Mount Sill (CA) via Elinore Lake and L-Couloir

Harlan W S + Phill H
July 20, 2012

I started this trip with a slight backache, and ended up with a very big backache; I twisted my back while descending the L-Couloir, not by falling, but by trying to look back uphill.  It was still a very useful experience; I learned that I can still descend a few miles down an intense boulder-hopping route, while in intense pain.


This is an “interesting” way to get to the L-couloir. While one does avoid the Palisade Glacier, the backpack in to Elinore Lake is very rough, with faint use trails, huge talus blocks, and significant stream crossings. If you do plan to stay at Elinore Lake, get an early start, and keep the pack weight as low as you can (both in lbs and position), as you will likely be in a position of precarious balance quite often.


On the descent from Elinore, we found the use trail most of the way; we screwed up only near the bottom of the descent from the lake. A combination of the up and down GPS tracks will give a good compromise.  The combo gpx file is here. (Do NOT open this file in the browser; save it to your desktop/computer. Right click on the link and pick "save as" or something similar from the menu. Use this gpx file AT YOUR OWN RISK!)


The route from Elinore to the base of the L-couloir is straight-forward, with one significant exception. At the unnamed lake in the bowl east of the couloir (~3730m), one should cut to the N side of the lake.  There is a seemingly easy wall on the R, and a steep gully straight ahead (W to WNW). We chose to climb the wall on the R.  Depending on where you climb the wall, it is reasonable 3rd class, to uncertain 4th class. The easiest way up the wall seems to be: go almost to the gully at the end of the valley, but instead of ascending the gully, cut sharp R (NE) up a bouldery ramp, then climb the class 3 wall to the top.


There was very little snow this year, and the L-couloir was deeply sun-cupped and was turning to ice near the top; these conditions could be surprises for people planning on a relatively safe crampon trip.  The L-couloir averages ~40 degrees; shallower at the bottom, steeper up near the split.  In good snow that slope is not bad. I used Al 12-point crampons and a whippet instead of an ax, but if the couloir gets icier, it would be wise to have stiffer gear, ot to avoid the snow entirely by climbing the rocks on the R side.


The catwalk (ledge south of Apex Peak, at the base of the big cliff) and 4th class were a lot easier than I expected. There is one place where one has to creep around a rock blocking the catwalk, but overall, it feels very safe. The 4th class section is very short, and with sticky rubber shoes (which I did NOT have), one can cut left and back on what seems more like 3rd-class terrain.  I took 50’ of 15 mm webbing, which I double over through a sling with carabiner (already up there), and that protection was more than adequate for the return (and such gear weighs less than 1 lb).  You might also have ~12’ of webbing in case the existing slings look ratty.


Mount Sill was named after Rowland Sill, the poet who wrote “Truth at Last.” That poem refers to the guide Brennen, who was killed in an avalanche in a gentle couloir of the Haut de Cry in the Alps.


Route overview. One leaves the

South Fork trail to Brainerd Lake

at or after the Willow Lake Trail,

but continues up to Elinore (instead

of going to Willow).


Detail of the last part of the route.

Note the wall (cliffs) described above.


The 1st night I stayed at Grandview

Campground on the White Mountain

Road. Thus I had an opportunity to

sleep at altitude in a quiet setting.


The next day I got up to the pass at

9800’ on the S Fork Trail.  Sill is

in the distance at R; I am about to

enter a trailless area and will wind

up to Elinore Lake.


I’m now at Elinore Lake, looking to

Norman Clyde Peak (and Middle

Palisade at L). I started late, and

ended up at the lake about 6:15PM.

Phil showed up about 1.5 h later,

Paul showed up after dark, and Al

bivvied the night at the bottom of

the last chute to the lake.


The next morn. the glow on Sill (R)

was beautiful.


Phil captured me making coffee at


View back SE as we pass a pinnacle.

The unnamed lake at 3730m, view

toward Palisade Crest.


View UP at Sill and L-couloir. I’m at

the top of the wall.


Phil and Paul arrived at the top of the

wall soon after, by a slightly different



Phil comes p the L-Couloir (also

called the North Couloir). Paul is

at L below. My crampons and whippet

and gaiters are stashed on the rocks.


View W (of N Palisade) from just

below catwalk.


View of the catwalk ahead. One is

supposed aim just R of the sharp

projecting boulder. See lines for route.


View back down at Phil, who is near

the top of short class 4. Paul is on the

catwalk behind.


Apex Peak in back, as Phil climbs up to

ridge between Sill and Polemonium.

View past N cliff of Sill.

Phil tops the ridge between Sill and


On top! View NW.
DSCN0227p DSCN0228
View SW.
DSCN0230 DSCN0231 DSCN0233
View W.
DSCN0236 DSCN0236p1

View (by Phil) as I prepare a fireman’s

belay for Paul.

Close-up of belay.

View back at Sill as I wait at the top

of the wall.

View of unnamed lake from the wall.
Next morn, Paul breaks camp.
Hew slept on a 10 degree slope!
Al and Phil break camp.