Mt. Sill Via Bishop Pass, Knapsack Pass, Potluck Pass, west slope.
July 6-9, 2002
Friday Jul 5 - Leave ~ 7 am from Fullerton. Met Fritz at Astro Burger ~ 10 am. Get Permit in Lone Pine. Day hike around Lake Sabrina ~ 4-6 pm. Dinner & dessert in Bishop. Sleep at hiker's parking at junction of 168 and North Lake Rd. ~ 11 pm. Mike got there about 1 am.
Sat. Backpack ~10.6 miles, 3000 ft. climbing, South Lake to Palisade Basin, ~8 hours on foot.
Started with a big (for me) pancake/bacon/sausage breakfast at 7am at Lake Sabrina boat landing. Drive to South Lake and got 1 parking spot and had to save it while we shuttled Mike's van 1.3 miles down the road. Started hike ~ 8:30 am with packs weighing 18(H), 26(M) and 32(F) pounds. We have 1 ice axe (H), 3 pairs crampons, 1 stove (M), 1 tent (F), 1 bivy-tent (H), 1 bivy bag (M), 2 ABS bear canisters & 2 cameras (M&F), food, clothing, etc. I have ~ 10100 calories in 4.8 lb., 48% fat, 11% protein, 41% carbohydrate, mostly nuts, + bread, chocolate, dried pineapple, soy nuts, jerky, crackers, fruit bars, no water. Plenty of water drunk from streams along the way, untreated.
Made Bishop pass ~ noon. Saw group of ~ 6 Kayakers headed for Middle Fork Kings River and 5 days of paddling, portaging, and plunging down the river. Mules took their gear to ~4 miles from the river (8 miles from South Lake), but they had to carry their Kayaks all the way. One guy said he had done it before - it would take 4-5 days and some portaging and some shooting-the-falls... this was the right window in time when the river was not too high and not too low - it was juussst right! We left the trail before the easier route from the lower Dusy lakes, closer to the upper lakes, so we could sort of contour to Knapsack pass. We saved descending and re-climbing ~~ 1000', but it was rough XC. The view from Knapsack pass of North Palisade and the basin west of it was as beautiful as I remembered it from 30 years ago. A steep descent (to the right) and slow climb up to the 1st large lake brought us to camp on a knob just past the outlet at just after 5pm. Later, a group of 5 other hikers, also headed for Sill, camped ~ 1/4 mile south of us, below on the drainage from the bigger lake above (Barrett Lakes). We ate, and canistered the food. The alpenglow on the Palisades lasted long and kept going and returning as the sun passed distant clouds with virtually clear skies overhead. The view to the horizon to S and SW was beautiful, too.
Sunday: Backpack ~ 2.8 miles in 3.3 hours, climbing ~800ft. To Glacier creek basin at 11800', then climb Mt. Sill, in 6.5 hours from camp, climbing ~2300 ft. climb, class 3, ~5 miles R.T. ~9.5 hours on foot.
We got up when light hit us about 6:30. The group of 5 passed by, to dayhike Sill, about 7 am, and we followed about 7:30. An easy path led us around the NW and NE edges of the uppermost/largest Barrett Lake. We soon were happy to gain the pass just NW from peak 12005 but sad to see we still had 1/2 mile and 125' up to fly as the crow goes, to get to Potluck Pass. The whole ascent today was much easier than our XC contour to Knapsack yesterday. Following Roper's advice we descended to the right down a ledge (but only 1 ledge) to steep scree and quickly down to easier terrain. We traversed left (E) to some flat benches (nice little tent sites) near a stream at 150'-200' higher than the lake, and started to set up camp at about 11:30. Fritz and I left for Sill about noon. We went right up the stream N to a little valley NNE over boulders to a steep snow bank at the end of this valley (probably due W of Mt. Jefferson) and then NW steeply to the upper valley below Polemonium Glacier. Near the moraine we saw the 5 hikers (we met yesterday) sitting about 30' up the side of Sill. They said this was their turn-around point. It was about 2pm and they had left camp 7 hours earlier and had 7 hours before dark to get back. We went to the tip of the glacier to get water that had melted off the glacier and never touched dirt. There was a nice little stream wearing a small groove in the ice. The 5 hikers came over to talk, and to touch the glacier before heading back to their camp near the Barrett lakes in the Palisade basin.
