Sill to Thunderbolt Traverse/American cuck

Sill to Thunderbolt Traverse/American cuck

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 37.12494°N / 118.43731°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 9, 2020
Activities Activities: Trad Climbing
Seasons Season: Summer

The Trip

The five peaks above the Palisade glacier

It was early August when I found myself on Venice beach. Drunk and alone on a particularly windy night I floundered nude in the waves wielding a Modelo tallboy in one hand and my flaccid wingwang in the other. I was unemployed and homeless and desperate to reclaim some semblance of control over my life. I masturbated into the cruel waves and cursed god at the top of my lungs. These are the only means a millennial possesses of challenging their fate.

Ok; bear with me. I had come down to LA to visit a longtime friend and climbing partner. Earlier that day the two of us had tried to climb in the Santa Monica mountains and we had gotten absolutely served. The rock was the temperature of an egg McMuffin and neither of us could hold a cold crimp on account of our own personal deficiencies. It was a covid summer and nobody had worked out in months (inexplicably every other person around us was in the best shape of their life)

We climbed until noon and then gave up. As we hiked out that day I reflected upon my relationship with rock. Climbing rock had been such an important part of my identity for the longest time and I began to mourn the passing of this part of myself which had (like most other significant parts of my identity/personality after living in my humble vehicle for a year) surreptitiously melted into a nihilistic sludge all around the drivers seat. 

Ater making sufficient appeals to the waves whilst playing Poseidon’s crocked mortal bastard brat I emerged from the water and had an epiphanic vision. Suddenly I saw myself gripped as fuck in the mountains and I knew that the only way I would be able to regain control of my identity would be to climb something epic. Something that I could totally crush/get up. A climb that didn’t require me to crimp at all. 

As I wiped sand off my ass the Sill to Thunderbolt traverse came to mind. It was a two-mile-long link up of five fourteeners that I had been hearing about for several years - a big objective that I'd wanted to do with a partner. Now it felt like something I had to do alone. A private affair between me and my broken ego.

I left the beach and took off at high speeds across the desert. 105 degrees and the heater on high to help cool the engine. Nude but for a pair of Nike running shorts so beat to shit they more closely resembled a loin cloth I doused myself with my water bottle at regular intervals to keep from overheating. At a Chevron station I stumbled out of my filthy van blinded by heat stroke and exhaustion and was stared down by a gaggle of ATV nuts spewing American flag diarrhea out of every orifice. I tossed two or three empty buds from my cup holders and saluted the boys. 

Several hours later I rolled into Bishop feeling like a sticky strip of human jerky and sweating diacetic acid and lays barbecue seasoning straight out of my bloodshot whites. I spent the day getting ready for the climb by stress buying various things that I definitely wasn’t going to need or have room in my pack for. Several bags of trail mix. A dozen granola bars. Three pounds of dried apricots. Six or nine cans of fruit cocktail: They were on sale and a millennial cannot resist a three for one. I went to the Gear Exchange to look for a cheap pair of approach shoes because I didn’t want to do the whole climb in my trail runners and risk slipping on a 5.4 move and dying without dignity. In the clearance room I located an ancient pair of guide tennis that still had a fair bit of rubber on the soles and even though they were a size and a half too large for me I bought them because they were priced to sell.

The temperature up at Glacier Lodge trailhead was substantially more humane and my body was confused and began to shiver as soon as I stepped out of my chevrolet saunamobile. I made a meal in the busy parking lot and parents tried to shield the eyes of their confused children as they watched a dirty man cook an elaborate spaghetti dinner on asphalt. I ate as much as I possibly could and prayed that it would not emerge as a stool until after my long day of climbing. This was unrealistic. 

I packed my bag for the following day: A three liter bladder and a purifier. A harness. A thirty meter tag line with a Beal escaper (a purchase motivated entirely by the fear instilled in me by expert salesmanship at the Gear Exchange). A meter or two of webbing and a rappel ring. A handful of small nuts. My climbing shoes. A bag of crushed potato chips and some chocolate bars: You are allowed do/eat whatever you want as long as you remember to say “When in Rome.” I looked longingly at all of the food items I had bought that would not be accompanying me on my journey and I became sad. 

