The correct thing to do would have been to keep following the river and follow the right fork once it splits and go up to silliman lake, but we were veering more and more to the right of the river to make the going less of a bushwhack, and foolishly decided to climb up to the ridge. This turned out to be very steep and hard snow at the top, but once we got up to the ridge following it was quite easy. Eventually we got to the part of the ridge directly across from Silliman and we realized that to follow this ridge all the way to the summit would involve many more steep ups and downs. But the descent to upper silliman lake looked equally steep and treacherous with the thick ice layer. Around this time the wind started howling and clouds began to fly by overhead.
We followed the ridge for another hour and found a snowy slope down to the upper lake (in the summer this would probably be class 3 but the hard snow made it much easier since we could kick good steps), from where it was a quick snowshoe to the summit in the soft mushy afternoon snow (1-2 feet on the ground). As we got to the summit all clouds disappeared and the wind stopped, giving us incredible views in all directions. The Kaweahs looked especially striking. Even more incredible was the sea of clouds that lay below us to the west at the ~6500 foot level from which tops of peaks stuck out! Bakersfield and the whole central valley had a completely foggy day while the peaks were in the sun.
After digging out the register, i noticed that many of the pages seemed to be eaten by mice/rats/marmots/hungry hikers?! the canister looked pretty intact, though - maybe it was left open sometime over the summer.. We were the first group on the summit in 2000, and after taking many photographs we didn't start down until 3:45. From the upper lake we followed the course of the river to where it splits and followed that back down to the trail. We made it to the campground at 6 just as night fell. If we had followed this route up, it would have taken only 3-4 hours (6 miles, 4500 feet gain).
Sunday the plan was to do Alta, but the weather Gods foiled those plans. After some photography in the sequoia groves we took off when the snowfall became really heavy. We escaped from the snowy part of the road minutes before chain requirements were posted - one in every 3 cars that we saw driving out had crashed into the rocks or trees alongside the road.
The relatively short mileage and mild slopes (if you go up the easy way!) make Silliman a really good winter dayhike. If you have time to go up to one of the highpoints on the ridge on the other side of the lake, you also get a good view of the area between Silliman and Alta Peak/Pear Lake, which is obstructed from the real summit...