Lead by Steve Eckert, Organized by Chris Franchuk; participants: David Shaw, John Cheslick, Jeff Fisher, Michael Rinaldi, Linda Roman.
Those who read my too-common or too-long trip reports know that I do mostly "mountaineering" climbs, not technical climbs. This was a "make a wish" climb for some who asked me how they could ever get accepted on a fourth class climb when there was always a prerequisite of having been on someone ELSE'S fourth class climb: The answer was "let's go try it and you can turn around if you don't feel comfortable". We got 6 out of 7 to the top, no injuries and no headlamps required, on a route none of us had ever done before. That's a success all around! [The one person who did not summit was smart enough to know his limits and stop before the rest of us detected serious trouble - the mountain will be there next year, and so will he.]
I'll skip the boring stuff about hiking to Thunderbolt Pass - everyone agreed that our compromise route stayed low enough to avoid the boulders and high enough to avoid wasting time in the tundra. We camped at the upper reaches of the Barrett Lakes drainage (waypoint HICAMP), and 12000' for the first night in convinced everyone to sit around talking instead of going for an afternoon walk. The wind was howling at Bishop Pass, making us stagger a bit, but decreased long before the alpenglow lit up the ridge.
We left camp about 6am on summit day. After being treated to a stunning Palisades sunset, the not-too-shabby western sierra sunrise was good enough to snap a few pictures but not good enough to linger. We turned our attention to the western approach toward the U-Notch and climbed in the shadows as the sun warmed the other side of the ridge.
I had followed John Kerr across "the catwalk" and up the LeConte route back in 1993, but I was wearing plastic boots at the time (which helped kick steps in the snow right over the chockstones, but which didn't feel good on the highly exposed and downsloping wet friction slabs of the catwalk). This time I hoped to do something different, but several participants wanted the easiest route and thought LeConte fit the bill. Lucky for me, looking at those friction slabs convinced everyone we should go for the Clyde Variation instead. (It also helped that two women camped near us said the chockstones on LeConte were very hard 4th class indeed, probably 5th class.)
I haven't read a report on the Clyde Variation, so I'll go into a bit too much detail. It's a great route if you are confident, but take a rope to rap off. The holds are great, the rock is solid (once you are out of the main U-Notch chute) unlike the LeConte chute, and it's got better views all around. Much better asethetics!
Secor says the Clyde Variation starts 120' below the U-Notch on the west... I'd say it's more like 50' vertical. He also says it's 40' of easy 4th class, but we must have been having a bad day: The first 20 or 30 feet (up to a 2" rap sling and a nice ledge) is really class 3 but most people wanted a belay anyway. The next bit, unless none of us saw the easy way, is actually hard class 4 for another 30 or 40 feet (I put in a cam and a sling for pro on the way) up to a large ledge that goes west around a corner. This ledge is above the level of the U-Notch but just a bit, and was our first sunny spot of the day.
Going around the corner was more excitement than some wanted, even though it amounted to very exposed class 2. We got out the rope again, and I started checking my watch. The ledge, according to Secor, leads to a 3rd class chute: Mark that "hard 3rd class", note that it's very steep, convince your head to ignore the cliff at the bottom, and you won't need a rope. I climbed without a belay, dragging the rope almost full length to a good belay spot and brought people around the corner.
We noted the headwall above and angled a bit to the right as the chute turned into more of a face, and soon the rope came out again. One person called it quits here, and we discussed turnaround times since it was already 1pm. This time I took a belay to go around yet another corner: Our chute had intersected the "chimney variation" at the southern end of the southeast arete, and you had to wave your butt over 300' of air to get around the end of the arete, looking down the chimney at the Palisade Glacier. Once over to the east side, a short friction slab lead to a small saddle and easy class 2-3 into the same bowl the LeConte route leads to.
From the bowl we followed a light rock seam up and left, then cut back under the peak and wriggled through the keyhole to the final summit block: Two awkward but not highly exposed moves and we were on top! Several used a rope on the way down, but none needed a rope above the arete/chimney corner.
This was the toughest peak several participants had done, but everyone accounted well for themselves. I had a lot of competent help handling the rope and spotting other climbers, and it was fun to give back on a peak where I had once been the tentative guy asking for a toprope. (Summit and rappel photos are also at the URL above.)
We hurried back down, realizing that for the return we could rap off the arete near the small saddle instead of going back around the corner. Basically we slid down a straight line from there to where we left the main U-Notch chute, with two long and one short rappels on a single 50m rope. Back in camp by 7pm, we basked in our accomplishment and sat around talking until after 9pm since the night was warm and calm.
Datum,North America 1983,GRS 80,0,-1.6E-7,0,0,0 RouteName,1 ,HIKING RoutePoint,D,TRAILH, 37.1691673843,-118.5656494458,09/21/2000,18:37:25, RoutePoint,D,LONGLK, 37.1486216627,-118.5573882422,09/21/2000,18:37:25, RoutePoint,D,SADRCK, 37.1296691733,-118.5520023667,09/21/2000,18:37:26, RoutePoint,D,BSHPAS, 37.1149492098,-118.5451573695,09/21/2000,18:37:26, RoutePoint,D,TBTPAS, 37.0954978296,-118.5247189370,09/21/2000,18:37:26, RoutePoint,D,HICAMP, 37.0930999346,-118.5249603358,09/21/2000,18:37:26,CAMP AT WATER RoutePoint,D,CHUTE, 37.0898999828,-118.5167799726,09/21/2000,18:37:29,ENTRANCE TO UNOTCH RouteName,2 ,PEAKS RoutePoint,D,NPAL, 37.0942210981,-118.5143387881,09/21/2000,18:37:24,NORTH PALISADE RoutePoint,D,TBOLT, 37.0974880287,-118.5172302094,09/21/2000,18:37:25,THUNDERBOLT PEAK RoutePoint,D,WINCHL, 37.1046602558,-118.5261083212,09/21/2000,18:37:25,WINCHELL MT RoutePoint,D,AGASIZ, 37.1119397713,-118.5306680764,09/21/2000,18:37:25,AGASSIZ MT RoutePoint,D,GOODE, 37.1230602101,-118.5679078662,09/21/2000,18:37:25,GOODE MT RoutePoint,D,POLEM, 37.0933413335,-118.5118282405,09/21/2000,18:37:25,POLEMONIUM PEAK