Mt Sill and Polemonium Peak

8 Aug 1999 - by Mike Rinaldi

This past weekend Max Nachury, Karin Reif, and myself Mike Rinaldi went on an ambitious trek to climb both Mt Silly and Polemonium. On the Topo they look fairly doable (even correcting for the mislabeling of Polemonium where Peak 13796 should be). Our adventure started at Bishop where we had our traditional pre-trip breakfast at Whiskey Creek. By 9AM we were on the trail head at South Lake. While hiking to Bishop Pass we met half a dozen Goretex and cap clad backpackers coming the other way. They all said that the weather had been cold and snowy the previous day. We were at the tail end of a freak August weather front. As we approached the Pass it got much cooler and windier. We quickly added more layers and were soon at the Pass. From here we headed cross-country skirting the base of Mt. Agassiz. We wanted to stay on the 12000' contour as much as possible in order to be as close as possible to Thunderbolt Pass (12300). This turned out to save elevation gain/loss but we defintely lost much time. It's much more efficient to drop down to 11700 or so and then back up to T-bolt Pass since the terrain is much more managable. Once over the Pass we dropped about 300' to a pond. We set camp here bypassing the lower main Barret Lake. We thought that we would attempt Sill, the next day, by skirting the Palisades and going over the high ridge (east of Potluck Pass). The next day we learned from our previous days mistake. Instead of trying to save altitude at the expense of harder talus travel we dropped to near upper Barret Lake and made for the high ridge east of Potluck Pass. By bypassing Potluck Pass we were able to drop into the Polemonium - Sill cirque at about the 13000' contour. As we studied the face of Sill for our route we heard a tremendous explosion and crash. We quickly turned just in time to see a VW bus size boulder dropping from near the summit crest of the Palisades down into the Sill snow field. The boulder dropped some 1000' making only one bounce! After our knees stopped shaking we composed ourselves and started up the ridge connecting Polemonium and Sill. Karin chose to stay at the base since she was not feeling well. Max and myself quickly gained the summit with only minor class 4'ish traversing near the top. We could have avoided this by taking a more direct route. Once on top we enjoyed the tremendous view. We opted to save the ridge traverse to Polemonium for another day since it was late (2:30pm) and some clouds were forming toward the west. On our return trip to camp we decided to take the Potluck Pass route. This proved to be long and laborius. We need to descend over two boulder clad moraines before climbing back up over Potluck Pass. The rest of the hike to camp was uneventful. Our roundtrip from near T-bolt Pass to Sill and back went about 10.5 hours. The lessons learned from this trip were to camp south of Barret Lake toward Potluck Pass. Then climb up and over the ridge east of Potluck Pass bypassing it to gain the Sill - Polemonium cirque. Doing this on the return trip as well will save you much boulder hopping in the Glacier Creek drainage area. Monday we hiked out and had a late lunch, again, at Whiskey Creek. During the trip home we were greeted with rain and a wonderful sunset featuring incredible red hues and cloud formations on the Old Priest grade bypass road.

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