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Thunderbolt to North Palisade Traverse Dayhike 7-6-07
North Palisade (14,242’)
Marty and I traversed the classic ridgeline from T-bolt to North Palisade on a day of strange weather and witnessed some of the lightening strikes that probably started the Owens Valley fires. Tagging these 3 peaks completed my quest to day hike all the CA 14ers, WooHoo!
We got started from the South Lake TH at 3:40 am on a very comfortable morning. We got up to Bishop Pass at 5:40am and after a quick snack we headed over to T-bolt Pass 7:10am. At T-bolt pass, Marty noticed that my brand new 1-day old BD Speed L33 pack had a hole poked in the side and was already showing scuff marks that must have happened on the short scramble from Bishop Pass to T-bolt Pass, WTF!
I set a measured pace on the scrambled up the snow-free SW Chute #1 (Secor) and kept telling myself not to bonk and save something for the long day ahead.
Got to the T-bolt notch 8:55am and looked east and down onto the magnificent Palisade Glacier (we could a few people way down on the glacier, cool). A quick scramble south of notch and up the ~50’ class 4 headwall and a short bit further put us at the base of the T-bolt summit block at 9:10. While I put on the rock shoes and harness, Marty quickly boulder’d the 5.9 summit block in his approach shoes and set a toprope for ol’ Uncle Ricky to follow.
About this time we noticed some cloud cells building and rain squall action starting in various areas (no storm front, just localized rain-cloud cells).
While getting to T-Bolt via the SW Chute #1 is reasonably straight forward, the rest of the traverse from T-bolt to Starlight and then to North Palisade is a bit confusing. Although Marty had soloed this traverse before and knew the route, I wanted to have a mental picture of the “route” in my head. So I had scoured all the different route descriptions and sources that I could find. It seems that everyone has done it differently and found different sections to be the crux and has all the makings for an epic day high in the Sierras. Hopefully some of my photos & captions help to provide some route info.
From the T-bolt summit, we headed south along the flat ridge and slightly to the climbers left (east) to reach the top of a steep chute that some descriptions call a “chimney”. This leads down about 150-200’ until one can traverse west around the arête onto the top of some easy slabs the lead down to the T-bolt-Starlight notch. Bearbzn’s photo provides excellent details of this section Bearbzn Photo
Starting along the traverse I got into the habit of checking and double-checking almost every rocky block I touched to be sure that it was secure enough to weight. There are a lot of loose blocks along the ridgeline. It’s not chossy, but with about 1/2 mile of ridgeline you encounter lots of opportunities for finding loose ones. Anyway, this activity slowed me down a bit (better safe than sorry) and Marty patiently waited for me to catch up.
From the Thunderbolt-Starlight notch (10:20) we zigzagged up the main arête towards the Milkbottle on Starlight. This section was reasonable and the route kind of “showed” itself to us as we headed up back and forth on the arête with a few tricky class 4 sections. We got to the base of the Milkbottle at 11:05.
Just as on T-bolt, Marty quickly scrambled up the Milkbottle and set the toprope so I could tag the true summit of Starlight. After a quick snack and some photos we headed down the NW side (same way we had come up the last 150’) of the summit formation to some ledges that lead SW and around a corner. From this corner we headed over (east) to the main arête that leads down to the Starlight-North Pal notch. From here it was a bit tricky to get to the Starlight-North Pal notch (the crux for me).
Just above the Starlight-North Pal notch, as I was watching Marty from above working the tricky traverse around some huge blocks on the east side and slightly lower than the Starlight-North Pal notch, we heard the first of many thunder cracks over by Mt Winchell or Agassiz. Oh sh**! We’ve got to move fast and get up and over North Pal and down into the west side of the U-notch quickly. So I got out the 30M x 8mm rope and did a quick rappel down the last ~30’ into the notch (12:30). There were lots of slings at this rap station, so I suspect that this is part of the typical route to get to the Starlight-North Pal notch. Other than the summit blocks on T-bolt and Starlight, this was the only time I needed to use a rope. Uhm …. of course Marty never needed any rope the whole day.
From the Starlight-North Pal notch we zigzagged up the north side of North Pal with lots of crossing back and forth to find the easy line and moving quickly as possible. As each cloud-cell whipped by, the winds would start to howl and it made it hard to hear the next thunder crack. We could see some of the many cloud-cells and lightening strikes that probably started the fires in Owens Valley. With the wild weather, we abandoned any hope of tagging Polemonium and/or Sill (we had hoped to get all 5 peaks in a day).
We got to the summit of North Palisade at 1pm (WooHoo!) and quickly signed the register and with no time to enjoy a snack, rest, or anything else on this luscious summit, we quickly headed down. We got hit by a quick snow flurry just as we left the summit. To avoid ridgeline exposure to lightening in the U-notch chimney, we opted for the Clyde Variation as describe by Secor (some call this the LeConte route).
The Clyde Variation takes the western chute just below the “white bands” that are normally traversed on the western side about 200-300’ north of the top of the U-notch chimney. We descend this chute for about 400’ until one can turn the corner (heading south) and followed a series of ledges that lead down into the gully on the western side of the U-notch (1:40).
Descending this SW chute back down towards the Palisade Lake area was much harder than I imagined. This is a steep gully with lots of loose rocks and scree near the angle of repose. We criss-crossed the gully one at a time to avoid bombing each other with rocks. After about an hour of slipping and sliding, we got to bottom (2:40) and head north-west across lots of talus and back over to the T-bolt Pass (3:20).
Up to this point we had only seen some people way down on the Palisade Glacier approaching the area just below T-bolt, and now saw a couple of people descending the bottom part of the SW Chute #1. Surprisingly few people for a July 4th weekend.
From T-bolt Pass, we basically retraced our steps from 8 hours earlier and headed back across to Bishop Pass 4:30pm and finally got back to the South Lake TH at 6:40pm (CTC ~15 hrs).
All summit registers were enact
Except for a little bit of snow in the talus just before Thunderbolt Pass, there was no snow in any of the chutes or along the ridgeline, very dry.
Last water source between Bishop Pass and T-Bolt Pass were some small run offs about a quarter of the away across. You can get water in the lakes lower on this traverse and in the Palisade Lake basin on the way back, but it means losing a lot of elevation.
It looked like South Lake is about 25’ lower than normal, a very very dry year.
Another great day in the Sierras with great company
Here are some photos
ps, the balls of my feet were so sore from all the talus hopping, that we decided to take a rest day and do some easy rockclimbing in Tuolumne Meadows that involved belays from the car or <100’ approaches