We joined the JMT, took note of the ranger cabin at the junction and began hiking south on the JMT through the forest, looking for a campsite. We debated heading to Grouse Meadow versus stopping at the first good site. We ended up stopping at the first good site we found with plenty of light to make a nice camp before dark. Our camp was very close to the river, but unfortunately at a spot heavily used by horse-packers and heavily littered with horse turds. It was barely possible to find areas away from the stench and mess (at spots that I suppose the horse packers use, perhaps they enjoy the aroma or are so accustomed to it that they no longer notice or object). My hammock was set up with a fine view of the river only a few feet away, as well as of the cliffs on the south side of LeConte Canyon. Given the mess left by the horse-packers, I hardly feel apologetic for my choice of camp location.
We were visited by several tame deer, who seemed accustomed to being friendly with people using this camp spot. Curiously they seemed to accept us as a normal part of their environment, but would be started by people passing on the JMT only 50 feet away. It was as if we had become a part of their group. They appeared again in the morning and sniffed at our bear canisters and walked into our camp approaching withing 20 feet of me sleeping in my hammock.
After meeting Palisade creek, the JMT begins steadily climbing toward Deer Meadow and it is hot. Above Deer Meadow, the trail begins a serious climb with switchbacks up to Palisade Lakes, but with superb views. We all actually enjoyed this climb over the hot hiking through the forest in the canyon bottom. We meet about one part every hour on the JMT, and probably less than that. I approached a pair camping about 1 mile below Palisade Lakes to ask if they had come down from there (they had not). He had an android phone with a GPS map applications (with crude maps), but also some kind of database of camp locations by mileage along the JMT! He informed me that they were at mile 146, but there would be campsites at 147 and then the last before Mather Pass would be at 148. An interesting way to do things. He kept the phone charged by a pair of solar panels mounted on top of his pack.
We continue up to the outlet of the first (northernmost) Palisade Lakes. We crossed the outlet and found a beautiful campsite beyond a rib of rock just across from the outlet. No place for a hammock, so I found myself sleeping on the ground alongside the boys -- which was certainly preferable in terms of companionship if not comfort. A cool night, but we were all comfortably warm. Alex let me use the bivy sack, and with my underquilt providing additional insulation on top of me, I was more than cozy. My thermometer was broken, so I have no record of actual temperatures, but we never found frozen water in our bottles after any of the nights. We suspect temperatures were in the mid or upper 30's.
A fellow along the trail told us that we should look for the Perseid meteor shower. After the trip I looked this up to find that it peaked the night of Sunday August 11. We looked, saw the usual few "shooting stars", but had the feeling (correctly) that we were looking too late). Apparently 2013 was a particularly good year to watch because the shower could be observed after the moon had set. The meteors are said to be particles moving at 37 miles per second. It was a beautiful starry night in any event, despite the two day late recommendation.
Although I am certainly a good deal warmer sleeping on the ground, I am far more comfortable in the hammock - and warm enough.
We reach the shore of the big lake (lake 11672). This is as good a place as any to complain about the imbeciles at the USGS who decided to map some quadrangles in meter elevations and others in feet. I would certainly prefer feet, the metric system can go to the devil for this purpose. But of all things, if some mindless beaureaucrat decides to do all the topographic mapping of the country in meters, then let them finish the job rather than leaving us with this idiotic patchwork of maps. My acrimonious comments are inspired by the fact that at the 7.5 minute scale, the Split Mountain quadrangle shows this lake as 3559 (meters), whereas the 7.5 quadrangle just to the west (North Palisade quadrangle) has elevations in feet.
We reach the shore of the lake at about 2PM and stop at the outlet for a lunch break and a pow-wow. We agree that we don't have time to attempt to climb mount Sill before dark. We also agree that we do want to climb Mount Sill and so we are going to spend the afternoon relaxing and dedicate the next day to the climb. The outlet of the lake is a pretty place and we spend quite a while relaxing there. We find a good campsite on the west side of the lake and study Potluck Pass which is close at hand.
There was an amazing incident during the night. I was awake for some reason and heard a tremendous rockfall from the direction of Mount Sill. This awakened Alex and Paul and we all listened to the noise, which went on for some time. Alex got up to watch in case any rocks might actually be coming our way, but the event was some distance away. The next day we found abundant evidence of recent and substantial rockfall with smashed spots on boulders and rock powder on talus that any rain would have washed away. The Palisades are a dangerous place. The next day we found abundant unstable and dangerous talus on our way up Mount Sill.