At this point there were about 4 gullies going straight up the side of Sill, NE. From left to right they are:
1. A Large gully across the tip of the glacier, to the left, with snow most of the way up and some footprints - while it's not obvious from here, the summit of Sill is above the head of this gully.
2. A smaller gully going straight up from us to a narrow notch in the ridge. It had a little snow in it. It didn't look so good because it was narrower and got very steep half way up.
3. A large gully, a little to our right, that goes up to within about 30' from the ridge. The top of this gully is between the narrow notch at the head of chute #2 and a larger notch to the south (at the head of chute # 4).
4. A medium sized gully further right that doesn't look as good as gully # 3 at the lower altitudes. The top of it may not be visible, but this gully heads up to a notch in the ridge at ~ 13740'.
We headed up the gully #3. The climb was steep, but within my comfort range for the 1st 2/3 of the climb. We managed to climb parallel paths through coarse scree, loose rock and solid rock. About 2/3-3/4 of the way up, loose rock gave way to steeper solid sloping rock slabs. Fritz wanted to traverse right into gully # 4 which may have been the right choice, but I continued on up #3. There was about 30' vertical of uncomfortable climbing up 45-55 degree slopes in cracks or friction climbing. After passing the scary part, Fritz traversed right to look into chute # 4 and found that we were level with the notch on the ridge at the top of chute #4 (~13740'). He thought we should go down chute# 4 on the way back, at least far enough to get by the more dangerous part of upper chute #3, and I had to agree I didn't want to downclimb our upward route there. Looking down on gullies 3 & 4 from above the top of gully 3, the rock color in #3 seems grayer and #4 seems browner. There was some green lichen on the rocks facing us at the top of chute #4.
Going north up the west side of the ridge was not too hard until we got to the notch I think was at the top of chute #2? It was easy to drop into the notch, but deciding how to climb out of it toward the peak caused us to pause. There was a steep chute to the left and a climb about 10' straight up a crack or 2, with good holds. A fall while climbing this could be most unpleasant. We dropped out packs, and I began to climb while Fritz helped push me up and tried to spot for me. When I had a good position I hauled up both of our packs and made a careful move around the last obstacle. There wasn't much more I could do to help Fritz get up, but he seemed to have no problem with it. In a few more feet we felt safe again and proceeded a short hop to the peak. It was 3:30pm.
The air was pretty still and not cool. There were only a few puffy clouds within 50 miles, and a mild haze, so we could see well from Mt. Langley/Whitney (?) into Yosemite (?). It seemed that a lot of people has signed the register lately, and there were nice photocopied excerpts from earlier Mt. Sill register(s) that are now in an archive in some library (Berkeley??), from about 70 years ago.
Fritz didn't like the looks of the steep snow in the chute that went straight down chute #1 from the peak to the foot of Polemonium Glacier, and wanted to go back to chute # 4. We had left my ice axe and our crampons at camp. I didn't want to go back over the 10' notch, and thought the snow straight down would be soft enough to be safe. It was easy enough to go left (SE) and find a route into gully #1 after checking it out from above. The snow was quite soft and only required step kicking in one place. After going down ~ 2/3 it did seem a bit too steep and there was a place where my foot slipped on rock a few inches under the snow surface, so I went left to the ridge and looked into chute #2.
Chute #2 didn't look better than continuing down the ridge I was on, so I went about straight down almost to the bottom before zigging to the right. A short jaunt across the foot of the glacier took us back to the tip of the glacier. We went back to camp almost the same way we came up. At about 12,340' we met a young couple looking for a campsite. We told them there were none above us. They were headed for Sill, and then on to Mather Pass. They were also looking for Chimney Pass as an alternative to Cirque Pass, as recommended by Secor. I recommended Cirque pass and read them the description from Roper's Sierra High Route. We rejoined Mike at camp at 6:30pm.
