Beauty tour all the way out to 13,000’ BCS Col, where we found good ski conditions down to Mt. Mills Creek Lake. I loved the opportunity to check out the Mt. Gabb North Couloir again from below, and also high up the next day. The Gabb line is one of a few descents I would not do again, nor recommend unless you score soft snow. Greg Loring and I scratched down most of it on wind hardened glaze. We found great corn snow on Mt. Hilgard’s South Face, however, earlier in the day, which was amazing.
Ok, back to this tour of Mt. Mills North Face with Howie and Davey. Howie had the idea to just mountaineer our way up the west slope of the Sierra Crest and gain access into the Mt. Mills North Glacier zone, right beneath the line. He couldn’t have known the condition of this climb, and west facing terrain doesn’t hold much snow. The net day we woke up to find just enough snow to skin and walk up there. We grabbed a few rocks at the top, but it worked great. I forget if he actually knew that the ski descent down the east side of the crest was going to be snow covered and skiable. It wasn’t super steep, and east facing slopes are a good bet for snow cover. This little ridge crossing we skied was money.
After skiing down the east side of the crest in nice shin deep powder for about 1000’, I still had no idea where we were going, or what Mt. Mills North Couloir even looked like. We put skins on and Howie led the charge skinning up the north face Couloir. I chased him thinking I’d take a turn breaking trail, but I couldn’t pass him. We skinned all the way to the top, and topped out on the summit plateau. We didn’t go to the actual summit, as that would have been another hour with no skiing benefit. Plus this was a tour of big pushes in mileage. So we skied down in great snow for maybe 2000’ and took a short celebration break. Next we skinned up about 500’ to a gap and dropped into Third Recess for more low angle cruising past Third Recess Lake. Howie’s Idea was to set up camp somewhere and maybe ski Red Slate Couloir the following day on our way north, out to a car shuttle we left at Convict Lake.
I remember skiing away from Mt. Mills and turning around often to see it from a distance as the most prominent and coolest looking thing in my line of sight. Maybe Howie had seen it from Red Slate. I certainly never noticed it, but now we were intimate with a new one! I especially liked the view of Mt. Mills north Couloir from far away. There were many layers of ridges trying to block the view, but it just sticks out there proud and high in the center. It dominated the skyline from a ski descent perspective. I forget where we camped that second night. It was somewhere along the trail to Morgan Pass, near Red and White Mountain. Now THAT one is still on my tick list. It didn’t look like anything huge while we were all the way back there, but it looks impressive from the summit of Esha Peak (posted here on MST). Getting to that peak will require a bivy for me, I believe it’s well over 10 miles back from the car. We were exhausted from a huge day and got the tent set up just before dark, with a little bit of snow flurries starting.
On the final day we all decided to bail on skiing the Red Slate Couloir, due to flat light and funky snow. We crossed over Morgan Pass and pushed out the low angle miles past Lake Dorothy and into Convict Canyon, where we walked on dirt for the final hour or two. If you wanted to ski the Mt. Mills North Face Couloir, you could reverse our tour and start at Convict. Maybe camp below Red Slate, ski the Couloir that evening, and leave the tent setup to return to the next night after skiing Mills. Or bump camp after Red Slate to Red and white, and ski to Mt. mills on the 3rd day. I don’t have any intel on Red and White. I’ve only heard of one friend skiing that one. It’s a long way out for a smaller descent. You probably wouldn’t like it. I’ll have to take one for the team and go check it out, and report back.
Howie Schwartz IFMGA owns SMG – Sierra Mountain Guides in Bishop, CA. He is the man. Hire him if you can. Just let him pick out the adventure.