CA County Highpoint Co-CompletionCounty Highpoint Organization and North Palisade is the highpoint of Fresno County. The Fresno County highpoint was the last of 58 counties for me in the state of California. California is a large state and some of the county highpoints include impressive peaks such as Mt. Whitney, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lyell, Mt. Ritter, and White Mountain Peak. It also includes some unimpressive peaks like Little Blue Peak, Copernicus Peak, and Carpenter Hill.
I didn’t want to try North Palisade solo, so I contacted SP’er and fellow County Highpointer Dan Baxter, who has been weathered off of North Pal the last two years, to see if we could collaborate on the effort. Dan and I had climbed Mt. Rainier together a couple years ago. Dan only needed North Pal to finish the California County Highpoints also. Neither one of us are rock climbers, we are more trail hikers. Dan was more than willing to team up, but he wanted to enlist one more member to lead our team. He wanted SP’er Kurt Wedberg. I had met Kurt earlier this year on Denali and had the pleasure of hiking with him on summit day. We contacted Kurt and scheduled our climb for August 14-17, 2007.
There was only one problem. I had not yet climbed Mt. Ritter (the highpoint of Madera County) and we wanted North Pal to be our California County Highpoint finishing climb. Dan is such a good friend that he volunteered to climb Mt. Ritter again with me. We devised a plan to climb Mt. Ritter a couple days ahead of North Pal. The problem was that I had to get a back country camping permit for Saturday, August 11th. To make a long story short and since this is a Trip Report about North Pal, I drove down to Mammoth Lake Visitor Center and got the permit. Dan drove over from his home in Fresno and we hiked in to Mt. Ritter on Saturday afternoon. We camped near the tarn just below the Banner/Ritter saddle and tagged the summit of Ritter on Sunday, August 12th.
Everything was falling into place. We had an extra day on Monday, and spent it visiting Bodie State Historic Park and climbing nearby Potato Peak and Bodie Mountain.
Early on Tuesday August 14 we met up with Kurt in Bishop. We organized our gear and headed up to the South Lake Trailhead. This is a great and popular trail that passes by several nice lakes as it heads west up to Bishop Pass. We took our time since we were carrying big packs and didn’t want to burn ourselves out before getting to the base of North Pal. At Bishop Pass we descended only about a hundred feet before leaving the trail and heading south towards Thunderbolt Pass. This isn’t a difficult hike, but it is Class 2 and some of it is boulder hopping with these full packs. I was glad when we finally crossed the pass and started heading down towards Barrett Lakes. We stopped at the first little lake/watering hole we came to, which was still about 400 ft above Barrett Lake. Elevation here is about 12,000 ft.
It was intimidating looking up at the west face of North Pal. It looks like it is straight up vertical. With lots of anticipation as to what the next day would bring we had a nice meal, filled our water bottles, and went to bed early. We wanted to get an early start in the morning. It was still dark when we got up, but by the time we had breakfast and got our gear ready it was just light enough to see. We headed out towards the base of North Pal. We still had to traverse south a little as we approached the cliffs and there was more boulder hopping. At 12,600 ft we got to the base of the cliffs. We wanted to be as safe as possible so Kurt got out his rope and we all put on our harnesses and rock helmets.
We were ready, and Kurt led up a steep section and belayed Dan and I up to his position. We continued up the mountain in this fashion. Kurt leading, Dan in the middle and I was holding down the downhill end of the rope. Sometimes we simulclimbed and sometimes Kurt belayed us up to his position. This was slow going, but we kept going, until we got to a section that was about 5.6 and was at the limit as to what Dan and I could do. We were at about 13,500 ft and above it looked tougher still. At this point we determined that we were indeed off course. We were in the wrong chute. The climbing wasn’t supposed to be this difficult.
We turned around and explored various routes on the way down, looking to where we should be climbing. We finally found it in the next chute south, but it was too late in the day to start over. We descended back down the cliffs and returned to camp. We had planned on having supplies for extra days, so we would try again tomorrow. We were disappointed, but determined to return again in the morning.
We again had a good dinner, repacked our gear, and turned in early. The next day we repeated our preparations and headed back to the base of North Pal. This time we traversed further south and found a much wider scree filled chute with a climber’s trail leading up. The scree was no fun, but we eventually found a ledge that looked like what was described in the literature as “Le Conte’s Ledge”. The ledge we found was actually not “Le Conte’s” ledge, but was actually better. We called this new route “Wedberg’s Ledge” and it is about 100 ft above “Le Conte’s Ledge”. I think “Wedberg’s Ledge” is easier and shorter than “Le Conte’s Ledge” and if I do this route again, I would use it again. These ledges have some exposure on one side and the footing on the ledge slopes towards the drop off. Both ledges would have problems if they were ice covered.
The rest of the route up North Pal followed the standard climbing route (Route 2 in Climbing California’s Fourteeners) and was uneventful. It was still difficult getting up a couple area’s where the chute was blocked by chockstones. I wouldn’t have been able to climb those area’s without someone like Kurt leading. It was challenging for this non-rock climber. The final climb up to the summit had some challenges also and there was lots of exposure too.
Dan and I tagged the highpoint together to simultaneously complete the County Highpoints of California. Officially, we are the 21st and 22nd climbers to complete the California County Highpoints. What a great feeling. The views were obscured because of a forest fire somewhere to the west, but it could not take away from our excitement. We spent at least an hour on the summit before heading down. We rappelled many steep spots on the way down because it was safer than down climbing for me.
When we finally coiled the rope and picked up the trekking poles, I felt like we had survived this adventure. We got back to our campsite about 11 hours after we started that morning. We had a great dinner and slept well that night. The next day we hiked back out to South Lake via Bishop Pass. At Saddlerock Lake, we stopped and Kurt took out a fly rod. He caught 3 nice trout in about a half hour for his breakfast the next morning.
We had a nice steak dinner at Whiskey Creek in Bishop. Afterward, I started driving north to Oregon. I got home by lunchtime the next day and I felt great. I completed the County Highpoints of California!!! This was my 4th state to complete after Oregon, Nevada, and Utah. California was by far the most difficult. North Pal was the most technically difficult peak I have climbed. I’ve climbed several peaks where I had to rock climb and rappel, but none of them had as much rock climbing. Next year (2008) I think I will take a rock climbing course in Wyoming and then try The Grand Teton. I think I could grow to like rock climbing, if I wasn’t so old and fat.