Ski Mountaineering

Twin Peaks, Silliman Crest

Mar 9-11, 2007

Reiner Stenzel

This trip was a replacement for the scheduled Mt Lyell trip, which lacked participation. We decided to ski and climb on the Silliman Crest in Sequoia National Park. The Western Sierra has usually plenty of snow in the early season and that's what we needed in a poor snow year.

On Fri, 3/9, four skiers met at Lodgepole, Leslie Hofherr, Bill Lutz, David Bjerk and myself. We got a self-issue wilderness permit and took off at about 9am on the Twin Lake trailhead. Snow conditions were good and we skied from the parking lot. There were a few dry spots on the trail but otherwise solid coverage. At the junction with Silliman Creek we left the trail and headed up along the partly open stream. The pace slowed as we headed through forest and ascended some steep slopes. We had a break near Silliman Meadows and by about noon we reached the open slopes leading to Silliman Lake.

The easiest way to ski Mt Silliman (11,188') would be to ascend to Silliman Lake (10,049'), as we had done on a previous SMS trip to Silliman. But this time we wanted to explore the Silliman Crest, which is not easily possible from Mt Silliman. Thus we decided to ski up to the Little Lakes (9804'), 0.5 mi northwest of Mt Silliman. Thus we ascended the next drainage north of Silliman Creek and reached the Little Lakes by early afternoon. We set up camp at the shore of one lake with wind shelter from some trees. This would be our basecamp for two nights. We had a great view of snow covered slopes, the impressive NE face of Mt Silliman, and a view over the San Joaquin Valley with the Coastal Range at the horizon. The Central Valley was covered by clouds, while we enjoyed sunshine. After our 3100' climb with full packs we relaxed in the late afternoon and started an early dinner in the snow kitchen. In the evening there was a great sunset, which lit up the mountains and the thin clouds in the western sky. The wind picked up at night and we went to bed early.

On Sat, 3/10, there was no cloud in the sky, no wind and nothing but untouched snow covered slopes around us. This would be our day of skiing and climbing. After breakfast we headed up north along the Silliman Crest to Silliman Pass. Our destination, Twin Peaks (10,479'), clearly stands out on the Crest. Skiing along the Silliman Crest on a clear day with at least 50mi visibility is absolutely gorgeous: The entire panorama of the white Sierra Nevada is visible to the east.

Particularly impressive are the "nearby" peaks of The Great Western Divide. We could see our previous route of the Tableland Traverse. We also spotted some slab avalanches on the steep slopes east of the Silliman Crest. Many animal tracks were visible, presumably from coyotes. We took many pictures, took a break near Silliman Pass and then skied into the saddle between the two peaks of Twin Peaks, 0.5mi NE of Twin Lakes. The western peak is the high point.

Climbing Twin Peaks is not trivial. The south and east faces are technical climbs. A route description mentions a class 3 route from the west. A steep snow chute NW of the saddle makes the traverse to the west difficult. Leslie and Bill decided to head for the lower Twin. David and I were able to ski up the steep snow field to the eastern ridge where we left the skis and climbed over the ridge to the west.

We inspected the steep rock face and found something like a cl 3 route just west of the summit. It was a mixed snow and rock climb. First we ascended a steep snow field with "skiers ice axes" (poles without basket inserted up to the handle into the snow), then did some rock climbing including a short chimney ascent with telemark boots, and suddenly were on the summit. Again a superb unobstructed view of endless mountains and valleys.

We watched our partners on the other Twin. We had lunch, took pictures, left a new peak register under a cairn, and were a bit anxious about the descent. But everything went fine, including telemarking down the 40+deg eastern face of the big Twin.

The group then headed back south along the Crest toward Silliman. Bill and David were anxious for carving the virgin slopes above Little Lakes and went ahead, while Leslie and I skied along the Crest as far south as possible. Eventually it turns into a non-skiable rocky ridge and we had to retrace. Along the way we encountered some impressive old gnarly trees. The only way to climb Mt Silliman was through a narrow steep chute topped by a cornice, not very appealing.

The steep slopes directly down to the upper Little Lake looked avy prone since soft snow rested on wet smooth slabs. So we chose a safer detour back to basecamp. Since it was too early to retire I followed David and Bill's ascent route on the eastern slopes of Silliman and left my marks in the soft spring snow. Later Leslie joined and everyone skied their heart out on this wonderful day.

In the evening we had another great sunset. No wind at night, bright moonshine after midnight and pleasant temps although the waterbottle was frozen in the morning. David and Bill did not want to depart on Sun, 3/11 morning. They liked the skiing too much and decided to leave in the afternoon while I had to drive home. By 9am we packed up and skied down, first on hard frozen snow, then on spring snow, then on apple sauce, and finally on patches of grass and pine needles. A heat wave had arrived and the snow went down the Kaweah River. From morning in the mountains to afternoon the Valley it was a 50deg temp change. But we had the best of all, great skiing in spring weather and green foothills filled with wildflowers. It was a great trip with best friends.

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