It’s common to feel existentially confused before a large objective. You are about to do something extremely difficult - something that will cause you a lot of pain. You will be hungry and nauseous and exhausted and totally afraid - all for many hours. Why would you do this to yourself? It sucks and it’s probably not good for you. Your joints will ache and deep down you know that you are just doing it to run away from your problems or to punish yourself or some sad shit like that. You might fall and die. It happens all the time - a hold breaks and your whole short life is over. There are people that love you and they would be hurt. People would have to search for your body and it would take days. Someone would have to clean up your guts and mangled dismembered body parts. If you hadn’t had your bowel movement yet that day you would surely have it upon impact. Everyone would know that you brought too much gear and that you were too slow and they would attribute your death to poor route finding or general inexperience. You would be remembered as a Gumby. A Jerry. Someone who was totally out of their element. The newspapers wouldn’t say it but everyone would know that the last thing you did was dab on a VB.

That night detailed visions of my funeral swirled around amongst notions of grandeur and glory and ragged peaks and perfectly fractured granite. I didn’t look good dead but I knew I had to do the climb. It wasn’t about proving to the babes at the crag that it didn’t matter that I couldn’t full crimp on a two-pad in-cut with griptape on it. It was about proving to myself that I was real. More than just a concept. A badass. No but seriously - i don't know what it was about. But I do know that here in Murica we grow up detached from nature and community and as a result we spend so much life trying to find where we fit into something and I don't know where that is for me but maybe it's in the Palisade glacier I dunno. In an alternate universe, I'm not an American bastard -- instead, I'm over in Ireland right now with my entire extended family, rationing potatoes, jigging on the fiddle and getting fucked on by dirty Brits. 


My alarm went off at 3AM and I was moving by 3:15 and eating avocado toast by 3:21. At the end of the day I’m just a basic millennial brat who doesn’t use enough punctuation so smearing avocado on bread in bed in my van is about the most on brand thing I can do next to posting about it which I considered but ultimately did not do (although I guess I am doing it now).

At 3:30 I emptied my pee jug into the bushes and hit the trail. I moved fast and in ten minutes I had stripped off most of my clothing. The trail was mellow but covered in horse dung. I don’t understand the horse thing. Why are we riding them around? Are horses actually down? If you asked the horses whether or not they would like to be dominated by a much lazier and generally less attractive species the answer would almost certainly be “nay” and I’m not going to be riding something that can’t properly consent. 

Not to belabor this point but why do people make horses carry their gear up the mountain for them? Isn’t part of the reason we climb mountains so that we can work hard and suffer a bit? Having the horse (just hire an overpriced college dropout. Just hire me) carry your gear for you is like cucking yourself out of half of the experience. Cut that shit out Jerry Falwell Junior. Gear up.

It was pretty much dark all the way to Sam Mack Meadow and the night air was spooky still and blackish-blue. Up until this point the hike had taken me just over two and a half hours. I felt good about the time so I stopped to fill up water and eat a snack. Sam Mack meadow is a really good looking meadow. It would be a great place to camp out for the night. It would be a great place to do just about anything. I debated calling it all off and spending the rest of my life right there.

I was starting to feel a bit too relaxed what with the pristine waterfalls and a chocolate bar melting in my mouth so I cranked up one of my fave Miles Davis albums (Agartha) on my cell phone in an attempt to produce a psyche. At this point I assumed that I was close to Sill and the start of the climb. 

That was not the case. The rest of the hike was very hard for me. The slog from Sam Mack to the base of the Swiss arete was long and steep and was the crux of the whole day. At this point I was well acclimated to sea level and to beach life in general and as a result I had to stop every twenty or so feet to catch my breath and stave off the vomit. Every time I looked up at Sill it was so much further away. It had all been going so quickly and so well and now suddenly I felt almost certain that I would have to bail. It felt like getting a date with Harry Styles and being teased by his floofy mop and sexy British sensibility for hours and then leaning in for the kiss at the end of the night just to be peed on by his unattractive older brother whilst Harry points and laughs and says “fancy a cuppa?” I felt betrayed. I kept telling myself that all I had to do was get to the base of the climb and then I could reevaluate everything. I kept plodding up the moraine and by the time I had listened to the entirety of the album (which is 97 minutes long) I was almost on stable rock.


