Ascent of North Palisade on 2016-07-30

Climber: Scott Larson

Date:Saturday, July 30, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:North Palisade
    Elevation:14242 ft / 4340 m

Ascent Trip Report

North Palisade July 30, 2016

On Saturday, July 30, 2016, Julian, Sarah, and I climbed North Palisade (14242 ft).

Sidenote: Julian and Sarah have been absolutely crushing it in the Sierra all year, including knocking out two fourteeners in two days (Muir and Langley). In June, Sarah was nervous about the exposed class 3 route up Dragon Peak. Fast forward to North Palisade, where she's climbing class 5 and cruising over exposed 4th class summit blocks like they're cake. Julian is wicked fast even with a heavy pack (he hauled the rope), and always has a treasure trove of snacks in his pack: Cheerios, Cheez-its, Goldfish, tuna, chips, etc.

I drove up Friday after leaving work early and took a two hour nap before we got started. The South Lake trail to Bishop Pass is very well maintained and ascends gradually over ~5.5 miles from 9700 feet to the pass at 12000 feet. It gets slightly steeper and there are many switchbacks up the last 500 feet to the pass. There's an unnamed pond just over the pass where we filtered water and refilled our Camelbaks.

From here, the hike gets difficult as there is no trail, just endless talus hopping, which gets harder as the route circles around to the south side of Agassiz and Mt Winchell, occasionally going through very loose chutes and landslides, as well as traversing steep slabs (trust your rubber!) and pretty patches of flowers. Winchell has some amazing looking terrain on its south face that I must climb. The sky lightened as dawn approached, but our view of the sunrise wasn't great due to the Palisades blocking the eastern horizon. Dusy Basin, however, looked magical with its many lakes surrounded on all sides by steep peaks. The last sliver of a waning crescent moon hung in a notch between spires of Winchell.

Two miles of talus hopping brought us to Thunderbolt Pass as the sun's light hit the tips of the distant peaks above Barrett Lakes. Another 0.7 miles of boulder hopping finally brought us to the base of the southwest chute, which we scrambled up to reach the U-Notch. Rockfall was a serious danger, especially for me being below Julian and Sarah. Occasionally, a baseball sized rock would come whizzing by my head. I stayed to the sides and moved up when there was nobody directly above me.

Below, at 12000 feet, with minimal acclimation time, I began feeling the effects of the altitude and my body slowed down. At the top of the 13900 foot notch, Julian flaked out the rope and asked if I wanted to lead the climb. I replied "yes, but hold on a minute," and vomitted. The masochist in me wasn't going to let a little AMS ruin this sufferfest. I immediately felt better and had fun leading the first half of the chimney to the belay station. I belayed Julian and Sarah, then Julian led the second half. The route was completely dry and easy to do in mountaineering boots. There's a short class 3/4 traverse where sources say to "drop into a bowl" before scrambling the final large (and exposed) blocks to the summit.

It was clear all morning, but there were forecasts of 20-40% rain in the afternoon. Clouds started to form around noon, and on the summit, we could see the peaks north of us getting rained on. I think some parties were stormed off Agassiz. The weather remained perfect for us. It was quite warm in the sun but there was enough breeze to keep cool. We only stayed on the summit for a few minutes to avoid getting caught in a storm up high. We rappelled from the summit to the bowl and traversed back to the top of the chimney. Julian and I rapped down and lowered Sarah (we'll teach her how to rappel soon!). Rockfall was again a worry on the way down, but we found sandy patches to descend and rockfall was less of an issue. At the base of the chute, the pain in the ass boulder hopping began again. After what felt like hours, we made it to Thunderbolt Pass. This wasn't much of a relief, as I realized we still had two miles to go to Bishop Pass. Ugh! This stuff takes forever and I was moving at a snail's pace. My sweaty feet shifting around in my boots formed a blister on the ball of my left foot, and it felt enormous. Upon inspection the next morning, it was much less severe than I thought.

We reached the small pond at Bishop Pass just as the sun was setting and the scenery was brilliant. Again, we filtered and refilled our water reservoirs. I was glad to be done talus hopping and back on a cruiser trail. Halfway down the switchbacks, we turned our headlamps on. As we descended, I began feeling much better and my pace reflected that. I got a few mosquito bites as we reached the uppermost lake and stream crossing, which motivated me to move faster to avoid these little bloodsuckers. Just passed Long Lake, we found ourselves climbing a steep trail that I didn't remember from the morning. We ended up taking a wrong turn and heading up the trail to Bull Lake. Happily, we caught our mistake early and it was only a 10 minute detour. An hour later we made it back to the trailhead, said our tired goodbyes, and promptly passed out in our vehicles. What a fantastic 18 mile, 22 hour sufferfest with great company.

0120 Start
0400 Bishop Pass
0645 Thunderbolt Pass
0820 Base of SW chute
1007 Top of U-Notch
1230 Top of chimney
1303 Summit!
1508 Top of U-Notch
1618 Base of SW chute
1725 Thunderbolt Pass
2006 Bishop Pass
2310 Finish
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb
    Gear Used:
Rope, Ski Poles
Ascent Statistics
    Route:South Lake to SW chute to 5.4 chimney variation
Descent Statistics

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