Details & DoubtsMiguel first planted the idea of daytripping the Palisade Traverse (Thunderbolt to Sill) on the way home from one of our E side climbing trips. My interest peaked immediately and I mentioned that I might be interested. I had done sections of the traverse previously, but never the entire thing. The only caveat was that Miguel wanted to do the climb in September, and I preferred August with warmer temps and longer daylight hours. Miguel said that he had other people interested so I didn’t feel bad about planning a separate trip. A few weeks later
Deron contacted me on the Plans & Partners forum and we agreed to meet up to do the traverse in August. I started reading up on the route and hit up Bob and Stephen for beta (thanks again). When I mentioned to Miguel that I was planning to go a month earlier he agreed to modify his plans and come along.
As our date rapidly approached I started questioning my ability to keep up. I knew that technically I would be fine, but I was concerned about my endurance. I have battled chronic tendonitis in my hip flexors for the past 3 years, putting an end to my ultrarunning exploits, and I’m scheduled for surgery in two months to repair probable torn cartilage in my right hip. Consequently, my usual 30-50 mile trail mileage weeks have dwindled down to ~15 miles at most. I had been climbing peaks, but the longest day this year was the N Ridge of Lone Pine Peak at just under 9 hours. I estimated the traverse would take us at least 17 hours. I banked on the fact that I could bail off the traverse on my own if needed and decided to suck it up and go.
Miguel and I left L.A. on Friday afternoon and headed to Big Pine to meet Deron, who was heading down from Carson City. The weather report predicted temps in the 50s and breezy conditions, but fortunately no t-storms. The plan was to set up a car shuttle between S Lake and Glacier Lodge. Miguel made his requisite trail food (green pepper pizza) stop along the way, also picking up gummy worms and white-framed pimp glasses at the gas station in Big Pine. We dropped off Deron’s truck at Glacier Lodge and arrived at S Lake around dark. For gear we packed a 30m rope, alpine rack, harnesses, crampons (no ice axes), and climbing shoes, then we attempted to catch a few hours of sleep.
ThunderboltWe hit the trailhead at 3:30a right on schedule and made good time up to Bishop Pass, passing two guys also planning to do the traverse. Stopping briefly on Bishop Pass for a food/bio break, we realized that we were in for a very chilly day with the wind. We left the trail and skirted the bases of Agassiz and Winchell aiming for Thunderbolt Pass. The option of doing the SW Buttress (Class 4) was discussed briefly, but we opted for SW Chute #1 (Class 3), which we thought would be faster. I could see the sun hitting the top of the ridge and I hoped it would bring with it warmer temps. We headed up the chute and finally into the sun, and by 8:40a made to the base of the summit block. Miguel led and we all did our requisite standing on the summit shot. One down, four more to go.
Starlightchimney option rather than the ~5.6 headwall as described accurately by bearbnz here. From the notch we made our way along the ridge to the summit of Starlight. As we arrived at the summit block belay (now 10:55a), Miguel immediately recognized fellow SPers Peter, Arturo and Bill. The socializing commenced and we were there for quite a while, long enough for the guys (Scotty and Shay) we has passed on the way up Bishop Pass to catch up. After asking me whether I wanted to lead the summit block and after I said yes, Miguel (the bossy cow ;) ) led it anyway and the three of us summited. Miguel cracked an energy drink as a reward; we would later regret this. One of the local Bishop guides, Chris and his client came into view. Amazingly, Deron recognized Chris from Seattle. As much as I was enjoying the warm sunny, wind-sheltered ledge I admit that I was getting a bit antsy, as we still had three more peaks and a long descent ahead of us. Miguel later calculated that we were there for 55 minutes.
North PalisadeAt this point Miguel said that he didn’t remember the exact route from last year, although he knew we would be on the NW (windier) side of the ridge. We downclimbed off the summit of Starlight, staying on the Palisade Glacier Side. We eventually hit a section with an overhanging boulder problem followed by a fairly large, exposed gap. It seemed like a good time to rappel, as others had done judging by the anchors. Crossing the gap required a bit of a swing, but we all made it across safely. Shay and Scotty were right behind us, so we offered them a rap. From the notch Miguel mentioned that they had gone on the left side of the ridge and up a headwall last year but that it would require a rope for the ~5.7 crack. In the interest of time we decided to select an easier route. We watched Miguel head out for the right side, but we noticed a reasonable ledge system on the left beyond the start of the headwall and decided to go for it. The only obstacle turned out to be a fairly large patch of ice. We met back up with Miguel on the summit at 1:10p.
Polemoniumhere. At the chimney section Miguel started cursing about my 30m rope, which I found highly entertaining. I had opted for a shorter rope on the advice of Bob and I maintain we would have been fine without a 60m; however, Shay and Scotty returned the favor and let us rap on their 60m rope. After two rappels and a short downclimb we all stood at the top of the U-Notch. From the U-notch we traversed some airy but easy slabs on the right (SE side) of the peak, heading for an obvious ramp system. From there it was easy going to the summit, which we reached at 2:46p. We were rewarded by phenomenal views and everyone took photos to show off to (potential) significant others. Scotty and Shay were deliberating about whether to head over Sill, but without crampons they were limited to the descent to the south and decided that was too much of a slog from Sill. We said our goodbyes and Miguel, Deron and I pressed on for our final peak.
The Long DescentWe returned to our packs and made our way to the top of the couloir. With the lack of last season’s snowfall the couloir was dry, but also pretty icy for this early in the season. We stayed on the talus and scree for as long as possible before donning crampons for this small island of ice before the Palisade Glacier. We took our crampons off briefly for the talus before putting them on again for the last time as we crossed the glacier. As we stepped onto the glacier we immediately recognized a rare, but scary site in the Palisades: snowbridges and huge crevasses. Sure, E Side alpinists are familiar with the bergshrund, but multiple crevasses big enough to engulf a person!? We decided the safest option was to stay near the rocks near the base of Gayley. Finally we reached the talus and headed for the ridge above the tarn.
I stopped for a bio/blister check break and when I caught up with Miguel and Deron I found them amongst another group of SPers, including eggheadsherpa (who I knew from photo-related pms) and kevintrieu. Miguel was drinking merlot from his empty Monster energy drink can and chatting away. As much as I wanted to celebrate I was really getting anxious to get back, partly out of selfish interests and partly b/c I knew Deron had to drive back to Carson City that night. We pried Miguel away and headed down toward Sam Mack Meadow. Between the gummy bears, energy drink, and merlot Miguel was bouncing off the (granite) walls and started jogging down the slabs. Neither Deron nor I were in the mood for running so I told Miguel that he was welcome to run back on his own. He slowed down to a quick hiking pace. By the time we reached the footbridge at the meadow it was time for headlamps and water resupply. It was nice to be finally back on the soft trail, however dusty it was.
As Miguel predicted the trail seemed to go on forever. At one point Miguel stopped for a bio break and I took the lead, bumping up the hiking pace. After ~20 minutes Miguel caught up and accused me of running. His competitive side took over and he ran down the trail. Deron and I looked at each other and kept hiking. No hip issues for me all day, and I wasn’t going to push it so close to the end. At one point Deron started slowing down; later he mentioned that after 18 hours his mountaineering boots were finally starting to hurt. I hadn’t been on that trail for four years and took the lower trail, thinking that the upper trail went to the overnight parking lot. I missed the turnoff to the trailhead, but fortunately there were some people waiting for another friend and they set us back on track. In the end we made it back to Deron’s truck by 10:30p (19 hours). Miguel said that he had been waiting for ~30 minutes. We hopped into the truck and headed back to S Lake, tired but savoring our amazing day.