Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First California 14er

Date Climbed: 8/18/2011 to 8/20/2011
Peak: Mount Sill (14165')
Route: Swiss Arete- moderate snow, 5.8 technical rock
Gear: 1-8.5mm 50m rope, 1-8.2mm 60m rope, alpine rack, harness, helmet, ice axe, crampons

Scott, Hank, and I left Orange County Thursday evening after Scott got back from work. We drove the 5 hours to Lone Pine to get a permit at the ranger station. Of course they were fresh out of permits so we put one on a napkin. Later we found out this was probably not a good idea. We drove from Lone Pine to  the trailhead just outside of Big Pine. We arrived at the trailhead parking (7800') lot at 1 am and set up our sleeping bags in the parking spot next to ours. We were lucky that there was a left over spot for us to sleep in.
We slept until about 6:30 am. I didn't sleep great and heard a few groups leave the trailhead early. I assumed they were sleeping in their cars. After we woke and got ready we set off up the trail with our destination being the base of the Palisade Glacier at around 12200'.

It was warm that Friday and we had to stop for water at the first creek we came across. Hank had brought his filtering reservoir, but we were worried it would not kill any pathogens in the water, so we drank reluctantly.
Stopping for water
From the water stop we continued up a great trail past a waterfall or two. Some people were coming down from climbing. We stopped and talked to them a bit and found out that they had just completed Temple Crag. After a couple of hours on the trail we began to pass the numbered lakes. Third Lake was gorgeous. It was a deep turquoise blue and bordered by the magnificent Temple Crag.
2nd Lake
Temple Crag

After Third Lake the trail steepened and switchbacked up to Sam Mack Meadow at 11000'. Sam Mack Meadow was amazing. One of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. We stopped to take a break and I took a ton of pictures. I was very excited about the pictures I was getting. Then it dawned on me that I had been taking pictures with my polarized glasses on. To my horror when I removed them the meadow didn't look nearly as vibrant as it had before.

Hank at Sam Mack

This disappointment coupled with the mosquitos motivated us to move on up to the glacier. We were not sure there would be water again up higher so we decided to fill up Hank's reservoir and I volunteered to carry it up to camp. This was a mistake for a multitude of reasons. It took me a good while to get it strapped properly to the outside of my bag. then it began to leak. I soon realized the extra weight was a bit too much. By the time I arrived at the camp site I was totally drained.
The campsite was perfect. Lots of flat sheltered spots just big enough for a sleeping bag and pad. The scenery was also reminiscent of Alps or the Himalayas.
The Palisades Group, Mt. Sill on Left.
Mt. Sill and prayer flags
We were camped on a moraine right at the base of California's second largest glacier. Rising out of the glacier were 5 jagged 14ers. It was amazing. We ate, boiled some water, and were in bed by 7:30. I slept pretty well up until about 10:30. I looked outside my sleeping bag and was greeted by a very starry sky. I decided to try and take some pictures.

f/1.8 ISO 3200 30sec
After taking some pictures of the Milky Way. I slipped back into sleep and was awoken by my alarm at 5:30. I was in charge of getting everyone up and shortly after we ate a quick breakfast and set off up the glacier towards our destination. The glacier was riddled with large sun cups which made crampons unnecessary, but they made the walk easier.

After about 15 minutes of glacier travel we entered the snow free 3rd class gully. It was very loose so we decided to to some 4th class instead. We got to the top of the gully and the bottom of the L couloir of Mt. Sill within minutes. We took a short bathroom break before we started climbing. We thought it was funny that we all had to go.

After our #2s, we traversed the snow to the base of the climb.
At the base we changed out of our boots and into our rock shoes. The first pitch was a class 3/4 ledge system to the arete proper. Once on the arete, we tied into the rope and our rope gun, Scott, set off on leading the climb. The first couple of pitches were straight forward, but the 3rd pitch I found very difficult with my large backpack on.

Me giving Scott rope

I was on top rope, but I really didn't not want to fall. I was stuck on one move for about a minute or too, before I finally was able to unlock the move. From the tope of this pitch it was only a few more to the top. Actually we were all very surprised when the top was reached. It was much different than most Sierra peaks which usually have a very long low angle ridge traverse to the summit. Mt Sill's summit was very abrupt. We took our obligatory summit shots and set off down the down climbing route.

We were looking for the rappel station which we had found, but Scott thought it wasn't the right one, I disagreed but we continued down the ridge and eventually found the down climbing route. At first it was simply class 3 maybe class 4. But right in the middle there were a few very sketchy and insecure moves that I found to be low fifth class which was very scary with a large backpack and cumbersome boots. I held my breath during these moves and let out a big sigh when I reached the narrow dirt ledge below. We got back to the snows of the L couloir and set up for our glissade back down to the glacier.  The glissade was fun and fairly straight forward.

We got back to our camp around 2 and were on the trail back to the car by 3. Scott and I were on a mission to get back to the car as soon as possible. Hank took his time a bit more. We got back to the trailhead by 7:30 and were back on the road by 8.
It was a great trip with amazing scenery with great friends.
At camp after the climb

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