Mt Sill, Swiss Arjte and Mt Gayley, Yellow Brick Road

3-6 Jul 2003 - by Rick Booth

Thursday morning, July 3, Dee and I headed up to the Palisades Glacier via the North Fork of Big Pine Creek. We arrived at the moraine above the lower camp at the tarn at the end of the glacier and it looked like the two open sites were taken. The so called "site" on top of the huge rock there was covered with a giant red tent. How they got that thing up there I don't know. We were looking for Alexey Zelditch and his son but we did not see their tent there. We headed up the boulder field to the Northwest corner of Gayley to what is referred to as Gayley Camp. There are many bivouac spots there and a reasonable water drip about 30 feet in elevation below the camp. Dee and I scored the incredibly wind proof spot built in between several boulders. This was a good thing since the wind was whipping through this area. Several of the other sites were occupied by another party of six. It took about nine hours to do this chug which is one of the hardest hauls I do on what seems to be a regular basis.

Friday morning Dee and I headed up to Sill at about 6 AM. We chugged up to Glacier Pass and partway up the L shaped snowfield. The arjte is to the left of the snowfield but the flank of the arjte is sloping and it is not crystal clear where to get on the arjte. We headed up high enough so that we could third class to a more or less level point partway up the arjte. At this point we roped up and head up the first pitch or what we thought was the first pitch. This turned out to be fourth class with one or two low fifth class moves thrown in. The next pitch was higher angle and went at about 5.6 and was a lot of fun. This brought us to within half a pitch or so of the crux pitch on this route.

I headed up the third pitch and encountered the "step around". This is not really at a headwall but is at a gendarme. Looking around to the left of the gendarme one will find a nice looking hand and finger crack, which reported goes at about 5.9 or so. To the right is the "step around". This was protected with a small stopper and a very long sling in order to make the step around move. Once around the step around I headed up the first hand crack that went up. There is supposedly another crack further to the right that goes up. After some junk at the top of the crack a nice flat spot is encountered just as the rope runs out. The "step around" move is not to be missed in spite of the nice looking crack to the left. It is airy and fairly difficult. It amazes me to think of Richard Jones doing this so long ago in 1938. It is also not 5.4 but more like 5.7, which I think this route is now rated. In any case, this pitch is followed by a long fourth class pitch and then a final low fifth class pitch. The Shooting Star guide indicates this last pitch requires going left and then encountering a "chimney which is difficult enough that it is advised to push your pack ahead of you" while climbing this chimney. We went straight up and never encountered this chimney. Frankly, I would consider this an IQ test. Anyone who deliberately seeks out a chimney which has to be climbed by pushing his pack ahead of him should be classified as a moron. By going straight up we essentially ended up tripping over the summit register. This is another nice feature to this route. The last of the technical difficulties drop you right at the summit.

The descent is interesting. The back or south side of Sill has a long second to third class chute on it. To descend to Glacier Pass we stuck to the third class arjte, which is to the right (north) as you look down the third class chute. We stuck as close to the north edge as practically possible and in short order encountered the duck marking the drop down to the West Face traverse. This can be down climbed (fourth class) or rappelled. Since this gully was mostly full of snow we decided to rappel from the rappel station down about 20 feet in the gully. A pair of 50 meter ropes just made it to the bottom of the snowfield. From there it is a stroll over to the top of the L shaped snowfield. We headed down the snowfield; back down Glacier Pass, and across the glacier to Gayley Camp. Supposedly one can head straight down the snowfield on the West Face but we have not tried that although it certainly looks quite feasible. We were not sure what the bergschrund was like at the bottom although this end of the 'shrund is usually not a problem. This would avoid the scree at the top of Glacier Notch. We were about 11 hours round trip which included lollygagging around the summit for a while and chatting with Christopher Jain and Michelle Park whom we encountered on the West Face traverse. They were on their way to doing the Palisades Traverse.

We had originally hoped to climb the Northwest Arjte on Gayley on Saturday but the incredibly loose looking shelf about 100 feet up put us off considerably. In addition, we were having trouble figuring out which arjte was the right one although the morning sun highlighted enough features that it became clear which arjte was the correct one. We opted for the West Face route. So Saturday morning we headed up looking for the West Face route. We headed towards Glacier Pass and then headed back to the North on an incredibly loose and scree covered ledge system. This sucked. After a hundred yards of this we lost interest and headed back towards Glacier Pass and after a foolish attempt to go up a loose and dangerous chute we gave up and headed for Glacier Pass.

The Yellow Brick Road route on Gayley heads up the reddish looking band on the Southwest Ridge of Gayley. We headed up this route and in about 30 minutes or so were parked on the summit. It turns out we were too far off the ridge to be on the real Yellow Brick Road. We descended by dropping straight down the ridge. This is a nice section that includes a large slab and is essentially right on the edge of the ridge. After a few hundred feet a duck indicates the third class descent back down into the third class boulders and ledges on the Southwest Ridge. This descent is about 3+ in difficulty and the ascent up this section was missed on our way up to the summit. Too bad, it would have been fun to walk up the slab and the easy walking that is right on the top of the ridge. On Sunday morning we packed up and headed for home.

Final Notes:

We probably missed one or two pitches lower down on the Swiss Arjte. Another party of four came up right after us and the leader claimed to have climbed the route previously and he essentially started in the same place we did. It looked like there would be one or two pitches of fourth class below where we started but most route descriptions indicate two pitches of 5.6 plus the pitch of 5.7 before encountering the "step around". It looks like one can get on the route in several places so it is likely my estimate that the lower pitches are fourth class is wrong.

I way over racked for this route. Nothing over a #2 camalot is needed and one of any size is enough. A few stoppers and a long sling were handy. We used a double 50 meter rope system, which was fine, however, the party behind us also used a 50 meter rope, which brought them up short on the crux "step around" pitch. This is because the leader chose the second crack system to the right after the "step around" instead of going up the first crack.

The hike up to Gayley Camp or the glacier can be shortened and simplified considerably. The trail goes up a chute as it gets near the glacier and then abruptly folds back to the east to get on top of a rib of rock. The trail then winds around through slabs and involves some traversing on some of the moraine scree. I have been through this twice and it is not the way to go. In the spring or early summer the upper end of the chute near the glacier is full of snow. Go straight up that until the top of the snow, which ends on some dirt but quickly turns into a boulder field. There is usually another snowfield visible and up a little higher. Go across this field. If you are heading to the tarn at the end of glacier head towards the right toward a low spot and in short order the boulders go down hill and the camps at the tarn are soon encountered. To get to Gayley Camp head slightly to the left and head up to the top of the moraine coming down from the northwest corner of Gayley. After a while a use trail will show up which saves a few hundred yards of knee thrashing boulder hopping. This will bring you to Gayley Camp.


Climbing California's High Sierra, second edition, John Moynier and Claude Fiddler, The Globe Pequot Press (A Falcon Guide), 2002, ISBN 0-7627-1085-3. Good photo of the route.

The High Sierra, Peaks, Passes and Trails, second edition, R.J. Secor, The Mountaineers, 1999, ISBN 0-89886-625-1

Mt. Sill, Allan Bard, Shooting Star Guides

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