At 9:30 I reached what seemed to be the base of the route. I was physically devastated. There were already some big clouds forming over the ridge and I felt quite ill. I forced some potato chips into my mouth and slurped up some water. I looked up at Sill for some silent reassurance but it just seemed to say “fuck you kook.”

I debated with my chocolate bar over whether or not to try to climb at all. I knew that there was an easy escape from the summit of Sill if I got slaughtered on the first peak. I hadn't come all this way just to perform a liquid reversal of my chocolate bar and admit to myself that the only thing I'm capable of in life is bailing (millennial baggage). So I strapped myself up and started climbing. I felt heavy and silly and wondered what the fuck I was doing in the mountains.

I moved slowly but even still the crux came and went fast. I pulled the corner on holds that were way better than what the sprayers had told me and then immediately got to bury whatever I wanted in a bomber crack. There were three brand new cams fixed in the splitter which I of course tried to pry out. I’m sorry that multiple people felt gripped enough on that single move to life-sentence their nice things into the back of that perfect crack. That sucks and we’ve all had those moments. But for those of you seeking beta for this route and some reassurance just know that this isn’t that moment. That moment doesn’t ever come on this climb.

As I hiked the cracks to the top I could feel my spaghetti dinner transitioning rapidly into a formidable bowel movement and I began to worry about the consistency of said movement. It was all happening a little too quickly for my liking. As soon as I reached the summit block I began to crap explosively into my doggie bag. This happens to me on occasion. When my body feels threatened it just force-evacuates. I don’t blame it. These days I come prepared. Not so much in the past but I got pretty sick of wiping my ass with rocks. 

The time was 9:55 and I was several pounds lighter- a pretty dece time for the first peak of the climb and a pretty good sized stool. I started to feel giddy. There was hope. I looked at the rest of the ridge and it was teasing me so hard. From Sill it all looked very small and manageable. “Kook,” it said.

The stretch from Sill to Polemonium was long and slightly annoying but there was nothing difficult about it. Some people have called it third class - there was no climbing involved. I was starting to feel more acclimated now that I was going downhill. 

When I pulled over Polemonium I was amazed to find that I was on a summit. I was also amazed when I discovered that I had full bars. After sending a snapchat of my balls next to the summit register to my friends (jk that’s disgusting) I filed my weekly unemployment cert which was a couple of days overdue. 

“Other than for reasons directly related to the pandemic are you available and willing to go to work?” they ask me every time as if they don’t already know my situation intimately. Available is one thing. I’m always available. But willing? Absolutely not.

When I was 25 I never thought I’d hear myself say that I'm sick of living in a van. But here I am- I'm a bum with no job prospects and absolutely no interest in working. It's hard to justify spending the majority of my life waiting on rich people or making wasteful things that have no real substantive value. Money has never motivated me to do anything good - imo the only thing money motivates people to do is fuck over the people/world around them. Can we just switch to a gift economy already (real quick shout out to Robin Wall Kimmerer and her important book “Braiding Sweetgrass” which anyone who intends to interact with nature (or intends to pretend it doesn't exist) should read)? Doesn't that sound infinitely better to every person out there who isn't a prat?

But maybe some people like having power over others (the porter thing). Maybe they like to feel superior and they spend their whole lives working toward this dream of having other people wait on them. And just like the horse thing: You're a cuck. You are cucking yourself out of the human experience. We are a nation of cucks watching people fuck each other on our tablets and jerking off while we watch someone else do our work for us. Do we all feel so inadequate and substantively worthless that we’d rather watch other people live our lives for us than risk getting dirty and scared and living them ourselves? Are we that afraid of our own humanity? Am I going to demonstrate my own self awareness now by making fun of myself for going off on an anti-capitalist rant in the middle of a trip report like the dumb millennial joke that I am?

The journey from Polemonium into the U-notch was a little bit involved in terms of route finding. I passed a couple of rap slings on my way down and I had to change directions once or twice. I don’t like to talk about difficulty because what really is a 5.6 move but I will say that the climbing was overall pretty secure on very solid rock. The other side of the U-notch was an obvious chimney up through more surprisingly solid rock. This was a fun pitch - not to be missed especially since all of the other ways up North Pal looked loose as fuck.

