Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Route Profile: Mt Sill - Swiss Arête (5.7)

The view of the Swiss Arête from Gayley Camp. Ian McEleney

Mt Sill (14,153')
Route: Swiss Arête
Difficulty: 5.7
Elevation Gain: 6,100 ft


Looking at Mt Sill on the Palisade Traverse. Ian McEleney
With sweeping views of the Owens Valley, the White Mountains to the east, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to the south and west, Mt Sill goes down in many climber’s memories as the best summit view in California’s Sierra Nevada. The Swiss Arête, named for the famous line on the Matterhorn, has better rock and fewer crowds than its namesake. A fun route on solid granite on one of California’s fourteeners makes this a climb worth doing.

Climb this route with two nights spent in Sam Mack Meadow or another high camp to acclimatize. When we guide this route as part of our Sierra Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Course or Palisade Traverse, we combine it with multiple other peaks to make the most of the approach. 


The preferred approach is via the North Fork of Big Pine Creek from Glacier Lodge hiker parking. Follow the trail for about 8.5 miles, passing beautiful teal lakes and Temple Crag along the way. Turn off to the left on the Glacier Trail Turnout toward Sam Mack Meadow, with many nice campsites both in the meadow and on the rocky ledges above it. By now, you can see Mt Sill and the L-shaped couloir clearly, so get your bearings. Cross the stream in the meadow and follow cairns southeast and then south along the moraine to Gayley Camp and across the Palisade Glacier. You’ve gained about 4,000 feet of elevation by now, so you'll appreciate having a night or two of acclimatization before the climb.

Stream Crossing in Sam Mack Meadow.  AAI Collection 
From here head toward the L-shaped couloir on Mount Sill, accessible via a short gully (class 2 or easy 3) - get about a third of the way up this couloir and take your pick of crossings to the left to access the Swiss Arête.


Depending on where you crossed over from the L-shaped couloir, the climb starts out more or less low-angle, then becomes steeper and more interesting as you ascend. One option, the “Sit-Start,” involves aiming for the bottom of the arête, or choose to cross the snowfield and scramble to the notch where the original route begins.
Classic alpine conditions on the Swiss Arête. Ian McEleney 

Six to ten moderate pitches on solid granite take you to the top. After a section of tricky blocky moves, reach the crux about halfway up the route. This is the famous “step around” move, where you must navigate a long step and a reach to the side to a ledge off of the arête, then climb one of a couple variations to straighten back out. Alternatively, a 5.9 move straight up will do. About two more pitches of easier climbing lead to the summit, and after a summit reward and soaking in the views, descend via Walter Starr’s exposed route down the North Couloir.

If this route is something you’re interested in, consider working with AAI to make this a part of your summer adventure. We climb the Swiss Arête as part of our Sierra Mountaineering and Technical Leadership Course, as well as on a private basis and as part of our Palisade Traverse trip. Email us or give us a call at 360-671-1505 to find out more!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I did this climb in July 2012. I was originally hoping to attempt No. Pal. by U-Notch, but that route was considered to be a "bowling alley" at that time of year/season. Swiss Arête was a great alternate. The step around move at the crux, like many things, is a lot of fun in retrospect (although a bit anxiety laden in the moment).