Spoiler alert: Still have not reached a 14'er however this was by far the highest elevation I have gotten.
Last weekend Bran, myself and our friends Addy and Corinne went on a backpacking trip to the Palisades with the end goal of climbing Mt Sill. The week leading up to our trip was filled with anticipation, gear discussions, snack recommendations, and of course STOKE. We had never been in this part of the Sierras and were excited to be able to see what this part of California had to offer. We are all lovers of the mountains so it was surprising that none of us had ventured that way before. While we were super psyched for the weekend we were also a little concerned about the weather. For those who do not know, this past May (2015) has been the wettest month to date in the Sierras therefore there was a lot of snow accumulation. Personally, I had never used an ice axe or crampons so the idea of having to climb with some extra gear was a bit intimidating. Regardless, we watched the weather closely and we happened to choose a weekend with a good weather window.
Therefore Bran and I began packing for our epic weekend. Unfortunately by the time we were done our packs were pretty large (note: we also believe in light and fast journeys or we're totally car camping).
Luckily the hike to Mt Sill is only 10 miles - in which part of it we would be carrying just the necesisties to be able to climb Mt Sill, leaving our camping gear at a lower elevation.
Bright and early Saturday morning we left L.A. and pulled into Lone Pine to retreive permits at about 8:30am. Next we made the mandatory stop at Alabama Hills Cafe. (side note: their breakfast sandwhichs are out of this world). After a leisurely breakfast we picked up a topo map and headed toward Big Pine Creek North Fork trailhead.
We arrived to the trailhead around 11 am and began our hike up at 11:30am. The frist mile and a half has some steep switch backs and is still at a pretty low elevation - so it can get hot. We passed a long train of horses and mules and jokingly asked if we could borrow a pack mule for the remainder of our trip.
However, once we reached the ranger station/magnificant log cabin I want to live in - it began to be much more mellow switch backs and not as hot. We continued along the trail and made it to the black lakes and lakes 1-7 intersection by 3pm (only about a mile away from lakes 1, 2 and 3). Even with our heavy packs on we still made pretty good time. For those that are concerned, I found the trail very manageable with a pack on due to the slight incline with few steeper switch backs for the duration of the hike to the lakes. Regardless of the mellow hike, the most spectacular part is the first view of Temple craig
There are no words to describe this soaring peak. It is one of many remarkable vista's but definitely the most memorable.
Once we arrived at the lakes we decided to go ahead and camp for the night. With a combination of weather, fatigue and altitude we thought trying to make it to Sam Mack Meadows (original camping location) would be heinous and ultimately not worth it. The Meadows are only 1.5 miles away and would have been much easier to tackle with light packs early the next morning.
Needless to say, once we set up camp, we were ready for dinner. What I am about to say is no exaggeration but Addy cooked one of the best meals I have ever had. He came with spices, cheeses, tomatoes, oils and some good old tlc. My mouth still waters when I think of that meal. Just know the picture below does not come close to doing it justice. I call the meal Addy Masala.
Once we inhaled the meal we played some cards and headed to bed. Because we camped at a lower elevation we needed to have an alpine start to get to the base of the climb at a reasonable hour. The next morning came quick but with it came the most beautiful sunrise. Once again the mountains have totally left me in awe.
The journey to the galcier countinued as follows:
The hike to the glacier took us a little longer than expected. We left camp at 3:30 am and made good time to Sam Meadows. We were there at about 4:30am. However as we began to climb higher in elevation, personally I began to get pretty winded, tired and headachey. My pace slowed significantly. While we were fortunate to have good snow to walk on (not as much talus or postholing), I still had a hard time keeping my pace at a fast enough rate. After some steep sections of snow travel we arrived to the glacier at 8:30am. As a side note, the trail, even with snow covering it, was easy to follow with plenty of well marked cairns.
Next after a little break and some cliff bars, we decided to go ahead and put the helmets on and rope up. We started to head across the glacier in hopes to travel fast enough to get to the base of the climb by noon (our turnaround time).
We arrived at the glaciear notch around 10am. Unfortunately, at this point we made the decision to not continue going. I was feeling alot of altitude and my pace was much to slow for us to make it to mt sill at a reasonable hour. Also, soon after we made the decision to not continure there was quite a bit of clouds that rolled in, whiting out the mountain peaks. Ultimately we made the right decisoin to not continue going. While it was disappointing, there were still some great highlights. I was blown away by the palisades. It trully is a special place. The glacier and peaks make for a very dramatic setting - humbling even. Also we got to glisade!!!
After playing on the glacier for about 2 hours we decided to head down to camp and make some ramen and head out. Before we left though we had to grab some photos of the glacier.
We left the glacier at about noon and made it back to camp in about 2 hours. We ate some delicious ramen and packed up to head home. The remainder of the trail only took about 2.5 hours and we were back at the cars around 4:30 pm. All in all it was an amazing trip. I was psyched to get above 13k feet for the first time plus see this part of the sierras. It is definitely worth the time and effort to see this hidden mountain range. If I were to do this trip again and attempt mt sill I would try really hard to do it car to car in one day. I think carrying heavy packs and spending alot of time at higher altitude can be demanding on the body. Either way it was another great trip in the mountains and I can not wait to be back up here next season. Hopefully with some ski's :-)