Swiss Arete 5.7

 
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Mt. Sill


High Sierra, California USA


Trip Report
Mt. Sill : Swiss Arete
Monday July 12, 2010 12:37pm
I've wanted to climb this route for years .. in 2007 I actually made plans to go in July, but instead broke my foot, and then my neck. That kind of derailed things for a while.

I have read that fast and strong parties can climb this route in a day from the parking lot. Neither adjective applies to me anymore :) and the first time I'd been to the Palisades in 2005 I got altitude sickness at Gayley Camp (~12000'). So I was in the mood to take it slow and enjoy the scenery. Justin and I set out from San Jose early on Wednesday morning, arrived in Bishop in early afternoon to pick up our wilderness permit, and then headed down to Big Pine and Glacier Lodge (7800').

Heading out from Glacier Lodge
Heading out from Glacier Lodge
Credit: rhyang

We started hiking around 4pm and made our way up the North Fork Big Pine trail. The forecast called for 20% chance of thunderstorms each day until Friday (our summit day), when it was supposed to rise to 30% pop. Ah well, we'd just see how things went.

Temple Crag peeking out on the approach
Temple Crag peeking out on the approach
Credit: rhyang

About 3 hours later we arrived at First Lake (9950') and decided to just camp there. It was pleasant, aside from the very enthusiastic mosquitoes :)

Temple Crag, from First Lake
Temple Crag, from First Lake
Credit: rhyang

We got going promptly in the morning, and hiked up past Second and Third Lakes, then hung a left on the Glacier Trail up to Sam Mack Meadow (11000').

Creek crossing on Glacier trail (log bridge)
Creek crossing on Glacier trail (log bridge)
Credit: rhyang

Sam Mack Meadow
Sam Mack Meadow
Credit: rhyang

We crossed the creek here and headed up the trail to the moraine. There were patches of snow here and there, pretty much standard stuff this time of year. We could see Mt. Sill, Gayley, North Pal slowly emerging ..

Palisades, from the moraine trail (11500')
Palisades, from the moraine trail (11500')
Credit: rhyang

Great views of the lakes we'd passed, too -

Views down the north fork big pine drainage from 11500'
Views down the north fork big pine drainage from 11500'
Credit: rhyang

We continued up for a while and then found some nice slabs at 12200' and made camp.

Justin at Gayley Camp (~12200')
Justin at Gayley Camp (~12200')
Credit: rhyang

It was only about noonish, so we decided to head up to the glacier and see how things were. We traversed the Palisade Glacier to Glacier Notch, then up the loose second and third class to near Mt. Gayley and Sill.

Mt. Sill (upper left) and Palisade Glacier, from the moraine
Mt. Sill (upper left) and Palisade Glacier, from the moraine
Credit: rhyang

Yellow Brick Road (third class, SW Ridge) on Mt. Gayley (13510')
Yellow Brick Road (third class, SW Ridge) on Mt. Gayley (13510')
Credit: rhyang

We decided to scramble up Mt. Gayley via the Yellow Brick Road, a third class scramble that I'd done before in 2005. It was short & fun and gave nice views of our intended route.

Mt. Sill's Swiss Arete just left of center, U-Notch and North Palisade...
Mt. Sill's Swiss Arete just left of center, U-Notch and North Palisade on the right, as viewed from Mt. Gayley
Credit: rhyang

Great views of Middle Pal and the South Fork too -

More summit views from Mt. Gayley
More summit views from Mt. Gayley
Credit: rhyang

Things were clouding up, so we headed back down .. the snow was wet and sloppy. We got back into camp around 5pm rather beat, cooked dinner and turned in early.

Next morning dawned clear and not very cold, and we got moving around daybreak. We hadn't needed crampons the previous afternoon but decided to bring them on the early morning approach. The alpenglow was spectacular -

Mt. Sill alpenglow
Mt. Sill alpenglow
Credit: rhyang

Alpenglow on Thunderbolt and Winchell
Alpenglow on Thunderbolt and Winchell
Credit: rhyang

We traversed the glacier and headed up Glacier Notch again. The route looked great.

