OverviewThe Farquhar Route, also sometimes referred to (possibly incorrectly) as the Southwest Chute, is a rarely climbed gully and chimney system on the western face of Middle Palisade. It was first climbed and descended in 1921 by Francis Farquhar (hence the name) and Ansel Hall during the first successful ascent of Middle Palisade.
Secor states, "This route is exposed and has much loose rock, and it is easy to get off route. Only experienced climbers should attempt this route." This I believe to be a gross understatement. During our climb one member of our party was almost severely injured by falling rock, and afterwards we decided to rename the route "The Chute of Eternal Peril". There is not a solid rock to be found on the entire climb. On top of this is constant severe exposure, and guesswork for route finding. Just when you think the climb can get no worse, it does, and if you are planning on descending the same route you will find no peace of mind while on the summit. Because of these factors, very difficult access (long distance from the nearest trail head), and a much more practical route on the eastern side of the mountain, this route gets climbed very infrequently. It is not unclimbable, and it is not un-worthwhile, but if you decide this route is for you, be prepared for a very serious and painstaking undertaking. Each step will be cautious, and each decision critical. This is not an easier class four route.
Both Secor, and Porcella and Burn's book Climbing California's Fourteeners offer virtually the same route description, in fact I am almost certain that they were written from the same source. Both descriptions are very poor, and will provide just enough information to guess at a good route. I hope that this route description can be more informative than those.
Getting ThereThe western face of Middle Palisade is not exactly easy to access. It is remote, and far from any trail heads. The nearest trail head on the western side is the Road's End Trail head, although I have no cue how to get there. Since this is a good 35 miles away from the palisade lakes, however, it is probably not the best way to access this route. Starting from the east requires crossing the Sierra Crest, which may be more vertically strenuous, but will take significantly less time. One available option is Bishop Pass. Climb over Bishop Pass until you meet the John Muir Trail (JMT). Then travel south on the JMT until you reach the Palisade Lakes, an excellent base camp. The Palisade Lakes are the unofficial start for this route. There are a number of other passes over the Sierra Crest that will also yield access to the John Muir Trail and Palisade Lakes. You just have to choose the right one for you.
Middle Palisade and its sub-peaks loom over the palisade lakes. From here the climbing is initially easy. Ascend the north-west on the vegetated slope directly towards middle palisade. After about a thousand feet of climbing you will be in a large cirque with the west face of middle Pal straight in front of you.
Finding the Chute
There are four major chutes on the western face of Middle Palisade, near and on Disappointment Peak. The Farquhar Route is the second most northerly chute of these four. If looking at Disappointment Peak from the southwest, there is a chute leading to the south saddle of Disappointment Peak (Southwest chute). One chute north leads to the North saddle of Disappointment peak and south saddle of Bivouac(?) peak. One chute north of this is the Farquhar Route. From a little ways away you can distinguish its northern bending nature. The chute north of the Farquhar Route is very minor and leads to the smoke buttress route.
It is easiest to distinguish the Farquhar Route as the second Northerly chute after Disappointment Peak
If you are confused, analyze these pictures:
Climbing the Chute
Once you locate the chute, notice that there are really two routes at the bottom, a chute on the left and on the right, which both meet a few hundred feet up. The left chute has a cliff at the bottom, but once navigated around it is wider and easier (like a large fan). The right chute is narrow and has some chock stones about halfway up. There is more potential for rockfall danger here, although its really nothing compared to what is yet to come.
A little ways up both paths meet. Continue up the chute a while further. It is mostly loose talus and debris here, and not too difficult. There may be some snow remaining in here (there was a lot on July 20th), but it is not too difficult to bypass or cross. Just make sure not to fall on it, the chute is pretty steep.
About a third of the way up, this chute unexpectedly splits (not mentioned anywhere). It appears to continue to the right (the wrong way), and forms a wide concave face on the left (correct route). Go to the left.
The Face and Ridge
Climb up this face/semi-gully along sandy ledges and very loose rock. Even if you get the privilege to stand on something solid, it will be covered in slippery sand. Rockfall potential is very high here!. There are a few difficult spots here, the most notable being a small cliff band, but they are easy enough to navigate around. In general you want to be on the left side of this face/area once you're at the top.
BE VERY CAUTIOUS OF ROCKFALL ON THIS SECTION. ITS EASY TO BREAK OFF A TON OF ROCKS, AND IT IS A VERY GOOD IDEA TO FAN OUT HORIZONTALLY AND STICK VERTICALLY CLOSE TOGETHER
Above the cliff band/steepest section the face turns more into a gully. There is a semi-saddle to the left between a large pinnacle and Middle Palisade. Climb to the saddle. There is a good deal of exposure off the other side. From here follow the narrow ridge (described as a face by Secor) with the gully down on your left. You should be headed towards a flat ledge and beyond that a narrow crack/chimney system.
The Final Summit Bit
After the ridge, you will be standing on a large flat ledge with a big crack/chimney system in front of you. This is the crux of the route. Climb up to the bottom of the system. There are three main vertical chimneys, all of which appear climbable and all of which go to pretty much the same place. We found the middle one to be easiest and most direct. It would probably be re-rated as a low class 5 chimney by today's standards, but its not more than 20 feet tall and not too difficult. Just be careful since none of the holds are very solid. Make sure to stand out of the way of rockfall while others are climbing (we had one person get hit on the shoulder with a large chunk, and he was a good ways off to the side). You will notice some discarded slings and others things at the top of this chimney. Once on top of this vertical section, continue up the very loose chute (class three and four). There is insane rockfall potential here, as the chute is a few foot wide funnel consisting of loose rocks on top of a heavily sloped rock bottom (think of a laundry chute with talus instead of clothes). There are a few minor difficulties in this chute, but nothing worse than the route has already presented. After a couple hundred feet you will top out on the summit ridge, south of the summit. Traverse the ridge north to the summit proper.
Going DownDescending this route is much more difficult than going up. It took our group about 3 hours to climb, and about 5 to descend. The rock is so loose going down that every step has to be cautious and controlled, every tiny route carefully thought out.
Also, a rope might be nice for descending the Chimney. We did not find it necessary, but descending was a little nerve racking. There were also a few discarded rap slings near the top of this section. That being said, I would not use a rope for any other part of this route, and I would not want to carry one just for that section.
The descent is treacherous, but with many calls of "Rock!" you will make it.