Sibling Sierra Sojourn To Mount Silliman

  • Updated: September 23, 2018
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

September 21st to 23rd, 2018
Mount Silliman (11,188')
Day 1: 5.2 miles, 3,400'
Day 2: 2 miles, 1,400'
Day 3: 5 miles, 100'

A little known personal fact is that I was adopted when I was just a few days old. The next 30 some years I didn't have any contact with my birth family despite a few attempts from both sides to find each other.

Then came a Facebook message from a stranger pointing me to a post on a Texas adoption registry. After a little online digging and 9 months of waiting for someone to check their Facebook non-friend messages I went from being a lifelong only child to having two half sisters and a half brother.

I got to meet Clare, JoAnn, and my birthmother Kim for the first time last Christmas when visiting family in Texas. (My half-brother Adam is in the military and was in Hawaii at the time).

A good time was had by all and when we got to talking Clare, whose hobbies include Crossfit and running marathons dressed as Wonder Woman, was interested in trying out one of the Sierra backpacks I'm always talking and posting about. So I threw out a few options and we settled on a three day to Mount Silliman in Sequoia.

And so after a slightly busy summer Clare flew out to Orange County on a Thursday morning and after a bit of sightseeing and a quick stop by REI to rent her a backpack we set off for the western side of the Sierra.

As usual it was rather late by the time we made it up to the park.

There's been a closure along the road for years that never seems to get resolved. They let a single lane at a time through during the day until 8 pm and then there's one last opportunity to get through at 11:30 pm. Unfortunately we ended up missing this window stranding us on the far side from our campsite reservation.

As much as I probably shouldn't admit this I have driven past this before in the middle of the night and not seen any construction activity. So we went for it...

...and wouldn't you know it they had a ton of people along the way. We ended up flagged down by a construction worker who both informed us that the road was closed and kindly flagged us through. So lessons learned: 1. Construction workers are nice 2. Don't run the signs.

Now committed to a life of crime we nevertheless spent the time to track down our actual campsite at Lodgepole Campground and sacked out sometime after midnight. Despite never having been in a sleeping bag before Clare was a trooper and didn't object at all to just sleeping out instead of putting up a tent.

We had to pick up our permit the next morning when the visitors center opened so we took a little extra time to grab a hot breakfast and wander around the gift shop before loading up our packs and setting out at a leisurely 10 am.

The normal route to Mount Silliman leaves out of the Twin Lakes Trailhead. You follow a well-used trail for a few miles before turning off at an unsigned use trail that parallels Silliman Creek.

The use trail has become significantly more established since I've been coming here. I've assumed this was largely due to the number of Sierra Club groups that like to do Silliman as a backpack but we also ran into several solo hikers and two large paid guide groups while up there this weekend so it seems to be a mix.

It was extra pretty due to the changing fall colors and for someone who lives in Texas (aka the state without mountains) Clare handled the altitude and carrying a heavy pack quite well.

The slabs are the last thing before Silliman Lake and can look rather imposing from a distance.

You can stick further to climbers right and keep things less steep at the cost of some bushwhacking or do what Clare and I did and stick to the right -ish side of the slabs. It looks steep but it's mostly just a calf workout.

We took our time and arrived at the lake around 4:30. We had the area to ourselves (for now) so we set up in the usual spot right near the lake.

This late in the summer it was a bit on the chilly side but I couldn't resist jumping into the lake however briefly. Clare declared I was crazy while documenting the event from the shore.

Dinner was red wine, crackers, and brie as an appetizer and tortellini pasta with pesto as the main course. While we were cooking a group of 12 people showed up and I was briefly concerned that they intended to camp right on top of us but fortunately they decided to use the site at the top of the slabs giving us both privacy.

For the record if you get up there and find another group already by the lake you can get privacy by using the sizable site at the top of the slaps or by heading up to the small lake above Silliman Lake at 10,420'. There are also some smaller sites at the western end of the lake though you'll still be able to see the other group periodically.

The next morning we waited until the sun hit our camp and then enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before deciding it was time to get hiking around 11 am. While we were drinking our coffee we saw a second group of 12 people come by and watched them pick their way precariously up the ramp to the right of this picture. Meanwhile, we took the slightly more friendly route up through the trees near the center.

We ran into another group of 12 (which was the one that had camped below us the night before) learning knots at the upper lake and we said hi on our way past.

From here things got a bit steeper.

It's all second class but you have to pick your way between ramps and watch your step in a few places.

Once up to the ridge the view gets better and it's a bit more straightforward.

We could see the guide group below grabbing packs and starting up the slope behind us so I prepared for a slightly busy time at the summit. Oddly enough though they went up to the ridge and then dropped back down so in the end we had the summit to ourselves.

The view from Silliman is always impressive. While it's not the highest peak around you can see for an astounding distance in every direction.

There's also a rather sizable drop right behind the summit block.

We took our time enjoying the view and even took a stroll down the ridge where we could look down at our camp far below.

We left the summit a little after 3 pm and it took less than an hour to get back to the lake.

It was a bit warmer today so Clare decided to join me in a quick lake plunge. For the record she would like you to know it certainly wasn't warm.

Afterwards layers went on and we enjoyed a pleasant dinner of red wine, the remining brie, and backcountry bbq pizza.

The next morning we got up a bit earlier to enjoy the early morning light.

Morning rituals were a bit complicated by the fact that the second guided group of 12 was camped at the top of the slabs which happened to have a line of sight with most of the bathroom spots back amongst the trees. I ended up lurking out of sight until they packed up and headed down.

We left camp around 9 am and were at the base of the slabs in about an hour.

From there the hike out was exceedingly pleasant and we were back at the trailhead before 1 pm.

And since Clare had never been to Sequoia of course we had to get a picture or two with a giant tree.

We stopped for a post-trip meal at Casa Mendoza down in Three Rivers. In addition to having satisfying post-trip mexican food they have a shaded deck where you can hang out and watch some really frantic squirrels eating and hiding sugar packets. We watched this guy stash several full packets below the deck and then open a few more up above scattering white powder everywhere.

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