Ski Mountaineering

Mt Sill

July 11-12, 1998

Reiner Stenzel

It was an El Nino year with lots of snow which lasted well into the summer. In July I wanted to get another ski mountaineering trip in, but everyone seemed to be heading for the beaches. So I decided to do a solo trip to the Palisade Range to ski the glacier and to climb Mt Sill, an SPS mountaineers peak.

On 7/11 I hiked from Glacier Lodge on the trail along the North Fork of Big Pine Creek toward Sam Mack Meadows. The pack was loaded with skis, telemark boots, a rope and some climbing gear. I was glad when I reached Sam Mack Meadows to set up camp.

Early next morning the full moon set over the mountains with snow illuminated by the first red morning light. A great day for skiing and exploring was starting. The peak climb would be better after a day at altitude. So I skinned up the col to the Thunderbolt Glacier and skied toward Mt Winchell. A snow field reached almost half up the mountain and it was fun to ski the slopes of Winchell. There were deep suncups and I was glad to have carried up my fat skis which nicely sliced through the suncups as they softened in the intense sun light. I skied west to a col between Winchell and T-bolt and had a fine view over Dusy Basin all the way to the Black Divide.

At the lower end of the glacier a green-blue lake of ice water had formed. The colors were stunningly beautiful. In the afternoon the snow got very soft. Travel on skis was no problem. But some climbers returning from an ascent of Thunderbolt said they got stuck in soft snow and were totally exhausted from deep postholing. Another reason for a very early start.

On Sunday morning I left before daylight, cramponed up the chute, traversed the Palisade Glacier and ascended Glacier Col below Sill and Gayley. The snow on the North Couloir was firm and it was a fine snow climb on a comfortable 35 deg angle. Then it turned into a rock climb up the northwest face over to the west ridge and the summit. No rope was needed but I was glad to have it on a first ascent of a cl 3-4 route.

It was great to be on the summit of this high mountain. There is an unobstracted 360 deg view of the surrounding Sierra Nevada. Since it was a clear day one could probably see hundreds of peaks. In mid July the north facing slopes were still all white due to the El Nino this year. It is always fun trying to identify peaks, especially those which one has climbed before. No problem with the nearby ones like North Pal, Thunderbolt, Winchell, Norman Clyde, Mid Pal, Gayley, Temple Crag, Split, Birch, The Thumb, etc, and the widely visible Mt Goddard and Kaweahs in the distance. After enjoying the summit stay, it was time for a careful descent, especially on the class 4 section. No rope needed if one is careful. The snow in the North Couloir began to soften up but postholing started at lower elevation.

Upon return to Sam Mack Meadows, I packed up and hiked out. A few hours later the nice trip was over and I cruised home on the 395. Skiing on the Palisade Glacier was so much fun that I thought of scheduling an SMS trip next year. Indeed, we had another fun Palisade Glacier trip in 1999.

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