Hike InAfter getting snowed out on Memorial Day Weekend on our attempt on the U-Notch, we decided to head back up to the Palisades for a shot at the traverse. Once again we brought our favorite mascot along, my Dad. He's been getting a kick out of coming along on our trips to hang out at camp and take photos of the surrounding mountains on his own day hikes while we climb. Unable to get a Wilderness Permit for Thursday or Friday entry on Labor Day weekend, we were forced to get one for Wednesday. Since we all had to work Wednesday AND Thursday, we drove up after work Thursday from San Francisco and arrived in Bishop late that evening. After shopping at Vons and packing at Paul's house, Brett and I polished off a 12-pack of Tecate to make the hike in more interesting, much to my dad's chagrin. He wasn't too impressed with the walk in in the dark, and even less so by our shenanigans. Maybe he should have had some beer with us, he probably would have enjoyed the hike in at 2 AM as much as we did.
We got across the wilderness boundary and camped in an open flat spot down by the creek which we assumed was out of sight of the trail, hoping to avoid having to answer questions as to why we were camped 2 miles from the trailhead on the second night of our wilderness permit. Not since my days of bumming it in Yosemite Valley have I felt like such a criminal hiding out from Strangers. Apparently we didn't do a good job of hiding, because upon awakening in the morning, we discovered that we were in plain sight. But it turned out just fine, as we ended up not seeing a single ranger on the trip.
My dad awoke Friday morning to find he had left his eyedrops (he is prone to severe swelling that can lead to blindness) in the car. So his walk in the night before had been for naught. He walked back to the car to get his "stash" and said he would meet us that afternoon in Sam Mack Meadow; we wouldn't end up seeing him until after our climb. Brett and I hiked up to Sam Mack Meadow tired as hell from the night before, and set up camp to get ready for the next day's climb. As is always the case with Brett, we brought way too much food, so we pigged out and set an alarm for 4 AM the next day.
ApproachUnsure about the way via Sam Mack Lake to the Thunderbolt Glacier, and not wanting to get lost in the dark, we took the way we knew and hiked up to the lake at the toe of the Palisade Glacier and cut across to the T-Bolt Glacier from here. This ended up being longer than we had anticipated; if I had it to do over again I'd probably just climb straight up from the head of Sam Mack Meadow. During all the talus hopping to get to the base of the route, my knee with the torn ACL in it starting hurting badly and I thought I was going to have to bail on the day's climb before we even got started. I decided to take the brace I was wearing off, it turns out that the metal shank in the side of it was causing the pain beacuse after taking it off my knee was good to go. Aside from a little bit of snow at the top of the glacier, we were able to stay on dry ground for almost the entire approach. The Thunderbolt Glacier has receded to next to nothing! By the time we got to Winchell Col some clouds had started to form in the sky, causing a little bit of concern, but we just decided we'd need to climb faster to beat the weather.
Starlight PeakThe next part of the climb, from the notch between Thunderbolt and Starlight, was probably my favorite part of a climb that was spectacular the whole way through. The ridge steepens, but the climbing never got difficult enough to where we wanted to use the rope. The view opens up down to the entire Palisade Glacier, the exposure is tremendous. The route jogs onto the other side of the ridge occasionally, and cuminates below the Milk Bottle, Starlight Peak's awesome summit pinnacle.
From the summit of Starlight to the summit of North Pal wasn't far. We had to pass a team of three who was moving slowly and having communication problems, and ended up soloing past their second and third as the leader tried to set up an anchor on the summit. The moves on this final pitch to North Pal's summit were great; steep, exposed, and made more exciting by the ever-darkening skies. We snapped a couple of photos, tried to climb over and shout belay commands down to his partners, and then got the hell out of there as it started to hail. We quickly rapped down into the U-Notch and threw on our jackets. I had brought my downie and was more than comfortable, Brett just had a rain shell and looked a little cold. We waited here for a while and listened to rocks crash down the U-Notch Couloir. We breifly considered bailing down onto the Palisade Glacier from here, but the volume of rocks falling made this option out of the question. Instead we decided to wait it out, and as the storm cleared we surmised the wind would dry out the rock quickly. After maybe half an hour we soloed up out of the U-Notch on rock that had dried enough to make it climbable.