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Routes in Mt. Sill

North Couloir T 4th 1 2 I 2 M 1b
Swiss Arete T 5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b
Type: Trad, Alpine, 800 ft, 6 pitches, Grade II
FA: Dick Jones, Spencer Austin, Ruth Dyer, Ray Ingwersen, Joe Momyer - July 1938
Page Views: 19,821 total, 138/month
Shared By: Chris Owen on Mar 9, 2006
Admins: Chris Owen, M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes

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Description

Although not quite as spectacular as its namesake climb on the Matterhorn, the rock is so much better, in a more remote setting too.

From Sam Mack Meadow climb the left-hand gully at the back of the meadow, bear right under the Palisade Glacier moraine, through another shallow gully just to its right (Thunderbolt Peak framed in the notch) and so gradually gain the crest of the moraine. Follow it until it peters out (wonderful views of North Pal) then work across the Glacier towards Glacier Notch - climb the Glacier Notch couloir (loose in low snow). About 1.5 hours from Sam Mack Meadow.

Wander across to, then up the L-Shaped Couloir until a convenient place is found to access the ridge. One usually ends up a pitch before the steepening. Although the arete can be climbed from much father down.

The climb consists of about 6 pitches of moderate climbing up steep steps using cracks in perfect granite. The crux is at P4 where an impasse forces a tricky little sideways excursion onto an exposed slab on the right, followed by a steep crack at the back, after which two more pitches lead to the summit.

Location

Descent is down Walter Starr's infamous Class 4 North Coulior (aka L-Shaped Couloir). Head down the ridge towards North Pal, then descend from the ridge before it levels off (just before a split pinnacle), usually in a series of rappels to an exposed traverse across to the notch at the top of the L-Shaped Couloir. This is all very exposed and an unprotected slip would be fatal. One can breathe a little more easily once down the couloir. The last real iffy bit is descending back down the Glacier Notch couloir. From here enjoy the hike back down to the comfort and greenery of Sam Mack Meadow (early season glissades back to the meadow are ideal for the weary Alpinist).

Protection

Alpine rack, plus ice-axe and crampons.
Chris D
the couch
 
Chris D   the couch
 
Whether you do this in a day (or over three, as we did) the bulk of your outing will be approaching and descending, briefly interrupted with a little easy climbing on very clean granite in a spectacular setting. However you do it, expect a fantastic walk through some of the most spectacular sierra vistas imaginable.

The walk past the lakes below Temple Crag is without parallel. It's almost surreal. Above the lakes, pass through Sam Mack meadow and follow the glacier trail up switchbacks, across a boulder moraine, then up wandering slabs to Gayley Camp. From here, aim for the snowfield or glacier, then up to Glacier Notch. I have not found a way across the boulders from Gayley Camp to the snowfield that doesn't have unnervingly large, loose rocks. Pretty much everything is suspect. Climb the snowfield.

Where the snowfield ends below Glacier Notch, loose dirt and rocks lead to a short fourth-class stem move to a couple hundred feet of steep, loose, dirty third class terrain that's even more fun to go down than up. At the top of Glacier Notch, head to a spot below where the ridge is flat on the skyline. Leave extra gear here if you like. Follow a third class weakness (there are probably many) straight up to the ridge.

Climb the top of the ridge for about six pitches, following the 5.7 or under path.

It's pretty much that simple. The summit views are as good as you hear. Maybe even better. From the summit, the descent drops steeply toward Polemonium then curls around to the right toward Apex Peak (cairned). Two short (about 25m) raps through some really loose, steep terrain gets you to a spot below an obvious (cairned) notch. Through the notch, down the snowfield past the spot where you started up to Swiss Arete (pick up your gear) and reverse your approach, taking care through Glacier Notch and the giant talus on the walk back to Gayley Camp.

An incredible adventure, and really, a bigger undertaking than you might expect. The climbing was very straightforward and the route finding was obvious. A great Sierra experience. The amount of copy I devoted to the route itself is roughly indicative of how much of the outing is spent climbing fifth class terrain. Go get it!

