Mount Sill Bailout

pics by Harlan W. S.
July 1-3, 2009

 

We meant to go to Mount Sill in the CA Sierra, but came across some unusual conditions. There was a very heavy snowfall in June; coupled with rain and warm days and nights, that recent snow led to an unstable soft layer on a slightly harder base. During plunge steps, the soft layer would break free, and it was hard to arrest in the soft, airy and slushy top layer. We spent a fair amount of time trying to analyze what the slip meant*. There were avalanches on sub-30 slopes. Glacier Notch was full of high-angle snow, so we bailed at 11AM and about 13000’.

 

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100k map of trip. We started at R near Glacier Lodge.

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24k map.

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The 1st eve we camped at Grandview on the way to Big Pine. This campsite, at ~8500’, gives some small acclimatization. We picked up the permit at ~9AM the next day.

 

 

 

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The 1st day, we just packed in to 3rd Lake. We had heard that Sam Mack was still snowy 5 days before; but nearly all snow had melted. Here we are at the 1st bridge over Pine Creek.

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As we move up the N Fork, we look back on Middle Pallisade (far distance, at L) and Norman Clyde (R).

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Iris.

 

 

 

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We join the backpacker’s trail.

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Rushing waters of the N Fork.

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Penstemons, “Pride of the Mountain”.

 

 

 

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N Fork Rangers’ cabin.

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Thunderbolt appears in distance, just L of trail.

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Shooting stars.

 

 

 

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Temple Crag, from near 1st Lake.

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My tent at 3rd Lake.

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Kim looks out over 3rd Lake, and tries to shovel down her dinner.

 

 

 

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Next morn (July 2), Ali and Kim cross stream at Sam Mack, on Glacier Trail.

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Gayley on L, Sill on R.

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Panorama, with Gayley far L, then Sill, V and U notches with Polemonium between, N Pallisade, Starlight, and Thunderbolt at far R.

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A recent avalanche is visible behind Kim.

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About here, on 40 degree slopes, I turned L up to Glacier Notch. The snow in the chute was at least 50 degrees. I passed a rap sling, then climbed on top of the rock and shouted down to Kim about the conditions; though only 11AM, we decided to bag it. On descent back to Kim, my butt was nearly touching the snow as I carefully self-belayed, face-first, down the slope.

 

 

 

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View UP. I made deep, close-placed plunge-steps so Kim could have more secure footing, and would be freed of constant self-belay.

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We’re about to pass this one section, where the snow rapidly steepened and gave a run-out to the icy water.

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Kim has passed the worst run-out section, and is back on gentler slopes.

 

 

 

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Sill in the back. Light rain started soon after.

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3rd through 1st Lakes. We could see Kim’s tent from here.

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Feldspathic pegmatite vein in granite.

 

 

 

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Alpine Laurel.

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Richard B, whom we met on trip; he talked about the difficulty in getting shoes to fit his size 16 feet (my 9.5 foot for scale).

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Granite Gillia.

 

 

 

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Broad-Leaf Gillia.

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A buchwheat, probably Sulphur Flower.

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Mid Pal and Norman Clyde (R) again, on the way out, July 3.

 

 

 

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A rose not far from the backpacker parking.

* We spent a lot of time trying to figure this out. Kim has much more snow experience than I do; she was wearing the same crampons that she used on Denali, and was “doing everything right”. However, her crampons heels were the same size as mine, and she weighs a lot less, so she was able to put less force on her heels. We just seemed to have crappy conditions; avalanches on 20 slopes should tell us something. Kim started slipping at about 30, but the problem didn’t hit me till 50.