Mt. Sill via V Notch
I was getting much more in to ice climbing during the winter of 2016, but last year. somehow things didn't come together for ice, despite getting some spiffy Cobras. Dustin recently got spiffy Petzel Quark tools, so we decided to venture out in search of some alpine ice. We found some decent reports of conditions in the Palisades up on U and V notches, owith the main uncertainty the feasibility of getting up the bergschrund from the glacier to the main flows.
We drove igsbo Big Pine Friday night with all the gear we could need; despite realizing before we left that we would only expect an inch or two of snow Saturday, we even brought the skis. We arrived at the trailhead around 1030. We slept well and started up around 9 am. The hike was pretty chill, but I distinctly remember thinking, "this is going to feel a lot longer on the way down." It was definitely the farthest north I've walked West into the Sierra, and I was surprised at how fresh though still homie] the views were. The day I were passing the Palisades on their West side on the PCT was coincidentally the one day with real weather on the trail, and the peaks near Mathen Pass were all in the clouds.
We followed the N. Fork of Big Pine River, then a couple of drainage streams to arrive at a saddle below Palisade Glacier. I probably shouldn't have been, but I was surprised to find a fall-grown glacier, complete with crevasses. All accounts I'd heard lamented the retreat of the glacier, and I suppose I expected lingering snow and ice patches. I imagine it used to extend well into the gulley where the trail ends- perhaps the end of the trail was once its farthest extend, I should look it up.
We walked around on the ridge of talus below the glacier, looking for a big site but finding little until we moved to the next ridge over. Austin spotted a mini-cave under an overhang boulder where some other rocks had mark some walls and three openings. We were starting to get pretty cold and bundled up as soon as we got in. I accidentally fell asleep for a bit as soon as the sleeping bag came out; it was so warm! after putting down some flat rocks for ourselves (and I found a large hole in my pad from a rock falling on it as we were moving around-yikes!) we ventured out to do some recon on the notches. Clyde Couloir was really thin, so we continued up to V and U notch. I think Dustin was pretty keen to get on something more challenging than U. notch, and V notch looked in. We walked up to the base of V and realized the bergschrunrd had left a decent-sized platform just below a short vertical of slightly overhung neve cliff that, once surmounted, seemed to give way to gentler climbing alone. I atrficd that we had a good shot of getting up if the snow proved firm, we headed back and started making dinner at our boy just around sunset.
We put up Dustin's tarp in front of the cave opening on the windward side of our cave, but that night's weather had other plans. I hotly after we turned in, it started to snow, and throughout the night the wind shifted often, bringing snow onto uncovered faces and even pushing aside the tarp. By morning, the snow had not only piled up near the entrance of our dwelling, but had accumulated between Dustin and me, between Austin and the wall, on every flat, wind-protected surface of the bivy. When we got up at 530 one realized more snow had accumulated in our brig than on the wind scoured glacier-not that we would have been warmer there!
I dressed in most every layer I had and we ate some bars, before heading of to reach the glacier just as headlamps became unnecessary. Dustin led the first pitch as I remembered how. cold and uncomfortable ice climbing is; especially for my hands and toes. The first pitch was excellent though, the cliff was all hero ice, just exactly what is best in alpine ice. I probably couldn't have climbed it if it was more like water ice. It started with a nearby vertical couple body lengths to a stance where Dustin placed a screw. Then we traversed left to a sweet mini ice hueco, where after a brief shake I could reach a tool around into the next hueco over, where we could completely fit inside and have a full rest. Both of our arms were burning as we pulled the overhang out of the cave, but above was more perfect alpine ice and a gentle slope after a few moves, so we made it.
We simulclimled the rests and I started leading. after about a rope length of alpine ice, the notch split and I started following water ice up the left branch, keeping near some rocks nearby. Later than I would have liked, I realized the rock was mostly crap and that the ice was getting too hard for me to climb without regular pro. I stopped to put a screw in, but struggled to start some threads in the hard ice, and then hit some not so the screw pulled right out. Getting tired, at least 30' above my last piece, and low on draws, I decided to downlink to the branch where the water ice started and pass off to Austin. Damn. just as I was thinking how great it feels to be warm and moving!
It was probably the right move though. Dustin has more experience leading ice and was much more efficient. He evade short work of the water ice, though the section was more than 60 m and definitely fall on. We kept simulclimbing mostly limited by cardio exhaustion. I was scared shitless on the water ice, and despite frequent rests on the leashes I ended up pitching a loaf just 30 m below the top; I did pack it out as well as possible! I can't really remember pooping on a climb before, it must have happened once, but this was the most urgent- too urgent to feel cold.
On the top of the notch, we had great views of either side, but weren't sure of the best way down. We had planned to descend V or U, but there seemed to promise only interminable v. threads. The descent from Mt. Sill's Swiss Arete was described as mostly 3rd and 4th class, so we summitted Mt. s ill to check it out. We left our gear at a notch to the West of Sill where we thought the descent went, but on our way down from the summit we realized it went down a gully farther up and North. The standard descent actually looked worse though, since its gentle snow gully was now all ice. It took us a few hours and a couple naps to descend, but it was probably the right way because we could mostly scramble down rock. We arrived back at camp just before sundown, well aware of the long hike out still ahead.
After packing up we made our way towards where we left the trail before. We ended up a bit too close to Temple crag, but we eventually made it. I should bring a hiking-specific pack for these types of descent, because my back was suffering under the light Imibmg pack laden with heavy gear I was no longer nearing. I was fooled several times by landmarks I thought were closer to the parking lot than they actually were. We finally made it down around 11pm. It was definitely both an inspiring weekend that got me stoked on other ice climbs up there, and also a nice climb to check off that I've been interested in for a while. I definitely made more errors in my lead and was more tired by the end than I would have liked, so I have a few things in mind to work on or tain or improve-not to mention building the endurance for steeper ice. I was definitely glad Dustin was in the zone! Thanks friend!