Justin traversing the Palisade Glacier
Justin traversing the Palisade Glacier
Credit: rhyang

Start of the Swiss Arete, from near Glacier Notch
Start of the Swiss Arete, from near Glacier Notch
Credit: rhyang

We traversed the L-shaped snowfield and scrambled up to a ledge in the lower left of the pic above. It seemed well-used, so I'm pretty sure it was the right place. The altitude here was at least 13000' so I was breathing hard :)

We got our gear together, radio check, and I cast off up the first pitch at 8:30am.

Looking down the first pitch
Looking down the first pitch
Credit: rhyang

Some fun crack moves, and nice features to sling, but mostly pretty easy. I ran out to almost a full 60m and found a nice ledge with a horn for an anchor. Justin came up and cruised the next pitch. While the climbing was mostly pretty easy, the exposure and scenery were fantastic.

Justin on third (?) pitch
Justin on third (?) pitch
Credit: rhyang

South fork big pine from the route
South fork big pine from the route
Credit: rhyang

Justin on the Swiss Arete
Justin on the Swiss Arete
Credit: rhyang

We could see the crux pitch looming overhead -

Swiss Arete crux pitch -- 5.9 hand crack in the sun, 5.7 right-facing ...
Swiss Arete crux pitch -- 5.9 hand crack in the sun, 5.7 right-facing dihedral and steep crack in the shade.
Credit: rhyang

I'd read about people mistakenly heading left and up the 5.9 crack instead of going right to the step-around. Except for some rope drag it was not that bad, except for the fact that it was near 14000', kinda cold (being in the shade) and there was an ice axe & crampons strapped to my pack :) The steep hand crack was a lot of fun and I brought Justin up.

Justin finishing the crux pitch (fourth for us)
Justin finishing the crux pitch (fourth for us)
Credit: rhyang

We swapped the last couple of pitches to the top.

Justin leading fifth pitch of the Swiss Arete
Justin leading fifth pitch of the Swiss Arete
Credit: rhyang

Looking down final (sixth) pitch of the Swiss Arete
Looking down final (sixth) pitch of the Swiss Arete
Credit: rhyang

Woohoo !! We gazed at the scenery and signed the summit register.

Me on summit of Mt. Sill (14153')
Me on summit of Mt. Sill (14153')
Credit: rhyang

Justin on summit of Mt. Sill (14153')
Justin on summit of Mt. Sill (14153')
Credit: rhyang

Mt. Sill summit register :)
Mt. Sill summit register :)
Credit: rhyang

It was about 1pm. We could see some clouds off in the distance but nothing serious yet. Scrambling down we made a couple routefinding errors, but eventually found the rappel slings and the fourth class downclimb. We decided to just downclimb, since the ledges looked dry and not too hard.

Apex Peak (the peaklet across the L-shaped couloir from Sill) ...
Apex Peak (the peaklet across the L-shaped couloir from Sill) and the horns that indicate the correct descent
Credit: rhyang

Justin downclimbing the short fourth class near the rap slings (we...
Justin downclimbing the short fourth class near the rap slings (we didn't see a need to use them today)
Credit: rhyang

The fourth class is short and the remainder of the scramble to the L-shaped couloir is third at most. Back down at the top of the snow I was happy to plunge step and glissade .. the snow was wet and sloppy. We headed down Glacier Notch again and made our way back to camp. I was pretty seriously dragging. It was almost 5, and we elected to stay one more night instead of trying to hike out.

Overnight the wind picked up but then died down. Saturday morning dawned a bit cloudy, and we got moving before 6am.

Red dawn at Gayley Camp
Red dawn at Gayley Camp
Credit: rhyang

Clouds above North fork big pine
Clouds above North fork big pine
Credit: rhyang

Things cleared up a bit on the way down though -

Second Lake on the hike out
Second Lake on the hike out
Credit: rhyang

The intermittent clouds were nice on some of the more shadeless parts of the trail. We got back to Glacier Lodge before 10am and headed back to Bishop to have lunch -

Lunch in Bishop :)
Lunch in Bishop :)
Credit: rhyang

The drive back through Tuolumne was fantastic .. paradise on earth. I soaked my feet in Tenaya Lake and marvelled at another summer climbing season.

