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Mt. Sill & Temple Crag, 7/05 (Part 1)

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  • Mt. Sill & Temple Crag, 7/05 (Part 1)

    So, I figured with the sliding season winding down here in the east, and with many like me turning their attention toward other seasonal pursuits, I would finally post this trip report (4 years after the fact) to provide a little summer stoke. This is the slow TR season anyway, and I hope, once again that the denizens of this fine webspace will indulge me. Anyway, here it is (the good pictures are my buddy Scott's, the not so good, mine).

    The pics are coming, but here's the intro: As so often is the case, the inspiration for this trip stemmed from a (brief) trip report on Mt. Sill's Swiss Arete that I'd read back in the fall of 2004. My curiosity was piqued, so I began to reseach the area. The more I learned about the High Sierra, and in particular the Palisades region, the greater my desire to visit grew. One look at the incredible Temple Crag, and its Celestial Aretes, sporting rock climbs of 12 (Venusian Blind Arete), 14 (Moon Goddess Arete), and 18 pitches (Sun Ribbon Arete), and I knew I just HAD to get out there! I enlisted my good friend and favorite climbing partner, Scott, who, after checking out the various pictures and trip reports I sent him, resoundingly approved. We made plans to climb Mt Sill’s Swiss Arete and Temple Crag’s Sun Ribbon Arete. Two other friends, Doug and Colin, got in on the act and signed on to do the Swiss Arete with us.

    After a few minor hiccups (the MARTA trains in Atlanta -- Scott's mode of transport to the airport -- being shut down because of a bomb scare, and Doug's flight being seriously delayed out of Miami because of Hurricane Dennis), we got rolling toward the eastern Sierra. Scott and I made the drive from L.A. to Bishop, while Colin and Doug would approach from San Francisco. I'd advised Doug and Colin that if, for whatever reason, we didn’t meet up that evening, we'd meet at the trailhead for an 8 a.m. departure the next morning. After sorting gear, food and clothing, Scott and I turned in early, expecting we’d see the other guys at the trailhead in the morning. Unbelievably, sometime around 2:30 a.m., I heard a familiar voice whisper “Les? Scott?” outside our tent! Turns out Doug had devised a plan to seek out “cheap a$$ rental cars” at the campgrounds, as “that’s what Les would rent” (in my defense, the compact car was Scott’s idea!). They succeeded in finding the proverbial needle in a haystack on just their second look!

    Next morning, after a big breakfast at the Country Kitchen in Big Pine, we began our approach. The Glacier Lodge trail winds through a shaded pine forest, eventually linking up with the Big Pine North Fork Creek trail. Water is plentiful along the trail, so there’s no need to carry the extra weight. We hiked leisurely up, past First Falls:

    the Lon Chaney cabin:

    and Second Lake:

    (that's the Temple Crag massif in the background)

    before arriving at Third Lake, our base camp destination. All told, excluding a couple lengthy rests, we made Third Lake in about 3 hours. Scott and I claimed dibs on a sweet bivy spot:

    Colin was inclined to sleep under the stars, and questioned Doug’s manhood when he voiced his preference for sleeping in a tent. Colin reluctantly, and with more words of disparagement, helped Doug set up the tent. But as darkness approached, Colin's obstinance and pride were routed by bloodthirsty swarms of angry mosquitoes, and he dove into the tent, gladly accepting his comeuppance over exsanguination by the winged hordes! Better to eat (in this case, crow) than be eaten (by bugs)! By our second day, I developed a formidable line of defense against the bugs: I wore my Precip pants and anorak, which they couldn’t penetrate, and slathered my face, hands, and feet with the 30% DEET cream I’d brought along. Mercifully, the mosquitos were inactive during the heat of the day. But at dusk and dawn, they darkened the skies in frenzied clouds.

    Mt. Sill (14,153 feet) via the Swiss Arete (II, 5.7)

    Sunday dawned bright and clear. We got up early, for an intended 5:30 a.m. start, but didn’t manage to get on the trail until around 6:15 a.m. On the Sam Mack Meadow trail, we encountered sections still snowbound:

    but staying on course was pretty easy. At around 12,000 feet, you encounter the lush, flat, green banks of the river formed by the glacial runoff:

    We broke left from here, toward Mt. Gayley, moving up on snow the entire way to Gayley Camp, at the base of Mt. Gayley. This placed us high above the lake that collects at the tongue of the Palisade Glacier, where we followed the boot track that skirted the upper edge of Palisade Glacier’s eastern rim, then up steep snow to Glacier Notch, the pass between Mt. Gayley and Mt. Sill.

    The Swiss Arete route:

    Heading up toward Glacier Notch . . .

    . . . where a couple hundred feet of third class rock scrambling . . .

    . . . deposited us onto the "L-shaped snowfield" . . .

    (that's Mt. Gayley behind me)

    . . . from where we kicked steps up the soft snow to the fourth-class apron that leads to the first pitch of the Swiss Arete proper:

    On the arete, the climbing was fantastic. Beautiful granite with awesome exposure, especially off to the left side, looking down onto the Sill Glacier. Doug, seconding behind Scott:

    Me leading up behind Scott and Doug:

    Colin following:

    Looking out from the summit:

    Scott on the summit:

    The climbing was pure enjoyment, and the crux section -- the vaunted "step around move" -- was totally exhilirating and not at all overhyped. We signed the summit register -- where we noticed after leafing through the pages, that 80's bada$$ Glen Plake had signed the log just weeks before us, with the entry "Climbing and Skiing!" -- and lingered for some time taking in the gorgeous weather and unrivalled view. Finding the rappel can be tricky according to the guidebooks, but we managed without incident:

    We enjoyed a nice glissade down the North Couloir and wound our way back to camp, this time taking the direct approach down the moraine just left of Mt. Gayley. We ran into climbing photographer Dan Pattituci doing a photo shoot of his climbing partner on the way down. On the sketchy Third Lake outlet logjam crossing . . .

