One of the great climbs of the Sierra is on 14,162 foot Mt. Sill, the most prominent of the Palisade peaks. The Arête is a great sweeping curve, steadily steeping as height is gained. The route is never too easy and never too difficult, just good climbing high above surrounding peaks and alpine lakes. Spectacular views extend out over the Owens Valley to Telescope Peak above Death Valley, the White Mountains to the east, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to the south and west. We offer these climbs as a custom program and we often find that it is worth adding in another climb and maximize the climbing to hiking ratio.
We often climb the route as a part of our Palisades High Peaks Camp.
This is a three-day trip at a minimum; sometimes we combine the Swiss Arête with ascents of other neighboring peaks, making a full tour of the Palisade Glacier summits. Our scheduled five-day version of this is called the Palisades High Peaks Camp
As a three-day trip it is necessary to get to high camp on the first day. Usually if we're just there to climb Sill we'll camp at the Gayley High Camp, below Mt. Gayley at 12,200'. This requires an altitude gain of over 4,000' the first day so, like many of our trips, a night or two of altitude prior to the trip will help you enjoy the climb more. If we're there for other peaks as well as Sill we'll usually camp over at the Glacier High Camp, at 12,320'. This camp is easy to spot on the 7.5' map "North Palisade", it's 800' due west from the lake at the terminus of the Palisade Glacier, above the two tiny tarns shown on the map. If we're there for other peaks too we're probably taking two days to get to high camp, the first night spent above Third Lake.
The Swiss Arête starts by crossing the Palisade Glacier, which, though small by other mountain range standards, can have hidden crevasses so, it's wise to rope up. Once at the top of Glacier Notch (3rd class, often guarded by a hidden bergschrund were the glacier meets rock on the north side) the route ascends part way up the L-shaped Snowfield. One can gain the actual Swiss Arête at many places along the ridge, the further down we move on to the ridge the more rock climbing we'll get. Many third class ramps lead from the L-shaped Snowfield onto the Swiss Arête proper but we like to maximize the climbing by joining the ridge fairly low down and make the climb ten pitches or so. Part way up the climb the route steepens and the crux is reached: either a 5.9 move straight up or the famous "step around" move, a long step and reach to the right brings one to the base of a short, steep, 5.6 hand crack. Easier climbing with many variations leads directly to the summit, 300' above with its fantastic views.
But too soon we have to go down. Descent is via the Starr Route. We descend the ridge some and then turn east onto the shadowed North Face. Some downclimbing and a rappel or lower takes us to the sub peak of Sill, known as Apex Peak. This is the peak that projects from Mt. Sill to Sill's north, just under 14,000' in height. A ledge system quickly brings us to the top of the L-shaped Snowfield. The L-shaped snowfield has melted out over the years and is often more properly names the I-shaped snowfield. We pick up gear and head on down back over Glacier Notch to camp. We sometimes return to a camp near Third Lake after climbing the Swiss Arête, to get a head start on the hike out.
The best guidebook is Peter Croft's “The Good, The Great, and the Awesome”. Get it from Maximus Press. (GGA photo and link to http://www.maximuspress.com )
You can also get our unpublished SMC Guide to Mt. Sill here.
We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000') just prior to the trip. Spending a night in Mammoth would do the trick or better yet, camped at an even higher trailhead, such as one of the campgrounds in Big Pine Creek for a night just before the trip. Glacier Lodge is also a good lodging option. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.
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