Middle Palisade

1-3 Jul 2004 - by Gary Craig (view roster page)

Led by Tom McDonnell and Nile Sorenson, our group of five climbed Middle Palisade from Finger Lake via the standard 3rd class route up the NE glacier and chutes on Friday July 2nd.

From our camp at the outlet of Finger Lake, we ascended the slopes on the west side of the lake to benches and talus above, then stayed mostly on moraine (rather than snow) to the moraine that divides the Middle Palisade glacier into its NW and SE halves. We climbed this moraine to a spot about 100' (vertical) from its top where we moved left onto snow (axes for protection, and kicking steps in the semi-soft snow under the mid-morning sun) for the final portion of the glacier where we easily stepped off the snow at the base of the ramp leading up and right. Those who climb later in the year find that a substantial bergschrund has opened here.

Follow the ramp about 100' into a 3rd class chute. At the "top" of this chute, many reports and guides speak of "traversing" or "entering" the next chute to the right; this is misleading. The chute you are in will indeed merge with the chute to its right, but from the climber's viewpoint you just proceed UP. Do not cross any of the steep blocky fins that divide the chutes, and forget about identifying specific white (or any other color) rocky patches, as they are all over the place. Anyway, at the point where the chutes merge, there is a prominent tower on the climber's right; use this as a landmark for your descent. A few hundred feet below the top, the chute that you are now in does in fact divide; I was struck by the similar appearance of the two choices (both are wide, shallow, 3rd class), and going left (as most guides describe) is correct. This leads directly to the summit area. Our group unfortunately was still trying to find the "traverse right" spot, so we went right, and then crossed right *again*, following some misleading ducks, leaving us *two* chutes to the right of the correct route. We managed to gain the summit ridge in this chute nevertheless, and then enjoyed much tricky routefinding and marginal 4th-class moves to correct our errors, directly along the summit ridge.

We survived all of this and made the summit under partly cloudy skies. Cumulus was building toward a potential afternoon thunderstorm, as had happened the day before as we set up camp at Finger Lake. We spent about 30 minutes on top eating lunch, taking photos, and enjoying the views. Our descent was via the "correct" route, and we enjoyed four nice glissades on various portions of the glacier, speeding our return to camp. The threatening storm did not materialize, at least locally.

This area is known as one of the most mosquito-infested in the entire Sierra. Finger Lake was not too bad, but woe be unto those that camp at Brainard (or below) anytime soon. There were no bugs at all above Finger.

We had originally intended to attempt Disappointment Peak on Saturday the 3rd, but Tom wrenched his knee while descending the moraine, so after discussing various options while back in camp, we decided the better part of valor was to hike out Saturday instead and save Disappointment for another day.


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