    . . . Doug managed to fall in, on the lake side thankfully (a fall on the outflow side would have been very bad), when a log broke under his foot. We staggered into camp, each a few minutes apart, and were set upon by the devilish mosquito hordes! As I lay snugly (and smugly) in my tent, I had to suppress laughter as I watched an exhausted Doug finally arrive some twenty minutes later, with cut finger and wet leg courtesy of his plunge in the lake, frantically fighting off the insatiable mosquitoes! He danced around like his a$$ was on fire, emitting squeals of agony as he flailed his arms about like a demented mental patient. It was absolutely hilarious! I wish I had it on videotape (pity poor Doug, he neglected to bring any DEET, though he did manage to keep hitting me up for my limited supply)!

    Next day Scott and I rested, while Doug and Colin decided to leave for the Bay Area (they'd had enough of the mosquitoes). I took a hike to scope out the approach to the Sun Ribbon Arete, our next objective.

    Next up: Part 2, Temple Crag's Sun Ribbon Arete.
    we're all living proof that nothing lasts

  • #2
    Mt. Sill & Temple Crag, 7/05 (Part 2)

    Temple Crag (12,999 feet), via the Sun Ribbon Arete (IV, 5.10a)

    The beautiful Temple Crag, with the Sun Ribbon Arete shown in red:

    Scott and I headed up early the next morning, managing to get temporarily lost in the giant talus field guarding the Temple Crag approach. We found our way up the increasingly steepening snow to the base of the climb:

    After tossing our crampons back down the snowfield to retrieve later, we began the beautiful first pitch. Scott leading:

    Me following:

    We simul-climbed the next 3 pitches, mostly 3rd & 4th class punctuated by an occasional low-fifth class move . . .

    . . . until we gained the arete proper, where we moved up on amazing granite:

    Until we approached the First Gendarme, where the Tyrolean Traverse awaited us. Scott topping out on the First Gendarme:

    We used the technique recommended in Chris McNamara’s SuperTopo guide – tossing a coiled loop of rope from each hand over the rock horn on the other side of the gap – instead of the traditional “lasso” method. Scott nearly looped the horn on his second try, but the rope slipped off when he tried to flip one strand off a snagged flake. So I took my shot and managed to snag it on my first try! After rigging the rope (we tied off a bight of rope, clipped a biner to it, munter-hitched the biner, pulled it tight, then mule-hitched the munter), Scott took the honors of hauling himself across first, while I kept him on belay as a backup:

    Looking across, you can see the horn of rock we lassoed to set up the Tyrolean:

    Then it was my turn:

    It was a white-knuckle trip!!! What a blast! Not long after, we came upon the crux pitch, which Scott led in fine style. It was a beautiful piece of climbing -- straight-in hand jams, to a brief off-width section, then tenuous traversing moves on thin crimpers -- until the arete was gained again. Scott eating up the crux pitch:

    Lots more climbing, with wild exposure, and lots of tower-weaving and rope drag(!), brought us near the top just as daylight was fading. The penultimate pitch takes you, via a 30-foot downclimb, into the gully to the left of the arete, which is taken to the top. Scott arrived at the belay in total darkness. We resigned ourselves to a forced bivy for the night. Our perch was decent, all things considered, and we'd brought along some items for warmth, just in case (hat, gloves, mylar blanket and bivy sack). Scott, settling in for the long night:

    My space blanket was soon shredded into useless ribbons, and Scott managed to poke his feet -- sneakers still wet from the approach -- through the bottom of his sack. Our bivy spot -- the silver lump with the feet poking out is Scott!

    I slept only a few winks, while I mostly watched the eastern skyline, longing for the sun's warmth. It finally came:

    . . . and we finished out the climb, a mere 120 feet of mostly 4th class rock. A very tired me on top of the climb:

    We dropped rope, rack and packs to head for the true summit, but once there, we stared out across a thin bridge of rock dropping 1,000+ feet on both sides, and decided that we wouldn't be tagging it today because we didn't care to risk the traverse in our tired state. After some searching, we managed to find the rappel down to Contact Pass, and returned to camp for some much needed rest.

    Later that day, we hiked out, showered at the Glacier Lodge campground for $4, drank the best can of Diet Coke we'd ever had in our lives, and headed into Bishop (105 degrees on that day!) for a well-deserved hunk of prime rib and a few beers. Lots of memorable moments on this trip, too many to mention or bore you all with, but which I know I'll never forget. Anyway, I hope this provides a little stoke for someone planning a summer climbing trip (as I am). Here's a couple parting shots.

    Me lounging at camp, with Temple Crag in the background:

    Sunset from camp:
    Last edited by boardman; 06-12-2009, 11:49 AM.
    we're all living proof that nothing lasts


    • #3
      I was talking with Scottie on Wed about your trip when we were at Ragged, it sounded amazing, and now this put the icing on the cake !!!

      Stellar Report !
      ~Say hello to the rug's topography, It holds quite a lot of interest with your face down on it~

      Looking for a place to put your photos try BackcountryAgenda


      • #4
        SOB!!! I've seen some tremendous TR's over the years from the likes of sam, rog, 8's, affix, RR, you know....the greats! But, HOLY ! This has got to be my favorite TR!!! It just appeals to the Alpine Whore that I am....truly! It got my heart rate kidding!!!
        What I need is a pimp like boardman to show me the way!!!

        WHAT A TRIP! The Sierra's are amazing!!!

        Can't wait for Part 2!!!

        A Favorite shot of me in the Uinta's....closest I've ever been to anything like The Sierras!

        "If you don't do it this year, you'll just be one year older when you do."