Mount Sill L Couloir Fernando and Armando October 2014We, Fernando Erismann and Armando Figueroa, just returned from a climb of Mount Sill on 12 October 2014. We set up a camp along the runoff creek from the Palisade Glacier at 10,060 ft. On day 2 we hiked up to the base of the mountain, climbed up Glacier Gap, then up the L-Couloir.
This was my fourth trip up Mount Sill after three failed attempts. Attempt 1: Scimitar Pass route; my colleague (not my regular climbing partner) freaked out at the top of the pass (steepness and loose rocks). We headed down. Attempt 2: Scimitar Pass, with Armando, we made it around Jepson. Sky turned dark, wind whipped up, and we headed quickly back. There was a nice lightning storm about 30 minutes later. Attempt 3: Set out for the East Couloir, a new member of our group did not like the idea of climbing it, and we headed out for Scimitar Pass again. Too much.
This time we decided in advance to take the most direct, cleanest, class 4 route. We decided on the L-Couloir. Past reports mentioned rocks in the East Couloir. A few checks to the forum indicated that there was no bergschrund or snow to worry about.
We parked at Glacier Lodge and set off on the South Fork Trail. The trail goes through a dry valley, next to Big Pine Creek. At about 45 minutes you will reach the creek and ten minutes later a series of switchbacks that goes up a stone buttress. It takes about an hour to get to the top. Up there the trail descends a hundred feet or so and there is a turnoff to Willow Lake. Here the trail ends and the route is marked with some cairns. I always end up crossing a fallen log of a creek, then veer left takes you to a clean spot to cross the main creek that drains into Willow Lake.
We crossed the creek to the north side. This is basically a boulder field; but it is cleaner in my opinion than following the south side of the creek. The south side is full of brush. We went up 45 minutes and reached a marsh with a pond and a large boulder. This is a beautiful place to camp, but in my experience too far from the objective.
We continued on. The next possible camp area was where the creek intersected the drain off from Lake Elinore. It was early enough so we continued on to the next plateau/ meadow. This involved leaving the boulder field and climbing up some mixed dirt, scree, and small rocks on the right of the stream. We ended up at 10,060 ft. and maybe half a mile from the unmarked lake at the base of the glacier.
The next day we headed out at 7:30 AM, intending to follow the stream to that unmarked lake, then continue over land to the base of Glacier Gap. We climbed up past two waterfalls. At this point the terrain looked rough but easy climbing so we followed the GPS compass arrow rather than the stream. This was OK as it cut the route a little bit. This was mostly walking/ scrambling over talus. There are two unmarked lakes there. We ended up on the northwest side of the southern most lake, right in front of the mountain and Glacier Gap. The time was 11:00 and we took a 30 minute break.
Looking at Glacier Gap we saw three ways up. At the far left there was a narrow crack running left to right to the shoulder of the mountain. There was a very wide crack in the middle that looked very climbable. There was a mishmash of rocks, dirt, and scree to the far right. We chose the middle crack. It was steep in there with lots of loose rock. We roped up and climbed up. We arrived at the the top of Glacier Gap at 12:30.
At this point the Swiss Arête and the L-Couloir became obvious. The L-Couloir is actually very imposing. Tall, maybe 800 ft. Enough snow that it was not unavoidable. We climbed up the right side, that had the biggest rocks and least snow. We reached to about 200 ft. from the end at 2:30 PM. At this point Armando did not wish to continue, and I went off by myself.
I reached the small shoulder at the top of the Couloir. There you need to make a left to the southwest side of the mountain and over an exposed catwalk. None of this was very attractive. The catwalk was covered with snow, with only a few inches of clean rock on the outer edge. It looked pretty nasty. I walked over clean rock when possible and stepped into the snow when needed. I set up a temporary span of rope to provide some protection. In hindsight I probably should not have done this alone and should have insisted on my partner at least accompanying me to the top of the couloir.
At the end of the catwalk you arrive at some rocks and can see close to the summit. The rocks are near vertical, but easy to climb. There is an old sling there that is easy to see. Then you will pick up a set of cairns that lead to the top.
I did not find a log book, or metal plate in the rock. But, it was 3:30 and we were looking at a 6:30 sunset, and my GPS said 14,160 ft. and 0 ft. away from Mount Sill, so I did not waste any time getting down.
I reached the base of the L-Couloir at 4:48. Armando had moved down there to wait for me because the temperature was unbearably cold in the couloir. Then it became a race to camp. I was really very fortunate that he rested and studied the route back. I was wasted. Going down from Glacier Gap we took the far northeast route through the dirt and talus. This is actually walkable on two feet. He maintained a quick pace and we got back to camp at just after 7 PM, only having to negotiate the last quarter mile in darkness.
We used a little bit of gear.
100 ft. Rope
Camalot C4 #2,#3, #4
Misc. carabiners and etc..
A brought a set of nuts and misc. hex nuts, but only used one of these pieces once, a waste of weight.
We used this gear to climb the crack up to Glacier Gap. It is probably climbable without, but we played it self.
When alone I set up a temporary span of rope along the catwalk.