Mount Silliman May 2009

Page Type
Trip Report
California, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
May 8, 2009
Hiking, Mountaineering
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74.01% Score
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Mount Silliman May 2009
Created On: May 12, 2009
Last Edited On: May 12, 2009

1st attempt...

After my successful ascent of Kaiser Peak the previous week, I planned my next climb. The Three sisters or Eagle peak up in the Dinkey Creek Wilderness looked might fine however the road access at that time was still a problem. Mount Silliman however could be obtained out of Lodgepole which was an 1 and half drive from my place. As usual, I slept in and did not arrive to the trailhead until 08:45. Threw my boots on and loaded up my pack. As is common I take my car key off the chain of other keys to place it in my pack. However today I was driving our Honda Civic vs my work car. Our civic is a great value addition which means if you want to lock the doors, you're doing it yourself. Being preoccupied with not forgetting to lock the doors I lock the door prior to closing it. I stand up and close the door behind me not even thinking. Instantly I saw my one car key sitting on the driver seat all by it's self locked inside. Damn. Well I thought, I could go climb only to deal with this being very tired and dark or work on it now. I walked over the Lodgepole visitor station which is closed but managed to see a couple of rangers hiding out in the back. They explain that there is a service tow-truck located at Wukaski lodge and I phone them over. Now Honda Civics are one of the most stolen cars, so the standard "slim-jim" just won't do the trick. It took two AAA guys about an 1 hour and 15 minutes to unlock the door. Needless to say, my day was a wash.

2nd attempt...

The following day after the first attempt, my wife lost her job. The ensuing shit storm lasted about a week and once home life settled down again I was off to Silliman again.

Trailhead: Twin Lakes Trail.
Route: Standard route up to Silliman lake and then the unnamed lake. Follow NW gully to ridge line then to summit.
Weather: Sunny, highs upper 40's to upper 50's.

I was on the trail by 07:30 and the first mile was very relaxed and peaceful.
Twin Lakes Trail

Rounded the corner to find...

As the Twin Lakes Trail ascended and rounded the corning around 7,200' it was submerged in snow. I somewhat expected this, and was not slowed down.
Only a mile in to the trail...

Lodgepole is a very active bear area, in fact when I was driving home after getting my car unlocked the week earlier, I came across "Spot," the "Wukaski Lodge Bear."
Bear vs. Man

About an hour in to the hike, I reached the point where the trail crosses Silliman creek. This is where an use trail (under snow for the most part) which continues up the Silliman creek drainage. I stopped at the creek and ate a PB&J, while watch the roaring Silliman creek.
Trail goes this way

Silliman creek drainage

Silliman meadow

I followed the south side of Silliman creek for about an hour. Little old Silliman Creek was at max.
Silliman Creek

Not really a meadow per say however a nice landmark to come across. The 30' random boulder is sort of interesting all by it's self. Carry on.
Silliman Meadow

Granite friction slabs

Around 11:00 I reach the meadow at 8,600'.
Meadow @ base of granite friction slabs

Ahhh... I reached the "infamous" granite friction slabs where the real climb starts.
I've read about this part, and told myself that this is where the moral buster was. 1,200' straight up to Silliman Lake.
Granite friction slabs

The slabs themselves were in a state of pretty rapid melt. On the lower half of the slabs I would guess that snow covered about 60% of them. Running water was everywhere to be seen on the slabs. I opted to skip all that mess and stay along side the right wall (south side of the drainage.)
Going up now

The angle of the right side was the canyon was a little bit steeper than over on the slabs. I put my crampons on and use my ax to assist in the 1,500' climb.

Below Silliman Lake

Around 9,500' or so, I decided it was time to cross Silliman creek. I knew that eventually the route would go from the Northwest side of Silliman lake, so crossing the creek was required. I found what a appeared to be a solid snow bridge and crossed no problem.
Silliman Creek crossing

The last 500' below Silliman Lake started to take it's toll of me. The grade was much less than on the lower part of the granite slabs, however rests break became more and more frequent. I attributed this to the crappy breakfast I had that morning and ate up a power bar to help.
Below Silliman Lake

Silliman Lake and the Unnamed Lake

Silliman Lake

Silliman was still frozen over for the most part as I expected. The 500' climb on a moderate snow grade (now above 10,000') from Silliman lake to the unnamed lake was even more taxing on me. The day started to really speed up now, I could tell I was getting fatigued. However, as a sign of good faith from mother nature, the summit rounded in to view, improving the moral.
First view of the summit

I reached the unnamed lake at 13:45, 5 hours after hitting the trailhead. This started to worry me, not really in regards to my turnaround time (16:00) but more to my pace and that I was getting more fatigued than I initially thought.
Unnamed lake below Silliman

A few clouds cruised by making for a dramatic shadow show across Silliman basin. More time was spend just watching it all.
Silliman basin

Northwest Gully

From a vantage point overlooking the unnamed lake, I could scout two routes to the summit. One was the northwest gully from the lake and the other was straight north to the saddle between the Silliman and peak 11,000'. However, crossing the outlet of the unnamed lake looked to be unsafe so I decided to take the straight up approach of the gully.
Unnamed lake from NW gully

Passing 10,800' the gully got much steeper and quit deep with snow. Each step was preceded by a solid ax strike. Fatigue and what I suspected as altitude sickness had set in. I had been over 11,000' many times before, so I was somewhat surprised that this was getting me. The signs where all there, loss of appetite, slight headache, stopping ever frickin five steps to break. Time was speeding up.

The ridge and crapping out.

Ridge line

The gully tapered out and I approached the southwest ridge from the summit. With a class two boulder scramble ahead of me I took off my crampons. The warn boulders made from some good moats around them making the snow between each rock crap! Postholeing went in to full effect and I would go up to my crotch in snow. Altitude sickness, fatigued, and now past 15:00, I made the call. No summit today.
Mount Silliman summit

From my best guesses, my turning around point was along the SW ridge about 150' short of the summit. I had climbing 4,200' and over 7 hours to not go another 150'. I'll live.
So off the mountain I went, which happened very quick thanks to a nice long boot/butt ski down the snow. Instantly below 10,000' the headache stopped, appetite came back and common sense came back. From Silliman Lake I had about a 2 and a half hour descent back to the car. I used this time to realize that I need to learn how to get peak performance out of a body. I figured that getting about 4 hour of sleep the night before and having a small breakfast didn't help either. When it was all said and done, I still really enjoyed the Silliman area. A 3rd attempt must be made.
To be continued....


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Stu Brandel

Stu Brandel - May 13, 2009 2:17 pm - Voted 10/10

Well Done

I failed to summit Silliman in July - you got further in the snow than I did in the sun.


SJD - May 15, 2009 9:04 pm - Voted 10/10


Really enjoyed your report and I can identify with the pain and suffering part. Indeed you were nearly on the summit. It's hard to tell by your description which gulley you were in? Apparently you arrived on the left side of the summit?

Nicely done in the snow no less.

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