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Mount Sill from Potluck Pass. Best route?

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Mount Sill from Potluck Pass. Best route?

Postby oleander » Mon Aug 29, 2011 9:33 am


We'd like to summit Mt. Sill the least dangerous way possible. Approaching from Bishop/Knapsack/Potluck Passes and then ascending one of the southwest chutes.

To best honest, some of the trip reports I've seen scare me. Secor makes out this route as straightforward, Class 2 with some Class 3 on top. But everyone else who seems to do it reports ending up on Class 4 stuff. (We are not equipped for that.) I suspect they end up on Class 4 stuff b/c they're not on the ideal route; hence I hope for some guidance from you guys.

1. Best (least steep) route down from Potluck Pass?

2. Good camping below Potluck Pass? Lake 11,676 or tarns/streams above it?

3. Going up-canyon from the big lake below Potluck (11,676) to the Palemonium Glacier looks on the map to be straightforward, but I read reports of people going up the wrong canyon. We know how to use our compass & topo maps to orienteer, but any other visual advice would be useful.

4. Which chute or ridge to the top of Sill? Secor says stay far left and go up the west ridge; but at least one trip report suggests that ridge has a lot of exposure. People seem to favor the next chute over, and/or one of the ridges between chutes. But I am not sure (visually) which one this is.

Looking at this photo here:

Is it the chute with the snow in it that we should go up? Or a ridge on either side of it? Or some other route?

Thanks much,


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Re: Mount Sill from Potluck Pass. Best route?

Postby quentinc » Mon Aug 29, 2011 11:07 am

Hopefully someone has a more recent report (and maybe pictures), but when I did Sill I did not find it that difficult (except that it's a long slog from Potluck Pass). Class 2 with a little class 3 at the top sounds accurate. I think I started up the middle chute but per "California's Fourteeners" (Porcella & Burns) and my recollection, most class 3 can be avoided by traversing around into the next gully. Since I like the practice, I didn't always try to avoid it, but it seemed like it was definitely possible. I didn't encounter any class 4.
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Re: Mount Sill from Potluck Pass. Best route?

Postby adixon » Mon Aug 29, 2011 1:22 pm

In 2009 we went more into the saddle at the back of the bowl and then traversed right along the ridge (I think this is what Roper and/or Secor recomends). While a longer route, it is less steep and you only encounter a bit of class 3 at the very top.

A more direct ascent up the gulleys (moving more to the right from the bowl) looked steeper with the potential for more class 4.

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Re: Mount Sill from Potluck Pass. Best route?

Postby Trailguru » Mon Aug 29, 2011 1:53 pm

I've done the route which you are describing back in 2008. It was my first 14er and it took us the whole day to climb from the Palisade lakes (Barrettt lakes). We started at around 8am and we were back by around 7:00pm. It nothing but Talus after talus but the views are definitely one of the best in the Sierras.

Secor does seem to exaggerate by saying class 2. If anything it was class 3 all around and me and two others in my party all agreed it was easily class 3 but you can easily avoid the class 4 areas. Towards the last 300 ft to the summit we did encounter several class 3+ - 4 rocks which I had to climb over. It wasnt very hard though (And I'm not a climber) but strenuous. All in all, for me it was one of the most challenging and rewarding peaks I've climbed (Along with Mt Williamson via the west face)
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Re: Mount Sill from Potluck Pass. Best route?

Postby KathyW » Wed Aug 31, 2011 7:43 am

Have you looked into doing Sill via the North Fork Big Pine Creek Trail to Sam Mack Meadow/Palisade Glacier/Glacier Notch/North Couloir ("L" Shaped snowfield)?

It's a much shorter approach and the one Class 4 move is somewhere between hard Class 3 and easy Class 4.

I had always thought the approach from Bishop Pass was the way I'd do Sill too, but I dreaded that long and exhausting approach. After a few people told me the easiest way to do Sill is via North Fork Big Pine Creek Trail to Sam Mack Meadow/Palisade Glacier/Glacier Notch/North Couloir ("L" Shaped snowfield), I gave it a try and it worked. It wasn't easy, but I'm sure it was easier than that long haul from Bishop Pass. Of course, snow conditions will make a big difference on the route.
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Re: Mount Sill from Potluck Pass. Best route?

Postby Mike M. » Wed Aug 31, 2011 1:34 pm

I'm not a climber either, but enjoy class 2 scrambles. I scrambled up Mt. Sill in 1986 via one of the SW ribs (or chutes), generally following the route you are considering. I chose what I thought was the most pronounced chute and was able to scramble up all the way to the summit without encountering any huge talus blocks or cliffs (which others have described). It was steep at the top of the chute and a little unnerving because, towards the top, I encountered a few hard-packed and icy snow patches and I didn't have an ice axe. It was easy to avoid these coming up, but I was worried about getting down. In the end, getting down was easy -- I was able to avoid the icy patches completely. Sill is a beautiful peak and deserves its reputation for having one of the best views in the Sierra.

In 2009, I hiked in the area with my son and friends. Two in our party climbed Mt. Sill from Lake 11,672 (between Potluck and Cirque passes), using essentially the same route you are considering. See this link for photos of their climb (the photos for the climb are about half way through the TR):


There are some good photos here of the chute they chose to follow. Tedious going but class 2 terrain almost all the way.

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Re: Mount Sill from Potluck Pass. Best route?

Postby fishmonger » Thu Sep 01, 2011 7:48 am

here's some Sill info - lower part of the page talks about the appoach via Potluck Pass
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Re: Mount Sill from Potluck Pass. Best route?

Postby giantbrookie » Fri Sep 02, 2011 9:39 am

Note that you drop into the hanging valley below Sill from a "shoulder" above Potluck Pass.

The key is reading the terrain well and choosing the appropriate gullies and spurs coming up from this hanging valley. It is primarily steep, broken class 2 benches and solid talus, with two or three low 3rd class moves (very small amounts of exposure--say 10 foot potential fall--and very large holds/ledges and good solid rock) part way up this face. I suspect folks reporting more difficulties brute force the route without carefully reading the terrain. There are many options on this face. If one is experienced at route finding on a broken slope like this, I have little doubt that they can keep the class 3 to a minimum as I did. I am agreement with Secor and Roper before him that this route is easiest class 3, but the caveat is one must read the face and zig and zag where necessary to avoid greater difficulties.

The views from the top of Sill, as you've no doubt heard, rank among the best from any peak in the High Sierra. Absolutely stunning.
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