june - 2015
john muir wilderness
the pre-dawn air was punctuated by a huge crack, followed by a low rumble. crin and I were sitting in a talus cave at 13,000 ft listening to violent rockfall and icefall on the palisade glacier. it was 3:45am, and we had just hiked a few miles from our camp at sam mack meadow to the start of the technical difficulties of our day of climbing, a mild-angled snow traverse to a notch in the cliffband. this cliff, which borders the glacier to the southeast would provide access to our objective: the swiss arete on mount sill. we had decided to wait for first light to continue on our approach, since scrambling further across the glacier moraine into steeper terrain seemed unwise to do blind.
at first light, the glacier notch came into view. we slogged up the soft 45 degree snow and attacked the cliff band, scrambling up a few hundred feet of choosy ledges to a high hanging snowfield. we worked up the soft snowfield, which steepened into the north couloir of mt sill. exiting the colour to the east, we scrambled up more moderate rock to a large ledge beneath the beautiful rib of the swiss arete, which sweeps north down 1000 ft. from the summit of the mountain to our position.
we stowed our ice axes, traded gore tex tennis shoes for rock climbing shoes, and flaked out or 60 meter by 8 millimeter climbing rope. it was 7 in the morning, and ominous looking clouds were rolling over the summit ridge high above us. we were anxious to get moving. we knew the forecast was calling for storms in the afternoon and the last thing we wanted was to be on a massive granite face in an electrical storm.
the climbing started out with four super fun crack pitches up the arete. the rock was clean and solid, protection was readily available, and the climbing went quickly. we felt reasonably confident in the route finding along the ridge, and the weather was holding solid with intermittent sun and clouds. there wasn't a single other person in the palisades that day, and we were loving life climbing high on the ridge.
the crux pitches of the route involve an exposed traverse followed by a steep crack up a beautiful right-facing dihedral. the traverse was quite manageable and fun, and the handcrack was absolutely amazing. we joked about how mellow and classic the crack pitch would be on our local granite crag thaquitz. at 14,000 feet however, loaded down with warm layers, food, water, ice axes, crampons, and shoes, the fairly moderate pitch was shockingly strenuous. we were psyched to be done with the technical difficulties of the ascent. after this, a few hundred feet of simulclimbing (climbing together with the rope and a few pieces of protection to safeguard from a fall) yielded the summit. we topped out mt sill at 10:45 am.
we were tired and sore for our day of hiking and climbing, but we still had a major task ahead of us. we needed to decend the north face of mt. sill, traverse the snowfield to the glacier notch, hike out across the glacier and glacial moraine, hike to our camp at 12000 feet, and then descend the final 3000 feet back to the car.
the usual decent off mt. sill is a 4th class (nontechnical) downclimb from the summit down the north east ridge to the relative safety of the snow in the north couloir. unfortunately, snow and ice conditions led to a collective decision to rappel the face rather than do an icey downclimb while tired loaded down with our climbing gear. this decision made, we put some cord around a b.f.r, clipped our climbing rope to the cord, and tossed ropes off the summit ridge of mt. sill. 1 hour and 5 rappels later, rattled from the task of finding anchors and re-enforcing them when necessary, we arrived at the snow line of the north couloir. breathing a sigh of releif from finishing the stressful task of rapping the face, we glissaded down 1000 vertical feet of sun-softened snow back to the glacier notch.
the hike out across the glacier and glacial moraine dragged on into the afternoon. worn out from talus hopping and potholing in the soft slush of the glacier, we arrived at the ridge looking down at the valley where we had camped the night before. "i think i'm having an out-of-body experience", crin monotoned. "you're doing great, lets keep going", I cajoled, trying to keep the psyche alive while handing her some dried apricots. she rallied as we descended.
we arrived at our 12000 ft. camp at 5pm and tore down our hammocks. the 10 mile hike out to the car was going to be a slog. we plugged podcasts into earbuds, and headed down. arriving at the car at 8pm, we were psyched on a huge successful day.
surviving the drive back to l.a., ready for work the next day, was the true crux tho.