Loose rock in East Coul. of Sill

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CWessels

 
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Loose rock in East Coul. of Sill

by CWessels » Mon Sep 21, 2009 3:42 am

Hey everyone,

I'm new to these forums, so I'm sorry if this has been addressed before.

Recently, I soloed the East Couloir of Mount Sill. I really didn't know what to expect, because I couldn't find much info about the route beforehand.

I found the couloir to be quite steep in some sections, with loose rock everywhere. In a few parts, the climbing was near-vertical; this forced me to put pressure on hand and foot holds that seemed dubious. I couldn't be sure whether a hold was secure (many large flakes broke off on me, but fortunately this happened at non-critical junctions). The poor quality of the rock and holds became a source of both frustration and fear as I ascended (and later descended) the route; so, I didn't really enjoy it.

I'm pretty new to scrambling in the Sierra, and this was my first exposure to a more sustained Class 3 route. I soloed Cathedral and the steeper section of Lembert Dome's south face (both were delightful), but this ramble up Sill was something entirely different. Kind of a turnoff, actually.

If anyone here has also climbed the East Couloir, I'd be interested to know your take on it. Is this what I should expect of other Class 3 scrambles on similar mountains in the Sierra? Are numerous holds ready to give way at the slightest disturbance? Or, are routes like east ridge of Russel or east face of Middle Pal more solid and less "sketchy" (exposure notwithstanding)?

Also this: I may have gotten off-route a little in an effort to avoid the loosest stuff, but I distinctly remember having to mantle at least one section. Is that really typical of Class 3?

I know these questions are general and target subjective responses, but I'm really just trying to compare my experience with others' who know better. Though I have a lot of gym climbing experience, I'm just now getting into general mountaineering. I remember thinking as I went up and down that couloir: "if this is what 'real mountaineering' is like, I don't think I like it."

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The Chief

 
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by The Chief » Mon Sep 21, 2009 3:57 am

Welcome to mountaineering and the Sierra!

It is what it is. One must be very flexible and prepared for anything here.

Many routes will change in integrity as you ascend the hill. That is a given.

Learn to adjust your sails....Be safe.

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Steve Larson

 
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by Steve Larson » Mon Sep 21, 2009 2:37 pm

Your experience sounds pretty normal. Gullies are usually the worst, ridges tend to be relatively clean, and faces somewhere in the middle. The East Ridge of Russel has little loose rock, for example, while the North Face of Middle Pal has plenty. Getting off route can quickly get you into much more difficult terrain. If it's rated class 3 and you find yourself on what you think is class 4 or 5, it's time to stop and figure out where you went wrong, maybe backtrack, and get on the right path. Usually. Sometimes the grades are just sandbag, or your expectations are too high.

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Sierra Ledge Rat

 
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Re: Loose rock in East Coul. of Sill

by Sierra Ledge Rat » Mon Sep 21, 2009 5:18 pm

CWessels wrote:Is this what I should expect of other Class 3 scrambles on similar mountains in the Sierra?


Depends - check to see whether or not it is a Normal Clyde route. His routes are always harder than they're rated.

Sierra couloirs are best climbed solo, it is sometimes difficult to keep from killing your partner with rock fall. My brother says that big rocks whizzing overhead sound like falling motorcycles.
Last edited by Sierra Ledge Rat on Mon Sep 21, 2009 5:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Bob Burd
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Re: Loose rock in East Coul. of Sill

by Bob Burd » Mon Sep 21, 2009 5:20 pm

CWessels wrote:Is that really typical of Class 3?

I know these questions are general and target subjective responses, but I'm really just trying to compare my experience with others' who know better. Though I have a lot of gym climbing experience, I'm just now getting into general mountaineering. I remember thinking as I went up and down that couloir: "if this is what 'real mountaineering' is like, I don't think I like it."


I think you picked an unfortunate choice for a first Sierra Class 3. I've looked at that route before and thought it was pretty darn scary looking. Too rich for my blood. So congrats on surviving it anyway. To answer your question more directly, no it isn't typical. Most of the class 3 Sierra routes I've encountered have been highly enjoyable affairs. As others have said, ridges and faces work best, but even some class 3 gullies are very nice. You'll learn to avoid the stuff that isn't fun soon enough...

