Photo by Victor Jara (@victorbandana)
There are a handful of cross country hikes here in California's vast wilderness that push the limits of the word "adventure" for several reasons. They are extremely remote locations that most people will never have the pleasure of seeing. A consequence of their isolated location is that rescue is highly unlikely in the case of an emergency.
That being said, it is the responsibility of the few that are capable of reaching these locations to practice safety when traveling to these places.
- Double and triple check your supplies (especially water).
- Check weather conditions the morning of your hike before you lose cell service.
- Always be aware of your surroundings.
- Understand the importance of creating an outdoor itinerary.
- Create a plan in the event of your disappearance.
- Use the Leave No Trace principles.
TRVRS Outdoors is all for encouraging new and exciting adventures, but part of the adventure is doing adequate research ahead of time to assure a safe and fun trip which is why we've decided to document these back country hikes. Stay safe!
UPPER SAGE FLAT CAMPGROUND
BIG PINE CREEK TRAIL HEAD
Glacier Lodge Road | Elevation 7,832 Feet
June 10th, 2017 -- By 9:53 AM we'd begun hiking on the Glacier Lodge Road which runs parallel to and eventually meets up with the Big Pine Creek trail. Within a quarter of a mile, we had come to a bridge that runs over the cascading waters of North Fork Big Pine Creek. The gushing water left us in awe, and yet the feeling followed with a mental image of the slushy slopes to come. After crossing the bridge there is a junction that separates the North and South Fork at which point we kept right toward a bunch of switchbacks following the creek and crossed another foot bridge over First Falls. The trail continues north west in a partially shaded dirt road. It eventually moves away from the creek and onto the northern slope blanketed in chaparral for a long switchback through the exposed hillside. A four way intersection follows which brings all of the previously described trails together, while the sound of the running water will once again pull you in the north west direction of finally entering the John Muir Wilderness.
LON CHANEY'S CABIN
At roughly mile two, we passed the wooden John Muir Wilderness sign, but not before giddily taking out our cameras for a quick touristy photo shoot. If you are impressed by the beginning of the trail, everything past this sign is like stepping into another world completely. The hints of Aspen and Jeffrey Pine that preceded were now flourishing. Small spillways of water trickled from one side of the trail to the other, continually feeding the stream with fresh snow melt. At mile three, we had come to a large Forest Service cabin that once served as Hollywood Celebrity Lon Chaney's summer home and was designed by Architect Paul Revere Williams in 1929. Although, at first glance you'd probably have never guessed it to be nearly a century old building. The cabin served as a perfect opportunity for a break, and we spent nearly thirty minutes relaxing under the shade of its massive patio to watch the stream.
CAMPING AT THIRD LAKE
Photo by David Richard (@drpeak2peek)
After briefly discussing potential group campsites over a map, we started moving toward our final destination for the day. I decided that it would be a good idea to try and pass a few more hikers on the way up to lock down a good site for our group. From this point on, the trail is much more straight forward, having only one marked trail junction (mile 4.5, 9985 feet elevation) prior to reaching first lake. This junction serves as an alternate route to Black lake, but even backpackers heading in that direction are better off hiking the main trail to enjoy the remarkable views of vibrant glaciated Lake water surrounded by beautifully forested landscapes and Temple Crag's monumental northern face as its centerpiece.
REACHING THE PALISADE GLACIER
Finally at 7:25 AM, the winds died and we started for Sam Mack Meadow, a gorgeous grassy glacier spillway nestled below Sam Mack Lake. Just under a mile from camp, we came to another seemingly impassable river crossing and followed the creek further north to get across. In late summer and fall, a series of switchbacks bring you up to the meadow where the trail to the Palisade Glacier continues up the Southern moraine. In our case, the entire slope was covered in hard packed snow. I took the direct path where I was presented with a steep slope while David and Victor opted for the traditional route in order to check out the meadow.
Photo by David Richard (@drpeak2peek)
I had reached the notch by 11:30 AM after climbing 3200 feet in just over 3 miles from camp. I could see the ridge to Mount Gayley and the upper lakes of South Fork Big Pine Creek. Thick clouds hovered over the Sierra Crest to the West taunting me with the chance of white out conditions while the tracks I had been following before had started to disappear. Mount Sill's North Couloir hid eloquently behind the ridge to Apex Peak. I moved toward the base of the chute where I was faced with another 300 foot climb in about 1/5th of a mile. This was definitely the steepest snow ascent I had ever made, but I realized very quickly that there were no rocks or cliff faces below, so losing my footing really only meant that I would have to climb more. I was mostly just happy that I didn't need to deal with the talus field that likely existed under all the snow.
By 12:10 PM I had made it to another Notch where the view of the Sierra Crest was starting to dwindle. I noticed a small spur called Apex Peak to the right, but I had no idea that it was named at the time. Strong gusts of wind and the incoming clouds pressed my focus back toward Sill. I peaked over the saddle to see a fairly exposed ledge followed by some Class 3 boulder scrambling; in the center was a cairn. I traced the best potential route and made way across the upper portion of the ledges. From the end of the ledges, I continued directly up the ridge through some solid Class 3 granite. At about 13950 feet, I finally decided to remove my crampons making note of the sawtooth rock they were near. The gusts were more and more frequent, and it started to snow, but I was so god damn close.
MOUNT SILL SUMMIT
At 1:00 PM, the ridge scramble gave way and I knew I had finally made summit. I looked around for the register and found it nestled between two medium sized boulders. While examining it, I realized that I was now in a complete white out with maybe 30 feet of visibility. I lost all interest in sticking around and started back down the ridge. I would have to come back and see those gorgeous views R.J. Secor promised me another time.
I traversed across to the next ridge and found my crampons near a similar looking saw tooth slab. As I finished attaching them to my boots, the wind whipped across my face. "Alright, I'm movin'. I get it!", I said aloud. I shuffled down the ridge and back to the notch. Getting down to the snow was such a relief. I had three major sections to descend, all of which consisted of steep hard snow. Of the three miles back to camp, I managed to glissade and self arrest for for about half that distance. I learned that a 250 foot sustained self arrest is almost as difficult as running down a snowy slope and twice as stressful.
Descending the long snow field below Temple Crag placed me on the South side of Third Lake. I took a few minutes to change my layers for the twentieth time and made for the highest point on the hill to get a visual on a potential route where I found a few cairns.
Total Elevation (feet): 7,117 feet
- Class 1-2 marked trial for first 8 miles up to Palisade Glacier in the Summer (little to no snow).
- Steep class 2-3 talus and rock scrambling for everything up to 13,750 feet.
- Class 3-4 solid granite rock scrambling to Mount Sill summit (final 500 feet)
Mount Sill via North Couloir (mostly traditional route) - GPX FILE
Tammy Luther and Roberto Chavez - summer ascent. The GPX file provided includes an alternate route that travels through Sam Mack Meadow and climbs a gully toward the Palisade Glacier instead of using the switchbacks to the left at roughly mile 7. Everything else is pretty typical route.
Mount Sill via North Couloir (personal account) - GPX FILE
Ricardo Soria Jr. (writer) - Spring ascent following heavy snow season. The GPX file provided includes several routes in which snow, ice axe & crampons are required.