Southwest slope

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 37.09440°N / 118.5019°W
Additional Information Route Type: scramble
Additional Information Time Required: Expedition
Additional Information Difficulty: class 2-3
Sign the Climber's Log


Hiked South Lake to Palisade basin in a day, via Bishop Pass and cross country through Knapsack Pass. From camp in Palisade basin we climbed to Potluck Pass. From Potluck, we could have contoured left to small campsites near a small stream at 12,500'' for base camp - but not knowing this, 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 lake 3559 m (AKA Lake 11672') , and started to set up camp at about 11:30 am.

Thirty years previously I made this approach solo, via N Big Pine Creek, Jigsaw Pass, and Knapsack Pass. My poor choice of route led to some class 4 downclimbing through (the wrong part of) Jigsaw pass at sunset - I don't recommend this. To get back to Big Pine, I exited through Cirque pass and Southfork pass. The steep side of Southfork pass was also hazardous for me, as I had no ice equipment, and ended up in a short uncontrollable slide on ice just beneath the surface of the sand before hitting "solid" sand. I avoided injury by clinging to the wall of the chute and descending very slowy, and still ended up falling into the beeergschrund - fortunately it was only 4 feet deep instead of 20' deep straight down from where I was sliding earlier.

Route Description

My brother and I left the camp described in "Approach" abovefor Sill about noon. We went right up the stream N to a little valley, then 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. We went to the tip of the glacier to get water. 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. My brother wanted to traverse right into gully # 4 which may (or may not) 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, My brother 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 unpleasant 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 very steep chute to the left and a climb about 10' straight up a crack or 2, with good holds. Failure of a handhold while climbing this could be most unpleasant, to say the least. 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.

My brother 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 - he 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 that day. After going down ~ 2/3 it did seem a bit steep, 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. We go back to camp at 6:30pm.

People expecting an easy class 2 mountain should know that it's probably not going to be that easy. Climbing it twice my routes required at least one short class 3-4 pitch (10 feet) and a few minor class 3 spots. However, I never tried ascending from the bottom of Polemonium Glacier to the saddle and up the west ridge between Polemonium Peak and Sill, which is recommended as class 2-3 in a couple of books. Ascending and descending "chute # 1" would have avoided the class 3-4 pitch.

Essential Gear

In early July, 2002, I think an ice axe would have been advisable for the chute directly below the summit ("Chute #1"), and crampons might have been necessary very early in the morning to climb the steep snow in the chute. I had both, but left them at camp, unfortunately.

Miscellaneous Info

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Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

Viewing: 1-1 of 1

Dave K - Nov 13, 2002 8:02 pm - Voted 4/10

Route Comment

We took one of the chutes with reddish-brown rocks directly above the morraine below the glacier. That chute was class 2 the entire way. The only obstacle was at the notch along the ridge just below the summit, where we had to climb over a large rock. Another party compared it to climbing over a garage door, and it seemed about as hard.

Viewing: 1-1 of 1



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