One of the great climbs of the Sierra is on 14,162 foot Mt. Sill, the most prominent of the Palisade peaks. The arete is a great sweeping curve, steadily steepening 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 often climb the route as a part of our Palisades High Peaks Camp.
The best guidebook is Peter Croft’s “The Good, The Great, and the Awesome”.
Get it from Maximus Press.
You can also get our unpublished SMC Guide to Mt. Sill.
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.
Return to Classic Alpine Rock Climbs
This is a three-day trip at a minimum; sometimes we combine the Swiss Arete 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. We’ll usually camp at the Gayley High Camp, below Mt. Gayley at 12,200’. This requires an altitude gain of over 4,000’ the first day; therefore a night or two at altitude prior to the trip will help you enjoy the climb more.
The Swiss Arete 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 where the glacier meets snow and rock on the north side) the route ascends part way up the L-shaped snowfield. One can gain the actual Swiss Arete at many places along the ridge, the further down we move onto the ridge the more rock climbing we’ll get. Many third class ramps lead from the L-shaped Snowfield onto the Swiss Arete 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.
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 down-climbing 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 the 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 Arete, to get a head start on the hike out.
We will wake up and have breakfast on the last day, then begin our hike out. Depending on where we camp the night before, we may arrive at the trailhead between late morning and early afternoon.
You should be in good physical condition, have some backpacking experience and have the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with a moderate pack. Prior experience at altitudes above 10,000’ is recommended. You need to be able to follow at the 5.6 level and have experience on multi pitch routes.
Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.
Local accommodation is not included.
Details, Itinerary, and Equipment List:
Details, itinerary, and equipment list
SMC Mt. Sill Guide
Mt Sill Map