I summited North Pal around 11:20. You can see absolutely everything from this summit, provided CA isn’t entirely on fire which it wasn’t just yet. I was making (and having a) great time and that was totally mysterious to me. I stopped to make a happy birthday video for my brother’s “friend whom he bangs and shares a deep emotional connection with.” They are millennials too so of course they don’t do labels. We millennials can’t commit to things because every commitment our kindergarten teachers made to us has been broken. “You can be an astronaut” they said. “You can buy a house and raise a family and feel safe” they said.

This was also the only summit register I wrote in. I left a note to my deceased mom because I felt that she would have enjoyed being up there with me. My mom enjoyed climbing at the gym and she was quite good. I never got the chance to take her outside - something I deeply regret. So here you go mom. You were there because I brought you with me. 

Or maybe I was there because you brought me with you. Thanks mom.

The climbing down to the V-notch was exposed and steep yet surprisingly secure with a little bit of cognitive work thrown at you every several moves. Getting across and out of the notch was a scary thing. That was a move that you would not want to fuck up. Basically we're talking about a biiiig step across a deep ravine to three moves of vertical laybacking in a finger-crack into an easy squeeze chimney out right. There are a couple of exciting moves right off the tee where your friends and family really don't want you to blow it. I tried to pull on twice before I felt like I had good enough odds at continuing along with my life but when I went for it I found that it was secure enough for a man that cannot crimp. If you wanted higher odds of going on to have a family and a home that you cannot afford you could place a couple of finger sized pieces and walk them up. After that it was just some more route finding to get to the milk bottle on Starlight which was indeed a bottle and which you should definitely stand on top of if you ever go. That was a unique summit. Very cool. Don’t drink milk become a vegan.

From the summit of Starlight I could see another party off in the distance summiting Thunderbolt. Other than the mysterious dawn child they were the first people I had seen all day. I waved at them but they didn’t see me. I mooned them. 

Getting from Starlight to Thunderbolt was a bit of a slog. I was tired, and it took me a while to pick the right route. It seems like there are several ways to do this. On the way up Thunderbolt I tried to stick to the slabs on the left hand side. They were pretty casual and took me straight to the top (1:10 PM). I eyed the boulder problem summit block and decided that I was going to be just fine in life without becoming intimate with it. From the top of Thunderbolt I looked back at the ridge that I had just climbed and knew deep down that I was still just a stupid kook.

Somehow on the way back down to Underhill from Thunderbolt I ended up coming down a different way - a gully/chimney closer to the glacier side of the ridge. This did not feel as care-free but it also did not scare me enough to make me turn back. Eventually I traversed climbers left on sort of tenuous ground to reach the slabs that I should have already been on. It was exciting and in retrospect I probably should have retraced my steps. 

I had a small potato chip snack at the top of Underhill before sliding down the couloir. Descending the thing is like riding the Skyline Speed Slide at Water World with no water and a hundred or so bowling balls. Don’t do it with a partner or when anyone else is below because they will get pummeled with debris. Go slowly because you are tired and your brain isn’t working very well and because what awaits you at the bottom of the couloir is not necessarily something you want to go sliding into.

It was a low snow year and the Palisade glacier looked like the mammoth mountain parking lot in late April without all of the G wagons. At the base of the couloir there was a steep bergschrund over a pretty deep crevasse. Being a millennial I was of course totally unprepared for this and had no crampons or ice anything and I spent twenty minutes trying to kick steps into the vertical ice while I used a set of sharp rocks to help me downclimb the bergschrund. When I was just above the crevasse I took a deep breath and peered down into the mouth of this gaping slit that was the last hurdle standing between me and something that was also not the ground. I pretended that I wasn't afraid of scary things and threw myself over the divide onto the icy Palisade glacier about a dozen feet below. For an instant I was a highly accomplished and universally feared special operative. Then I landed on my tailbone. Bone. James Bone.