Gear notes:
 6 trad draws (shoulder length)
 2 double-length slings
 Wild Country zeroes Z5 & Z6
 Omega Pacific Link Cams 0.75 and 2
 Wild Country tech friend 3.5
 Wild Country rocks 1-8
 60m x 8.3mm half rope
 2 cordelettes (we belayed off rock horns the whole way, sometimes backed up with a small piece)

It was probably too much gear, but eh :)

  Trip Report Views: 7,583
rhyang
About the Author

Comments
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harpo

Trad climber
South Lake Tahoe
  Jul 12, 2010 - 01:29pm PT
Thnks for the info. We are planning to do the route in late July. Should we bring cramps?
aleday

climber
Stateline, NV
  Jul 12, 2010 - 02:37pm PT
Nice work, Rhyang and co. Great outing.

Any recommendations to start from the south fork trail? Seems like getting over the palisades glacier is longer and tougher route finding with the moraine...
rhyang

climber
SJC
Author's Reply  Jul 12, 2010 - 03:03pm PT
I haven't been up there in late July, so I wouldn't know .. but there is a small bergschrund below Glacier Notch and some steepish snow. In the afternoon we were able to kick steps and get by without crampons, but in the early am it's nice to have them. I brought strap on aluminum spikes.

I'd considered the south fork approach as well and asked about it in this thread. The advice given to me at the time was that it's a lot more talus, but it was my original plan in 2007, and the partner I was going with then ended up going that way. I think it took his party just as long. I have some balance issues with lots of talus now and was happy to skip that on this trip.

YMMV :)
BASE104

Social climber
An Oil Field
  Jul 12, 2010 - 05:31pm PT
Great photos. I haven't been in the palisades for many years. I used to spend weeks at a time helping Doug and Allan guide. There were a group of us who were like sherpas.

The shots looking down on 3rd lake bring back a lot of memories. I think that I only did the Swiss Arete 1 time. It is a fog.
F10

Trad climber
Bishop
  Jul 12, 2010 - 06:07pm PT
Nice job, good photos with the narrative
Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer

Trad climber
  Jul 12, 2010 - 07:23pm PT
Great TR - thanks for sharing! Nice pictures and a good write up.
Les

Trad climber
Bahston
  Jul 13, 2010 - 10:35am PT
Sweet TR with great pics! Brought back fond memories of my trip up there in '05:

http://timefortuckerman.com/forums/showthread.php?t=11848

Gene

climber
  Jul 21, 2010 - 06:59pm PT
Nice climb and report, Rob.
just_one

Mountain climber
CA
  Jul 21, 2010 - 07:24pm PT
Thanks for posting, great pics and story!
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Jul 22, 2010 - 02:58am PT
Fine TR, photos and climb. Thanks much!

John
nutjob

Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  Jul 22, 2010 - 01:17pm PT
Thanks for the inspiration! Nice pics and write-up too. I had thought it was just a non-technical scramble without having looked at pictures of it before. Your first picture from Gayley had me instantly saying "I gotta climb that!"
le_bruce

climber
Oakland, CA
  Jul 22, 2010 - 05:27pm PT
Beautiful! Love it!

Any pics from the summit of Gayley looking down and east toward the ridge and Temple?
rhyang

climber
SJC
Author's Reply  Jul 23, 2010 - 10:37am PT
Thanks everyone !

For Peter Croft, I'm sure it is a nontechnical scramble :)

Didn't take any shots of Temple Crag from Gayley, sorry. I hear there is an interesting ridge traverse between them, and the South Face sounds like fun.
JOEY.F

Gym climber
It's not rocket surgery
  Jul 23, 2010 - 04:33pm PT
I enjoyed the read and pictures a lot. Quite a bit of snow in the high country still. Thanks for the stoke!
eliot carlsen

Social climber
San Francisco
  Jul 24, 2010 - 11:58pm PT
Great TR! Brought back good memories...I loved that exposed step around move to get to the dihedral.
I did the route in early August last year and wished I had brought crampons for the early morning approach.
Wade Icey

Trad climber
www.alohashirtrescue.com
  Jul 28, 2010 - 12:46pm PT
sweet
426

climber
  Jul 28, 2010 - 12:49pm PT
purty...looks nice and chilly
Beatrix Kiddo

Mountain climber
ColoRADo
  Jul 28, 2010 - 01:18pm PT
Awesome! I'm going to get out there and do this route one of these days.
BMcC

Trad climber
Livermore
  Jul 28, 2010 - 02:47pm PT
Nicely done and good pics!