An album of our early July 2016 climb with some potentially useful beta is here. Jul 4, 2016
EJoe
Mammoth Lakes, CA
  5.7
EJoe   Mammoth Lakes, CA
  5.7
We used our axes for the approach/descent but no need for crampons as of 6/22. Highly recommend rapping to the snow on descent (webbing/ring is in great shape), as there are some extremely loose death flakes (2 mini-fridge sized flakes were trundled). Down climbing those flakes would have been a disaster.

Used the following rack to simul in one push- singles of blue alien to BD #3, medium - large nuts, 15 runners. Jun 23, 2016
grabski
N California
  5.7
grabski   N California
  5.7
Conditions and trip report near the end of this forum thread for early June ascent. Snow fall this year is near the long-term average (heavy snow year compared to the last few drought years). Jun 6, 2016
BFK
San Francisco
  5.6
BFK   San Francisco
  5.6
Fun route but very inconsistent climbing. We did find that there are some nice short (10-15') finger crack sections near the top. This can easily be bypassed but they add some fun movement at 14,100'.

Also, make a careful inspection of any rap slings before you use them if rapping into the L-shaped couloir from the notch between Sill and Apex peak. We found some that looked new but we were able to literally pull them out of the boulders they were around with just a few tugs. Maybe this was a result of some rockfall because I can't imagine someone rapped off of them. Aug 17, 2011
Chris M
Seattle, WA
  5.7
Chris M   Seattle, WA
  5.7
Find your way to the secret corner below the crux and experience some of the best climbing on the route. Climbing this adds 20-30 feet of steep finger and hand jamming. Climbed this by mistake the first time I climbed this route and thought that it felt stout for 5.7. Second time, the leader bypassed this section and went the "normal" way and I understood why I had thought the route was stout. Oct 17, 2009
Chris Owen
Big Bear Lake
 
Chris Owen   Big Bear Lake  
 
Bruce sorry about omitting Ruth Mendenhall (nee Dyer). I'm in love with the idea of her and I'm 50, some dreams never die... Apr 21, 2009
Rich Graziano
Atascadero, CA
  5.7
Rich Graziano   Atascadero, CA
  5.7
What a stellar route! Best summit view I've yet to see. Despite the route, I have to say that my partner and I had a ridiculous time trying to locate the this-is-where-you-descend cairn. We finally found it, but it was far from being what I expected. We were looking for what we thought was supposed to be a "substantial" cairn. While there's no doubt most cairns don't have seven stones, I'm not quite sure that seven genuinely counts as substantial. Oh well, no biggie. I suppose that that's just a part of what we do and why we do it: it's the nature of alpinism and makes it an adventure. Jul 28, 2008
Bruce Willey
Bishop, CA
Bruce Willey   Bishop, CA
doesn't Ruth Mendenhall get credit for FA? Just defending her because I was in love with the idea of her as a child. Jul 4, 2008
Sam Prentice
  5.7
Sam Prentice  
  5.7
Just up the trail from sam mack meadows, there are a series of broken, vegetated ledges that are protected and work great as bivy spots. They're off trail to the right, as you staircase through the treeline. Check em out if the sun is low or to save energy for the next day. Oct 1, 2007
M. Morley
Sacramento, CA
 
M. Morley   Sacramento, CA  
 
A fun, scenic ridge traverse with nice views of the Palisades. The route itself is mostly 3rd and 4th class, with the occasional 5th class section. A long hike in.

We camped at the base of Mt. Gayley at ~12,000+ at the edge of the glacial moraine and that served us well. Jun 13, 2007
Excellent route-- pure fun, no worries-- it's what we climb for. Jul 12, 2006
Chris Owen
Big Bear Lake
 
Chris Owen   Big Bear Lake  
 
**Disclaimer**

This is the way we went - you may find a better way. Apr 2, 2006