Climbing some great 14ers
Palisades trip of 8/26 – 8/29/08
About 5 am on August 26, Mike Brooks picked me up and we drove to Bishop, CA to get a wilderness permit for Dusy Basin. We walked into the ranger station about 9:30 am and were issued a free permit for up to 5 days. There are limits on how many permits are issued, but if you walk in before 11 am and they have any left for that day you are set! They will reserve permits for $5/person/day if you don't want to take a chance. We drove the 22 miles from Bishop to the South Lake trailhead (9,800’). From there we hiked to Bishop Pass (11,960’) and headed cross country to the lake, (approximately 6 miles total) in about 3 ½ hours.
Our plan was to establish a base camp near Lake 11,393 and climb over Thunderbolt Pass (12,360’) each day as we attempted to do various peaks in the Palisades. From camp, we could reach the pass in about an hour of boulder hopping and return to camp from the pass in about 45 minutes after our climb each day. The only climbing gear we took were a 20 meter 8mm rope which I had purchased to afford some protection on the summit blocks and for short stretches of Class 4 down climbing such as the falls on the route to Starlight, and a pair of climbing shoes, harness and rappel equipment for summit block attempts.
We saw about 2-3 hikers each day we were at the camp and they were all just spending one night and passing on. The first morning, we woke about 6 am to a clear dawn with mild temps in the mid 40s. By 6:30 we were ready to head for the pass and attempt Thunderbolt Peak (14,003’).
Shortly after dropping down from the pass, you reach the SW Chute #1 which leads to the summit which has an imposing block that is challenging (5.8)for a 62 year old to surmount. We discussed the various approaches generally used and settled on throwing a 20 meter 8 mm rope over the top from the east side and then climbing the west face on belay. This approach evolved after trying to figure if Mike could support 150% of his body weight standing on his shoulders to get started up the east side of the summit block. While we pondered where he could brace his feet, I decided to try throwing my 20 meter rope over the top to see how hard that would be. My first throw hit the top, but slid down to the right and fell down into a crack 10' below me. When I tried to retrieve it, it became stuck and the next 20 minutes were spent trying to dislodge it. As a result of climbing down and working on it, a route around to the west side of the block became obvious so I took a trip around for a look. The climbing angle and rock features looked much better there, so when I finally cut my rope free, we again tossed it over the top with a better throw. I went back around and tied in to have some protection as I attempted the climb and Mike was going to give me a little belay.
If you try this, don't do what we did! As I started climbing, the rope slid off the top and way down the edge leaving free solo as the best option. This will definitely get your attention! There are some slings and bolts on the top which were convenient for use in rappelling back to safety and it was a great relief to reach them.
After spending close to an hour around the summit and signing the register, we headed back to camp arriving around 2 pm with plenty of time for a refreshing swim in the lake.
The second morning, we again found ourselves underway about 6:30 and decided to try N Palisade (14,242’)
Mike on N Palisade
which I had failed to make 4 years previously on the U Notch approach after having done Polemonium. This time, we elected to try the less technical Le Conte route and were able to reach the summit with considerable effort.
View east from N Palisade
The weather was again perfect and we enjoyed the summit views for more than 30 minutes before heading back to camp which we reached about 2:30 pm for what became my daily celebratory swim.
The third morning, we left on schedule to try Starlight Peak (14,200’)
Climbing to Starlight
via the West Chute route. There was not much water in the falls that are in the second gully a little above the catwalk that permits entry from the initial gully. We were able to climb nearly to the top of the falls and then exit to the right on an exciting mantle move. As we reached the ridge top, we were about midway between Starlight and N Palisade. We were able to traverse along the eastern side with some airy moves to the summit of Starlight in about 10 - 15 minutes.
Starlight from N Pal Starlight summit
To climb the summit block, I went to the end facing N Palisade and used a layback technique on the west side of the block to get started and then walked up to the higher portion and climbed up the eastern edge to a place where a comfortable stance could be maintained while securing to the slings on the top for a rappel down.
We headed back down carefully and reached our camp about 1:30 deciding to quit while we were ahead instead of pursuing Mt Sill and Polemonium via the long ridge from the U Notch the following day. We packed up and hiked back to the trailhead leaving camp about 2:40 pm and reaching the car in a little over 3 hours of steady hiking. It was only 6:30 pm when we reached Bishop and we headed home to Las Vegas arriving about 11:30 pm after several stops for fuel and coffee.
The trip was as successful as we could have hoped and Mike and I agreed that without the efforts of both of us, none of the climbs would have been successful. This trip enabled me to reach a total of 13 of the 15 California 14ers with only Sill and Split remaining…neither of which requires difficult technical climbing if easy routes are chosen. The Palisades peaks are some of the most challenging climbing I have ever done due to their elevation and the rock quality is superb.
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