Mt Silliman
(NW Buttress)

15 Aug 1976 - by Amos Clifford

This is an account of an ascent of Mt Silliman on August 15, 1976. I was working as mountaineering instructor, teaching a rockclimbing seminar at Chimney Rock. From our camp atop Dinner Wall we had a clear view of the impressive prow of Mt Silliman. On the third day of the seminar, as our group was having dinner, one of the students pointed at the peak and asked, "Could we climb that?"

"Let's find out," I said. As far as I knew, the buttress had not been previously climbed. The account below is of events that took place two days later. I retyped it from an old photocopy of the journal I kept on the day of the climb. Some lines are missing, but I think the general tale hangs together.

Off like a herd of turtles ...

Well, off like a herd of turtles. We pack beneath the last stars of a deep blue sky with the jagged profile of Silliman looming behind us. Everything is in its place, just as planned, and it looks as if we will actually be off to lodgepole as scheduled. How silly! Of course there is no gas in the van and we will have to wait until 8:00 am when the station at Stoney Creek opens and allows us the privelege of shelling out ridiculous sums of money for a few paltry gallons of fuel. We take revenge by forcing free services the station; a Standard Oil Company pump becomes a breakfast table. Every I turn are signs saying "pilots must be off before fueling." If we had pilots we might leave them on. As it is, we are left in a pilotless void, confused and mystified by the signs. Phil, in a moment of clarity, seizes the air hose and shows us how to clean granola crumbs from a sierra cup. When I follow his example, I blast ... (line missing)

Kent has dug a No. 10 can from the restaurant garbage for us to use in cooking. This act completes our preparations equipment-wise, and now we stand shivering in the crisp shade of dawn, our hands thrust into our pockets and eyes listlessly staring at our shoelaces.

An inspiration strikes us and we move into the warmth of the lodge where K--- falls asleep on the couch, putting us in danger of being ejected back out into the chilly dawn. The smell of my feet becomes intensely noticeable in the warm inside air, and rises around me, enclosing me in my own drowsy microclimate. Eventually I excuse myself and go outside to wash my socks.

The social entity of Stoney Creek final begins a new day with the arrival of the service station attendant. He asks if we need gas; he needs a key to unlock the gas cap. Hmmm.

We discover we have no gas cap key. So it's back to Chimney Rock to get a key, a nervous drive as our fuel gauge sinks more deeply left of E. The engine coughs and threatens to die on the last hill to the camp, but somehow we arrive. I run up the trail to the cluster of tents perched atop Dinner Wall and get a key, but my triumph is slightly marred when Dave points out that the gas cap key was, all along, in the Ash tray / Smash tray / Bash tray. The extra key was in the ash tray.

Now we are ready to go, doubly equipped with redundant keys. We hear Ken at Bob's car struggling with a broken lock. More delay. Then we are off again. (line missing) for the remaining gas to reach the engine. In we pour a quart of white gas. Wille told me it was okay and there are ten witnesses, so I feel covered should we blow up the engine. The engine starts again, but even so it quits as the approach the highway on the last hill of the camp road. The van barely edges over onto the highway on the last momentum, and we coast down the hill, three miles to Stoney Creek. Hooray.

After we gas up, the engine won't start, so under the suspicious gaze of a park ranger we push the van back to the highway, get it coasting down the hill, and pop start it. We are, once again, underway.

The whole experience of this (missing word) was frustrating, but kept our spirits up and the end (missing line) result is that it appears to have pulled us together into a more cohesive group. The will show whether this is actually the case.

At five minutes before 10:00 am we being walking out of Lodgepole at a very fast pace. The walk up the trail to Clover Creek is generally uneventful, except for missing the trail after we crossed the creek and continuing cross-country the rest of the way. Mark had some trouble with leg cramps and we all ate some salt tabs. We walked very hard, and at about (missing) arrived at a tarn under the NW face of Silliman. This is on the opposite side of the ridge from where intended to camp, but it offers a more direct approach to the (line missing) potential routes.

Lunch was welcomed heart(missing) and everybody seems pretty pooped out afterwards.

We left for the peak at 3:00 with full sets of clothing, 2 qts of water, flashlights and a foam pad in my pack, plus, of course, hardware and ropes. By 3:30 we reach the base of the mountain. A certain queasiness (physical, not mental) that we had felt at lunch disappeared upon beginning the 3rd class to the notch at the base of the buttress. We could have roped up for this, as it was (missing line)

From the notch I led up an obvious left facing book (5.5) to a large ledge. Phil followed with my pack. Having only 2 ropes was a problem (we should have brought 3) which we dealt with as follows: The 2nd tails the rope to the 3rd, who climbs halfway up and receives the leaders rope thrown down to him; he then coils and tosses it to the 4th to assure that it does not go astray among the wind and stone.

The second pitch was enjoyable face climbing, keeping right of a difficult looking corner and ending in a steep layback (5.6). From the ledge at the top of the pitch we noticed a bird flying into the crack above us (missing text) apprehensive about crunching babybirdies as I climbed, but it was no problem: the nest was deep and well-protected. The next lead was up diagonally right to a very steep left book, climbed via off-width jamming, face, and chimneying that ended abruptly on the summit. The last moves were the crux --- about 5.7. We hauled the packs over this section because of its steepness and difficulty.

As Kent sat on the ledge below, a pine marten ran up our route and avoided Kent by a few inches, aiming at the bird nest. Mama bird was terribly upset and chased the predator back down the mountain at top speed. (missing text) we couldn't tell. It was, however, a delightful display of daring and enterprise on the marten's part, and of protection and dignity on mamabird's part. The question that arises in my mind is how does the marten know exactly where the nest is, 500 feet up near-vertical rock. Are its eyes sharp enough to observe the bird's nesting habits from its home in the talus far below? Or can it smell the nest on the frequent downdrafts of air on the mountain face?

We were all on the summit at 7:30 pm, and the rocks were beginning to turn orange with alpenglow. I left a route description in the register, rating it II 5.7. We named the route Northwest Buttress: Star of David, after a pattern we perceived in a prominent system of fractures on the wall.

I was pleased throughout the ascent by the attitudes, competence and skill of my companions. There was no fuss, no freaking and no (missing) spaghetti. This, combined with the scenery, the natural aesthetic appeal of the route, and good health gave an aura of simply joy to the entire day.

We came down a chute to the SW and arrived at camp at dark. The overall feeling about the day is the hiking was bad, but the climb more than made up for it. (Missing) summed it up, saying "on a scale of 1 to 10, the hiking was negative 4 and the climb was 8 or 9."

We ate dinner and talked some (missing line) to get into it much!

And so to bed, the day ends with a slightly less mysterious Silliman silhouetted against the stars.


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