My alarm woke me at 4:15 from a decent night of car sleep, and I had sucked down a Red Bull and hit the trail by 4:25. One reason I had chosen to approach from this side was that the route to Bishop Pass would be easy to navigate quickly in the dark. Since I guessed from others' trip reports that it would be about an 18-hour day, my plan was to reach the pass at dawn and return by dusk, leaving about 14 hours for the main part of the route.
Bishop pass at dawn Large lake below Thunderbolt pass
I reached Bishop pass a bit ahead of schedule at 6:15, and after a brief "scenic" detour down the trail to Dusy Basin, struck out East toward the lake at the base of Thunderbolt Pass, where I tanked up on water. My 3-liter camelback would have to last until the lake below Potluck Pass. Thunderbolt pass was as boulder-strewn as advertised, but the boulders were stable, and the hike went smoothly.
Southwest chute #1 T-bolt's 5.9 side
Would that I could say the same of Southwest Chute #1, a pile of sliding sand and rocks that earns its "class 3" rating only in the last couple hundred feet to the ridge. The route-finding, straightforward in the chute, became a bit trickier from the chute to the base of Thunderbolt's summit block. I ultimately ended up climbing some blocks to the right, wriggling under the summit block, and climbing the crack to its left, to find the register at its base around 8:45.
I spent a few minutes studying the 5.9 face of the block, but being a mediocre climber, did not feel confident enough to climb it and risk peeling onto the very sharp rock below. After a few desultory attempts to lasso the block -- I'm not much of a cowboy either -- I somewhat guiltily signed the register and moved on. Norman Clyde's picture glared in disapproval, but as my failure was a convenient excuse to return next year, I was only slightly disappointed.
Where the route drops down from the ridge, I met two men (whose names I forget) doing the traverse from a camp near the Palisade glacier. Since they had rock shoes, a light rack, and webbing to spare, I returned with them to T-bolt's summit for a chance at top-roping the summit block. Unfortunately neither of them was up to leading the block, so we all headed out again around 9:45.
North Pal from Starlight Looking up at the descent from Starlight
The descent from Thunderbolt was intense but straightforward. After a long-ish traverse and a bit of messing around after losing sight of the milk bottle, I reached Starlight just before 11:00, and waited a few minutes for my rope-using companions. Since I thought I had to move quickly, I skipped the milk bottle, signed the register, and moved on to North Palisade, which was ridiculously close by line of sight.
"Line of climber," however, was a whole different story. I quickly found the crack/chimney system mentioned in Scott's trip report. For me at least, this combination of stems, jams, and general off-width writhing was the crux of the traverse in terms of both exposure and difficulty. On the other hand, the subsequent pendulum move across to North Palisade earns the craziness award. Someone had fortunately left a nice 10- or 20-foot piece of webbing hanging into the crack, so I was able to lower myself down that and swing across rather than set up my own rappel or look for another route. After a bit of exploring and down-climbing to avoid some ice on the North side, I reached North Palisade at noon, reveling in having reached a summit I had been coveting for over a year.
After about 20 minutes spent enjoying the view and waiting for my compadres, I headed out toward Polemonium, hopefully via the Clyde variation. The route into the bowl was straightforward, but beyond that it became less obvious. Judging by erosion and footprints, others had been similarly confused. Ultimately, I ended up a couple of hundred feet down the U-notch after much backtracking and unnerving down-climbing. From there to Polemonium, the route was exposed but straightforward. After enjoying the unfortunately-windy summit and abandoning my temporary companions, I continued on to the final objective.
Polemonium knife-edge South side of the Palisades
Polemonium's knife-edge had decent features on one side or the other for your feet, but was spectacularly exposed -- it surprises me that its first user thought "hey, why don't I go down that!" -- and the sudden transition from Polemonium's exposure to Sill's endless boulder-hopping was as surprising as it was disappointing. Then again, after the consistent, dramatic exposure and solid rock of the traverse, anything would have been a let-down.
I reached Sill exactly 10 hours after I started, much faster than I had expected. After some celebration and a longing look at the the Big Pine Creek trailhead to the East, I headed South along the ridge, then down the hideous loose boulder field to the West.
Unlike previous boulder fields, this one consisted mostly of loose rocks, making it a misery at this point in the day. Driven to avoid this, I contoured high toward Potluck Pass. Big mistake: the contour to Potluck Pass involves much 3rd and 4th (?) class climbing, so that losing elevation probably would have saved time. To make up for this, though, the descent from Potluck Pass was nothing but delicious, fast scree-skiing.
Tolerant marmot Snapdragons
The afternoon traverse across Palisade and Dusy Basins was enjoyable despite my exhaustion, with exhilarating views of the Palisades and exhibitionist wildlife. However the climb to Thunderbolt pass was, while mostly solid grass and rock, slow and painful in my drained state. I distracted myself by drinking a Red Bull and stopping to look at the snap-dragons, and soon was back to the boulder field, Bishop Pass (more directly this time) and, just before 8:00, my car for the long drive home.
I brought a 20-meter single rope, a couple of slings, and a couple of biners for an emergency rappel or lowering, but did not use any of them. A 3l Camelback was plenty of water for the ridge.
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