We are following my transcription of Roper's route description from the Sierra High Route book, which I had written down as follows:
Begin at lake 11672 (11676). Ascend easy terrain N of lake. Enter steep sided cirque on the left. Work up cirque (talus and steep snow) to ridgecrest. Summit is short scramble east.After an easy climb, we found ourselves in a talus field that led to a steep slope of scree and talus affording an entry to the cirque (which is somewhat of a hanging valley). We climbed this on the right to avoid cliffs further left, but then made the mistake of thinking we had gained the crest and wandering up onto class 2 and 3 rock to the crest reaching a summit at 13800+. From here we had a superb view of mount Sill to the north at 14153. After a discussion we decided that none of us had the heart to either attempt following the ridge to the peak or to descend and then follow the proper route.
The description in the second edition of Secor's guide is:
(class 2-3) Ascend the Glacier Creek drainage to where it is possible to go left (northwest) into the cirque between Mount Sill and Polemonium Peak. Cross the snowfield at the head of the cirque, keeping to its right, and follow the west ridge of the peak to the summit. The upper part of the west ridge consists of large talus; this is the only difficulty.We all agreed that we had an excellent mountaineering experience, even without reaching the summit of Sill, but there was an underlying disappointment despite this rationalization. We did have certain underlying feelings that we were making a mistake by not moving left into the center of the steep cirque (we would have recognized our error if we had), and that it had been too easy to reach what we thought was the ridge. We should have slowed down, checked the map, and not have just eagerly wandered onto the rock on the right of the scree climb.
Some other lessons:
No one can call themselves an experienced mountaineer unless they have turned back unsuccessfully from some of their summit attempts. Climbing is a game of knowing when to press on and when to bail, and these choices can mean the difference between great success and needless death. It is a misnomer, of course, to call any trip into the mountains “unsuccessful” —these attempts are often richer experiences with far more opportunities for learning and growth.Interestingly I shared our "failure" with two people in the next two days. Both were sympathetic and immediately shared tales of their own misadventures. Daniel Lorme (who we met on the day of our attempt and who reached the summit of Sill that day) said essentially that gaining the crest anywhere in the Palisade area was something to be pleased with.
We had decided the day before that after climbing Sill, our intent was to make our way to lower Dusy basin, so we went up and over Potluck Pass (which looks impossible, but is straightforward by climbing a rail in the scree slope on the left and wandering across nice ledges). Knapsack pass was exciting but came together nicely. A general rule with all of these passes and mountaineering routes is that they look insane from a distance but the closer you get, you see that things are not so bad as they look. The thing to do is to deal with the problems at hand and as you get closer the solution to the next difficulty presents itself. Careful study from a strategic distance is invaluable, as you often have a very limited perspective when you get in the thick of things.
We found ourself in lower Dusy Basin with perhaps 30 minutes of sun, but found a decent albeit dusty site that had previously used by horse packers. It had two trees that were ideal to hang my hammock from and I had a wonderful night of sleep. Each of us had some minor injury or pain. My right ankle was beginning to ache (and my knee pains come and go). Alex had some nasty blisters and some pain in his knee. Paul also is complaining of knee pain, which gets worse the next day. We were all quite beat up after a day from before sunrise to sunset.
We get to the car about 3:30 PM. We drive to Bishop, get some snacks at the Bi-Rite market, good coffee at the Looney Bean. This is on the west side of the street across from the Chase bank. There is also a place called "Black Sheep expresso bar", but we thought the Looney bean was excellent. We drop into Eastside Sports to ask if Fig is there (he was earlier, but has left for the day), then drop briefly into the Galen Rowell gallery. Then it is on to Lone Pine for a shower at the Hostel and Pizza. We are on the road as the sun sets, avoiding the Chevron station with their deceptive sign (ten cents below the pump price with fine print about cash sales), and on to a Mobil station about 20 miles south with gas 30 cents cheaper. On we go to our camp spot on the Mohave Preserve, arriving around midnight. Breezy and pleasant, but I need a bit thicker car sleeping bag.
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