It was just around 2PM when I got onto the glacier proper. Storm clouds were piling up quickly around the ridge and I was pretty happy to be down and alive. I'm not going to go into great detail about the descent - I do not remember it well and I have already taken up far too much of your time with this terribly onanistic account of a pathetic crisis of identity (A deeply American struggle. A Western European Anglo-Saxon cis-male struggle to choose life over being a total cuck. A kook. A gumby. A Jerry Jr.) - but what I will say is that crossing the glacier in late season is a bit scary. Just be careful and proceed with a lot of caution. It's thin in many places and there is often a raging river below the ice.

On the way down I reminded myself with every step that there was tequila in the van and that one of my favorite Mexican restaurants was only 20 minutes from the trailhead and was doing take out until 10PM.

I reached my car at 7PM and of course no longer had any desire to drink tequila. I stripped down to my underwear and plunged my ruined fleshsuit into the creek. I moaned in anguish and ecstasy. Then I drove to Bishop on a mission to slam a huge burrito. That's sort of the end of this trip report. Isn't it? 

But what is the trip? What really is ending?


The following day I took a tab of acid and started driving across the country. Now I live in an apartment on the first floor of an old warehouse. There is a sweet kitty that on occasion shows his true colors and gives his satanic tendencies away. There are nice people who encourage me to be whatever I want to be. I am tending to some plants. These plants show signs of life. Things are different. I havent climbed in a second. It is what it is.

But I'm still a bum and I always will be. I hope you are too. Whatever you do, just dont cuck yourself out of the whole thing. Maybe wipe your own pee off the toilet and try to enjoy that experience and the sour nose taste that it gives you. Find it in your heart to care for yourself and the people and life all around you. Care for people that you don’t have to care for. Give people gifts whenever you can. Have pathetic identity crises that take you deeper or higher or whatever. Interact with the living world. Make it your responsibility to be a part of all this. Get dirty. Get worked. Gear up.

I’m drinking a lukewarm Modelo tallboy as I type this, and I'm pouring one out for you, Poseidon, and for all of your bastard children out there in the trenches, getting tossed by the waves, holding their shrunken junk in their hands and begging the moon for 32 ounces of clarity. 

It's tough being a bastard, not knowing what I am or where I come from, and not being given all that much time to figure it out. 



Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-8 of 8
T. White

T. White - Nov 21, 2020 8:07 pm - Voted 10/10

Captivating read!

One of the most unique trip reports I've encountered on SP or indeed anywhere. Hope to see more.

Iceonmybelayby - Nov 23, 2020 3:18 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Captivating read!

Dear T,

Glad you found it interesting! As long as there is more rock to climb I'm sure I will have more to say!

Sierra Ledge Rat

Sierra Ledge Rat - Dec 10, 2020 1:20 pm - Hasn't voted

Are you my brother?

Totally, dude. Been there, done that. Epic climb to reclaim your life. Yes. And that slog from Sam Mack to Sill seems like 100 miles.

Iceonmybelayby - Dec 29, 2020 3:19 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Are you my brother?

I am your brother!

And thank you. I hope to run into you someday out there in the mountains

Marmootle - Dec 28, 2020 12:20 am - Hasn't voted


I quite enjoyed this read. Found it remarkably motivating to say the least. Well done!

Iceonmybelayby - Dec 29, 2020 3:21 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Brilliant!

Thank you Marmootle! I had a great time on the climb and at the keyboard

Iceonmybelayby - Jan 1, 2021 11:40 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Yes!

Hell yeah thsnks Myles!

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Jan 5, 2021 2:41 pm - Voted 9/10

Did the Same in Reverse

Back in '08, me and two buddies did the traverse starting at South Lake to TBolt (one buddy led the block), Starlight, North Pal, Polemonium, Sill, across the moraine to Sam Mack Meadow and out to Glacier Lodge. Took just under 24 hours. I recall how hairy U Notch and V Notch were and route finding difficulties.
I gotta laugh about your imaginings about what could go wrong on this traverse. My nightmares came afterward, thinking back on our luck that none of made a fatal misstep especially when free soloing the Milk Bottle and TBolt block. No question this little trip is a badass thing to do. Our TR is also on this site "Long Day's Journey into Night."

Viewing: 1-8 of 8



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