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bearbnz

 
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East Couloir

by bearbnz » Tue Sep 22, 2009 12:00 am

How'd you get into that couloir from the bottom? Last time I descended that route, with ScottyS on a partial traverse of the Palisades, there was a deep moat at the bottom that we rapped into, then walked in the bottom of the moat until we found a place to scramble out. ScottyS and I found this couloir to be unpleasant, and most likely class 4.

Here is an excerpt from Josh (SP owner) who also did a descent of this couloir on his Palisade traverse: "I descended the East Couloir of Sill. This descent was more treacherous than I expected. This was due to a lot of loose rock on fairly steep terrain. The East Couloir is supposedly Class 3, but I think it's more like Class 4. I would not want to be on this route with another party (or even another person for that matter). The lower party/person would surely be pummeled with rocks. Maybe it's better early in the season when there's more snow. At the bottom of the East Couloir, I had to climb down into the bergschrund on the Sill Glacier, then up and out the other side. Fortunately, this was pretty easy."

Josh is a pretty stout soloist, so if he found it sketchy, it's probably pretty difficult. So I think you'll find that a lot of the other Class 3 Sierra couloirs are more reasonable. But not all of them.

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by Sierra Ledge Rat » Tue Sep 22, 2009 12:02 am

According the Secor's book, the east couloir of Sill is a Norman Clyde route. It's also rated class 4.

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CWessels

 
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Re: East Couloir

by CWessels » Tue Sep 22, 2009 8:17 am

bearbnz wrote:How'd you get into that couloir from the bottom? Last time I descended that route, with ScottyS on a partial traverse of the Palisades, there was a deep moat at the bottom that we rapped into, then walked in the bottom of the moat until we found a place to scramble out. ScottyS and I found this couloir to be unpleasant, and most likely class 4.


Thanks for asking! I couldn't access the couloir directly from the glacier because of the bergschrund. The crevasse was too wide for me to cross (without gear) at the start of the route, so I moved north (right) until I found a snow bridge that connected me directly to the rock. This bridge spit me out on part of the east face; I then had to traverse south on a narrow ledge above the 'schrund (easy Class 5, I think, for part of it) until I gained access to the couloir. The Sill glacier stretched up into the first part of the couloir (above the 'schrund), so even after I started the route, I was forced to stay high up on a vertical wall to the right of the couloir until the glacier was passed (I didn't bring crampons, so I didn't want to hike the glacier above the 'schurnd and risk a slip-and-fall into the pit).


I appreciate your responses everyone, especially the quote from Josh and the bump from Secor (which I didn't know about). I hope I didn't misrepresent myself. I am aware of the dangers (I know I can die), and in a lot of ways this danger appeals to me. I was not expecting my climb up the east couloir to resemble the climbing gym in any way. I guess I just expected the climbing to be a little more pleasant. In truth, there were aspects I enjoyed. And, I do plan to attempt more Class 3 scrambles in the future. Though, I might stay away from routes that are really Class 4.

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The Chief

 
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by The Chief » Tue Sep 22, 2009 1:24 pm

Screw the ratings!

Go out and enjoy the rock for what it is and not what you perceive it to be....

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by bobpickering » Tue Sep 22, 2009 5:16 pm

I climbed the East Couloir route on Mt. Sill in November 1989. Secor's first edition rates it class 4, but Secor's second edition and Roper rate it class 3. It felt like class 4 to me with a foot of fresh, loose snow on it. On a warm, sunny day, I might have agreed with the lower rating. It was a looser-than-average Sierra route, and I'll probably never do it again.

The Northeast Face on Middle Palisade is mostly solid underlying rock with a fair amount of loose crap on the ledges. The Swiss Arete on Sill and the East Arete on Russell are better.

There aren't many outdoor routes that are as clean as a gym route, but the views are far superior. I haven't climbed indoors in years.


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