Mon. Backpack ~ 6 miles, climbing 2100 ft, dayhike ~3 miles to both Southfork passes with ~1000 ft. climbing, then back down ~2.5 mi. to 10,800', ~ 12 hours hiking total.
We left camp about 7am. Went left, around the NW side of the lake (lake 3559 m). Headed up toward Cirque pass well before reaching the lake outlet, with minor rock scrambling and easy slabs. Descended over talus and minor rock scrambling to a flat spot about 3500- m (11500'-) where we could see the 'white dome' mentioned in Roper's description. Following Roper's advice, we kept to the right, towards the white dome, resisting temptation to go left immediately or to go down ledges through the middle later, and descended the ridge on the right as far as possible until we had to go left (at about 3300m or 10840') a short hop to the Muir trail. This route didn't seem very difficult compared to our experience with Knapsack or Potluck passes, and certainly safer than any route I can imagine up Mt. Sill! Taking the Muir trail we climbed to about 10840' again, for lunch at a spot with sitting logs right by the trail, just before the river draining from Southfork Pass. Then we hiked up to lake 3589 m, beneath Southfork Pass. We decided not to try Bolton Brown - it appeared (at a distance) to have one tough spot, on a ridge about 1/2 way up, in an otherwise clearly class 2 route. We found a nice campsite about 100 yards NE from the outlet of lake 3589m, with a little shade from rocks and a tiny stream for water. Then Fritz and I headed out to scout the 2 Southfork passes. It was about .6 miles and 600 ft. up the south side of the left (west) pass, steep but not difficult. The north side was much steeper, with some snow and some lose sand and scree. I think class 3 is a proper rating for this pass. I descended about 50 ft. down the scree on the left, and found it fairly uncomfortable - loosened rocks plummeted rapidly, hundreds of feet down the slope. I didn't try the snow as it was quite steep and I had left my ice axe and crampons at the campsite. I worked my way slowly and carefully back up to Fritz at the pass. We decided to check the other pass. We climbed down a couple of hundred feet, and traversed east and then up to the other pass. It was different but equally steep - it had some snow and some sand and scree. I remembered from 30 years ago that I had been descending on sand and scree when I started sliding on ice just below the sand's surface. Again I descended about 50 ft. and found it uncomfortably steep. I tested the snow, which seemed to have good footing at the edge. While we were here we witnessed a small landslide on the moraine far below. We decided it would be better to hike back out Bishop Pass. We returned to camp and, with Mike, packed up and returned to the John Muir Trail where we had eaten lunch, arriving just after sunset, and camped.
Tuesday - Backpack from 10840 ft down to 8045 ft. on Muir Trail, 3945 ft up to Bishop Pass, 2200 ft. down to South Lake, ~22-24 miles in almost 12 hours on foot.
We got up at first light and broke camp. Mike left about 20 minutes ahead of Fritz and I. I carried Mike's crampons and a pound or 2 from Fritz’s pack. The scenery was beautiful all the way. The Muir Trail going down Palisade Creek to the Kings River had one giant boulder on the trail on the switchbacks, and many down trees across it in the lower part. We didn't catch up to Mike until the Bishop Pass Trail turnoff, after about 5 hours of hiking. Mike told us to go ahead and he would hike out at his own pace. The hike up the lower "Dusy Branch" creek had pretty views of the water cascading down the steep granite slabs and falls. We stopped for lunch at the first lake, and I ate the last of my meager food supply for the day. We saw more kayakers at the same drop-off point where the mules had left the other group we saw on Saturday. Over Bishop pass, I think my bloodstream ran out of carbohydrates and Fritz left me behind. I got to the trailhead about an hour after Fritz, at 6-7 pm. Fritz took me to Big Pine and I checked in to a motel and Fritz took a shower. Then we went up to get my truck at Big Pine Creek, and Fritz headed for home. I showered and had a nice big spaghetti dinner, felling pretty tired. Drove home next morning.
4 day total backpack: 52.9 miles, 13200' climbing, 13.2 mi./day average, 3300' climb/day average, 23 mi/day max, 4000 ft. climb/day max.