Did the route in August 1989 - your TR brings back fond memories of fun times with good people. Left our plastic boots and crampons at the base of the route, so we could go light with rock shoes, an 8mm x 50m rope, a bunch of long runners, a few stoppers and hexes, and, for the descent, an ice ax each. The long runners were perfect for slinging rock horns and big blocks on the route. The snow conditions in the gully were ideal for a speedy sitting glissade back to our boots and other gear.

Looking forward to your next TR and to my getting back to the Palisades.
Mar'

Trad climber
Fanta Se
  Aug 3, 2010 - 07:23pm PT
Yay! Good job on this story, Rob! I only remember the downclimb, myself …hehe.
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
  Aug 3, 2010 - 09:13pm PT
Thanks for sharing. That photo of traversing over to Glacier Notch really captures the vibe of that area and brings back lots of memories. I did the Yellow Brick Road years ago and still wonder why we didn't do the Swiss Arete. Oh well. One more reason to go back.
harpo

Trad climber
South Lake Tahoe
  Aug 3, 2010 - 10:35pm PT
Just did this route last Wednesday, and had a blast. Most guides (like the SMC online guide by SP Parker) talk about traversing in from about 1/3 of the way up the arete, and doing the route in 4 pitches. We started at the very bottom of the arete and did the route in 7 or 8 pitches, with none of the bottom pitches being any harder than the crux.

Crampons were definetly needed for the early moring start.

We saw one set of rappel slings half way down the 4th class scramble, above the Apex/Sill col, but they looked hard to get to. Is there a second set of rappel slings on the ridge you could use to rappel to the set we saw?

I tried to do the Yellow Brick Road on Gayley the next day, but I think I ended up following the ridge to closely (plus I was alone and beat) so I turned around and took a nap on top of Glacier Notch at 13,000 feet for an hour. Can anyone give me suggestions for the Yellow Brick Road? Do you traverse a little ways onto the SE face before heading up?
Swifter

Social climber
Flagstaff, AZ
  Aug 4, 2010 - 10:17am PT
The Sierra Nevada was my first love among mountain ranges and memories of it still are to this day. Back in the 60s I climbed the Swiss Arete a number of times and it became my favorite climb in the Palisades. No, that's not right: The Swiss Arete was and remains my best and favorite route anywhere! I loved that clean High Sierra rock, the route is just long enough and was the exact difficulty to match my own skills. The airiness and the views while climbing are unbeatable.I truly appreciated your nifty, nostalgic account and the photos. Thanks!
rhyang

climber
SJC
Author's Reply  Aug 4, 2010 - 04:30pm PT
Love these stories of the old days :)

The first time I did the Yellow Brick Road I was also solo, having just gotten over my first bad case of AMS in the last day or two. When I saw the route I swear tunes from The Wizard of Oz started running through my head.

Here's a route page from SP that might be helpful -

http://www.summitpost.org/route/166086/southwest-ridge-yellow-brick-road.html
Patrick Sawyer

climber
Originally California now Ireland
  Aug 8, 2010 - 08:00pm PT
Great pix. Did the route in 1971, with John Fischer and Chris Fredericks when they were guiding for Smoke at PSOM and I was a student/client (I was 15). My first 'real' mountain climb and it was great, up to then it was just climbing at places like indian Rock and Mt Diablo from 1969 onwards.
Fritz

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
  Aug 8, 2010 - 08:19pm PT
Sounds like a great trip. Thanks for taking the time to post all those wonderful photos and commentary.
GDavis

Social climber
SOL CAL
  Aug 15, 2010 - 02:40pm PT
Just did it yesterday, did NOT find the correct descent, but did find a pretty nice bowling alley at 14,000.

I had to use crampons early morning, but i was wearing a pair of 5.10 guide tennies (nikwax'd, of course!) so kicking steps wasnt an option unless I wanted to break toes. However, they sure didnt weigh much in my pack and I practically ran across that slope early mornin'!

