After 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.
Unsure 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.
Looking up from the Col we decided to start off without a rope, as the climbing didn't look too difficult save one section at the highest point we could see from where we were. It turns out that these would be the hardest moves of the entire climb, and pulling up on these somewhat loose blocks had me a little nervous. Up above here we finally found some sunshine and soaked a little in to warm up. The rest of the way to the gully below the summit tower was fun, easy scrambling with great views. We ran into a group of 4 maybe 100 feet below the summit who had scrambled up the scree chute leading down and to the west. They had a rope and rack and the guy didn't want to lead up to the top. He asked if I could set his rope up on the bolt on top, I told him if he gave me some of his cams I'd make an anchor up there for him but didn't think it would be a good idea or even possible for him to top rope from so far away on one bolt. He couldn't make up his mind so I told him we had a lot of climbing left to do and they'd have to fend for themselves. We continued to solo up to just below the summit itself. Brett took mercy on me as the guy with the blown knee and volunteered to climb up the east side of the summit block. The moves are insecure and you risk falling into the hole below the unprotected moves. It was a little tenuous but Brett got up no problem and gave me a belay onto the summit. I brought the summit register with me to the summit, where it belongs. We rapped down and climbed down into the notch between Thunderbolt and our next obstacle, Starlight Peak.
The 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.
We both soloed up to the summit, me climbing first with the rope so we could rap down. From here we could see the team that had been 100 feet below the summit of T-Bolt, now trying to figure out the summit block itself. We didn't take too much time here as the clouds were moving quickly now.
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.
It was a short jaunt up to the summit of Polemonium, and we found none of the flowers that are this peak's namesake. Coming off the summit there is an awesome, fabulously exposed traverse that leads over to the easy talus ridge between Polemonium and Sill. Once we got through this 4th class section, it started to hail again.
Mt. Sill + Descent
Brett and I had been to the summit of Mt. Sill before, after climbing the Swiss Arete a couple of years back. Even so, it seemed like ducking down the descent without making Sill's summit on this trip would be selling ourselves short, so despite our exhaustion we finished the route. It was all easy talus slogging, but it felt like 2000 vertical feet to get up the last 200. The descent back onto Palisade Glacier was quick, but the slog back down to camp took forever and we arrived after dark. A quick look around found my dad sleeping in his one person tent. I woke him up, told him we made it, and then Brett and I crashed out without eating or bear bagging our food, instead opting to sleep with it in between us, a tactic I use often in the Sierra. It was a pretty miserable night, as it was very windy and our campsite was on a bunch of fine grained granite dust that by morning had filled my sleeping bag. We slept in a bit due to our exhaustion, but didn't hang around too long because the wind picked up even more once the sun came out. The hike out was uneventful, but the traditional post-climb meal at Carl's Jr. rejuvenated my soul. I wouldn't see Brett again for another month when we would climb another great route, the East Ridge of Bear Creek Spire. Dad and I crashed in Bishop that night and drove back to the Bay Area on Labor Day. I'm sure I had a smile on my face the whole way as I thought of another great climb in the Palisades. Thanks for a great trip Brett!