Mount Silliman In The Snow

  • Updated: April 02, 2017
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

April 1st to 3rd, 2017
Mount Silliman (11,188')

Mount Silliman is one of those peaks that gets done quite a lot by WTC staff.  I did it in 2011 as a two day and again in 2016 as a very nice and relaxed three day but I'd never been out that way in the winter.

It has the advantage of a reasonable approach (we did about 6 miles and 2k gain to camp the first day) and spectacular views from the top.  This trip came about after I happened to see a picture of the area on Facebook right before an open weekend.

After some very last minute planning 6 of us left Orange County around 8 pm and arrived in Grants Grove at 1 am.  We grabbed the self issue permit and then headed for the Azalea Campground hoping to find a spot.

Unfortunately all the spots that weren't covered in snow were taken and all the other campgrounds were still closed so we had to resort to a trailhead bivy.  Seeing as how the Lodgepole trailhead was just the parking lot for the market that means Wolverton.

Technically not camping.  Just parking for a few hours and waiting while horizontal
The nice thing about Wolverton was that there are heated bathrooms at the far end of the lot.

My 9 am we were back in the Lodgepole parking lot getting everything sorted.  We had ice axes, crampons, and snowshoes along in addition to all the usual snow gear.

The road is plowed a short distance into the campground but it's blocked off.

This is right past the normal trailhead parking.

Pretty sure there are no bears to worry about

We started out carrying our snowshoes figuring we'd be on solid snow pretty quickly.  Surprisingly the trail was melted out in several spots so boots were sufficient for the initial climb though we had to deal with a lot of collapsing snow bridges.

Things improved once the trail turned north and flattened out around 7200.  Thanks to ski route decals in the trees the trail isn't difficult to follow and we made good time until we came to the stream crossing.

Normally in the summer the crossing is pretty trivial but here we were standing on 10+ ft of snow.

This was the best crossing location we could find.  Unfortunately while we were digging our way down to the log my shovel was dropped into the stream.

Between Dave and myself we were able to dig steps low enough I could hop down into the water and retrieve it.

Past the crossing the trail was almost impossible to follow and we ended up meandering a bit until we reached the fork of Silliman Creek which is where you leave the trail in the summer.

These days there's a pretty clear use trail running along the creek but of course that was all buried.

The rock at Silliman Meadow

To compare this is what it looks like during the summer...

As we approached the slabs we started to hear wuffing sounds coming from the snow around us which informed us that climbing the slabs wasn't going to happen today.

Silliman slabs in the winter

Summer view for comparison

As it turned out camping near the base of the slabs was a much better option than Silliman Lake anyway.  In addition to getting firm snow for the climb it was a lot nicer to glissade down without full packs.

We were all in bivys so setup was pretty simple and we kicked back to enjoy a happy hour.

We woke up at 4 am the next day wanting to get up and down the slabs while the snow was still firm.

We did a test while setting up camp and found we could stick an avalanche probe all the way in without hitting dirt.  That meant digging a cathole for bathroom duties wasn't an option.  So if you're planning to do this bring wag bags.

We started hiking at 5:30 using snowshoes and generally sticking to the gully and trees on the right side.  This seemed safer since there is water running under the snow to the left.

It took us about an hour to make it up to the lake.

Past the lake we swung north and gained the western ridge of Silliman.

And were rewarded with quite the view.

Summit view from Silliman

Black Kaweah & Red Kaweah from the summit of Silliman

Silliman summit shot by Dave Jahng

Rather than retrace our steps we went southeast from the peak since it looked like we might be able to glissade safely.

We ended up briefly needing crampons in order to get across an icy slope above some exposed rocks but after a short distance they came off and we were able to glissade off and on for a good amount of our descent back to camp.

Now that the sun was up it was getting really warm and we started to see small releases on the slopes around us.

The slabs are a breeze going down.

We were back in camp by 11, packed up, and headed out.

The melted out section of the trail ended up being the most precarious part of the trip as we kept breaking through every 10 ft or so.

Back at the trailhead we walked past a lot of people who had driven up to play in the snow.

The market was open and doing a brisk business but we decided we wanted to get moving.

We came out via Three Rivers stopping off at the usual hangout Casa Mendoza for post trip mexican food.

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