Thanks for inspiring me to head out there buddy!
westhegimp

Social climber
granada hills
  Jul 14, 2011 - 08:48am PT
Nice job. Thanks for the TR. Very inspiring. I gotta get up there!
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Jul 14, 2011 - 10:09am PT
Nice bump for the beauty pix!!
guyman

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
  Jul 14, 2011 - 10:26am PT
Way to go Rob. Thanks for the TR.
Zander

climber
  Jul 18, 2011 - 01:35pm PT
Excellent. What a beautiful feature. Nice pics,
Zander
jfailing

Trad climber
PDX, North Slope, The Open Road
  Jul 18, 2011 - 02:28pm PT
Sweet report - way to get after them Sierra peaks!
phylp

Trad climber
Upland, CA
  Jul 18, 2011 - 09:19pm PT
Rob, what a wonderful trip report. It's great that you finally got to do something that's been a goal for so long.
Phyl
TGT

Social climber
So Cal
  Jul 18, 2011 - 09:24pm PT
Great TR

Has anyone done the Mendenhall route around to the left or the Condon-Kepfelberger?
k-man

Gym climber
SCruz
  Jul 18, 2011 - 09:25pm PT
More than just about any other TR, this one makes me pine to be there. Thx (you lucky dog!).
Rich Graziano

Trad climber
San Luis Obispo, CA
  Jul 20, 2011 - 06:36pm PT
Nice! Such a fun e side route! One of my favs!
Swifter

Social climber
Flagstaff, AZ
  Jul 20, 2011 - 09:12pm PT
Marvelous photos, descriptions and evocation of memories. Thanks rhyang! One of my own memories...

Prior to the crash on takeoff that claimed his life (in 1967), Larry Williams ran MGS (Mountaineering Guide Service), a combo climbing school and guide service in the Palisades. Since no permanent structures were allowed in the area Larry devised a plywood “tent”
near the approach to various Palisade climbs. (btw: following a somewhat breezy night with wind that nearly sent the “tent” and occupants down the direct route to Third Lake, Rex Post (Pan Am pilot) designed a “spoiler” for the tent similar to those on the planes he flew, but I don’t believe it was ever installed.) Using extreme care, Larry would pack clients for the following day’s climbs into the “tent” and NO ONE was allowed to stir (“piss on your neighbor if you have to , but...”) until he’d made cocoa and assessed conditions. Everyone, guides and instructors alike, stayed put until the time came.

Early on a chilly a.m. Larry dispatched one of his guides (“Snake,” by name) out to assess snow conditions. This individual (at that time in his final year of med school) returned with a report that: “Crampons are contraindicated.” Needless to say, for the remainder of that summer we’d hear exchanges to the gist of: “Hey,Jensen, what’s that next pitch like?” “Mmmm...falling is contraindicated!”

The Swiss Arete remains my favorite, fondest climbing route anywhere!

Caution: While atop Mt. Sill beware indigenous spelunkovores!

C. prattii
C. prattii
Credit: Swifter
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Jul 20, 2011 - 09:47pm PT
like
Inner City

Trad climber
East Bay
  Jul 21, 2011 - 12:38am PT
That was a fantastic trip report. Thanks for the time and effort to put that together.

I too spent a night at Gayley camp a number of years back...we trudged up onto the start of the arete and at 9 AM the skies opened up and we had to bail. it was very disappointing.

I gotta get back up there.

Beautiful Pictures!
rhyang

climber
SJC
Author's Reply  Jul 21, 2011 - 12:39am PT
Hahaha ! "contraindicated" is now my new favorite word :)
QITNL

climber
  Jul 21, 2011 - 12:56am PT
Nice stuff! I'm re-inspired! I have a spare slot on a ticket up the N. Fork of Big Pine entering next Thursday, July, 28. 3 nights. Partner bailed. If anyone is interested, drop a line.
Clarke Brogger

Mountain climber
Laguna Beach, Ca
  Aug 26, 2011 - 12:01pm PT
any thoughts on current conditions up there? would you say late septmeber is getting too late for the swiss?
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Mt. Sill - Swiss Arete 5.7 - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
Photo: Ryan Crochiere