North Palisade

29 May 1995 - by Joe Stephens

The trip description in the Scree and on the email broadcast generated responses from several people. On the trail we were four. I'd had very little luck convincing the other climbers (now they believe me) to leave early and pack in to Lon Chaney's cabin on Thursday evening, but I wasn't going to lose any sleep over it so I left Fremont Thursday morning and got to the Big Pine trailhead hiker parking lot after six that evening. Reserved permits aren't required until June 29 this year so I filled out a self-issue permit with the campground host, dropped the pack at the end of the road, parked the car in the hiker parking lot and started walking back up to the pack. The trail which starts up from the end of the road is getting washed out and overgrown near the streams. With this added bushwhacking it may be easier for the North Fork to just start up the trail from the hiker parking lot. Got to the cabin about eight and had a nice long restful night's sleep there on the porch while the rest of the group was driving the lonely highways 'til the wee hours of the morning and not reaching the cabin until nine on Friday.

Friday was a beautiful crystal clear sunny typical Sierra day. Past the cabin the snow soon covered the trail. We trudged for a few hours trying to get our packs as high as possible for camp. Two of us stopped ~11,800 at 2:30 and camped in the little tarn above Sam Mack Meadow. The other two stopped an hour later at the meadow. The post-holing was particularly noticeable on the slope leading from the stream up to the meadow. We spent the next five hours melting snow, cooking, and gassing up for the next day. There was no running water after crossing the stream at ~10,500, and even there we were digging down a few feet in the snow to find it.

Saturday was a grey overcast day with darker clouds that kept dropping lower. The two of us that had camped higher crossed the bergschrund and took turns kicking steps in the deep snow up to the U-notch. The 'schrund wasn't a big problem with enough snow to walk across. We reached the notch about 10:00 and kept watching and waiting for the weather to give us a sign. The peaks were socked-in, with clouds blowing from the South through the notch. To the North we could see several squalls below us. To the South we couldn't see anything most of the time. After about an hour and a half we got snowed off just as we were getting ready to go on belay. We'd thought we might at least go up the chimney while waiting for the weather. The two pitches in the chimney had looked passably clear of snow, etc. with some ice in the first pitch. It continued snowing on and off as we went back to camp where we found the other two waiting. Later in the afternoon the sky cleared mostly with some clouds around the peaks and some snow squalls passing through. At times we wished we had stayed at the U-notch and given it a try, but we had left some good snow steps for the next day. Around camp we decided to forego T-bolt and take another run at North Pal on Sunday.

Sunday was mostly clear with a few clouds around the peaks. We got back up to the U-notch about 8:00 where some students from UCSD soon joined us. The wind was chilly and the sun felt great when the clouds let it through. We climbed slowly up the two pitches clearing snow and ice from some of the holds, making more work than usual. We carried our ice axes and crampons along - wearing the crampons for the first pitch. In the past I've left both at the U-notch. By 1:00 four of us had climbed to the top of the 4th class chimney. One of the UCSD hopefuls had joined up with us and we went for the top. With the fresh snow everywhere we belayed much of the way to the summit, which is usually a scramble. After a traverse we dropped down ~80' on the South side of the ridge and then back up to the summit boulders. We got baked through this section with clouds now widely scattered and the wind quiet on the South side. The register was buried in a couple of feet of snow and eluded us despite a fair amount of poking around with an ice axe, but we have pictures for those who require proof. We were back to the top of the chimney by 5:30 where we used two 120' 8.5mm ropes tied together for two rappels, back to the U-notch by 7:45.

Monday was clear and beautiful. We packed out to the cars by 11:00 and drove. Trip participants were Craig Clarence, Steve Shields, Tony Cruz, Jeff from UCSD, and myself, Joe Stephens.


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