By: Matthias Selke
Some Climbing Notes on a Loose Mountain (Mount Mills)
Craig Connally and myself ascended Mount Mills via the usual East Couloir on a dayhike this past September 18. We were able to identify some features that are not described in the guidebooks and which may be of help to future climbers. (It seems that a number of parties have had route finding problems on this peak. For a particularly graphic example - good reading during the winter months when there is nothing better to do - interested readers are referred to a report by our friends in the Bay Area PCS at http://www.climber.org/TripReports/l997/255.html)
There are in fact three couloirs right next to each other in the center of the huge east face of Mount Mills. The one on the left (south) looks easiest, but based on the above-mentioned PCS report it leads into loose and dangerous cl. 4 climbing. The small one in the middle is filled with large brownish talus. We did not investigate this feature, but it looks like it may dead end rather quickly. The one on the right (north) is the couloir with the huge chockstone at the bottom. It's impossible to miss in a dry year, but during high snow years, the chockstone may be completely hidden under snow until late in the season. In this case, climbers should take the right couloir in the center of the east face. The chockstone is climbed on its left side. The rock near the top of this cl. 3 pitch is extremely loose; we rappelled over the main chockstone on the way back rather than climbing over the loose stuff right at the edge; a decent anchor can be found on the north side of the wall above the chockstone. The main couloir angles slightly to the right, and leads up over several short loose cl. 3 sections and extraordinarily loose sandy sections in between. No more than 20-30 yards after the chockstone, well before the next cl. 3 step, some ledges probably cl. 3, lead up the right (north) wail of the chute. This appears to be the start of the Van Dalsem variation mentioned in some guidebooks. (Apparently, some parties have assumed that this variation starts below the chockstone. This is clearly impossible, as the chockstone is at the bottom of the chute - there would be no ledges to climb below the chockstone.) These ledges are much more obvious upon looking down when one is higher up in the couloir. This variation then proceeds along the crest of the rib that forms the northern wall of the East Couloir. The actual east couloir does not lead directly to the summit plateau (contrary to some guidebooks). It eventually ends at the second notch north of the plateau. About 150 ft below the notch, broad cl. 2 ledges lead left (south) toward to the next chute. It seems possible to simply move further left (south) past this chute and then climb onto the plateau. However, we climbed the chute to its top which is at the first notch north of the summit plateau. A short cl. 3 pitch out of the notch over solid rock (by far the most enjoyable pitch of the whole climb) leads onto the summit plateau. The wonderful view does make the ascent worthwhile. Nevertheless, extreme caution is advised on this peak. The rock is extraordinarily loose. We were amazed that large SPS groups (15 climbers) have gone up and down the East Couloir. Helmets are a very good idea on Mount Mills. Both of us felt that while this was an interesting and worthwhile climb, we would be in no great hurry to repeat the route and knock some more rocks down this couloir.
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