Rewinding back just a bit, Scott Kreider and I, Arun Mahajan, slogged up the four thousand feet plus on Saturday morning to get to the so-called Gayley Camp in about eight and half hours. Big Pine Creek has a lot of water in this heavy-snow year and Sam Mack Meadow was under snow. It required a bit of route finding from Sam Mack to Gayley Camp and the soft snow and heavy packs caused a lot of post-holing. At camp, but climbing on seperate permits than us, were our friends, Rick and Dee Booth, Rick's friend, Al Peery (1000+ climbs at J Tree!) and Robert Yang. It is a great campsite and despite the amounts of snow, there were enough bivy spots for all of us and even water dripping from the snow nearby.
Sunday morning, we started off early, with myself, Scott and Dee in the leading group at about 6am. Ice-axe/crampons were needed right away. We circled the glacier-bowl from the left and reached the top of the bergschrund at the base of the U-Notch at 7.45am. We tried to probe going over the schrund on the right but the bridge was too weak but we were able to carefully work our way from the left, first circling then over the lip onto a catwalk and then over the top lip. Even though there was a lot of snow, it was brittle. This is definitely a no-fall zone. After some careful and strenous climbing, especially the last 100 feet below the actual headwall-like top of the notch, we were there and it was about 10am then. Right way, in unison, we decided that we would rather rap the U-Notch than down climb it on our return.
As we got set up for climbing the two pitch chimmney, Rick and Al came up as well. Rick and Dee decided to do Polemonium and Scott, myself and Al, all of us who had not done North Pal before, decided to head for it. Scott took the first pitch and used his two-rope system (60m, 9.5mm) and got me and Al to the end of the first pitch (marked by slings). I took the second pitch. It is easier and probably correct, on this pitch to go right of the mid-way chockstone but since I did not know, I went left. This was not very difficult either, maybe 5.5 or 5.6. This got me almost to the summit ridge. After Al and Scott came up on belay, Al decided to trail a rope on the ridge. This is an excellent alpine setting with lots of snow and is on top of the higher, 'hanging' plateau of NPal that one can see from the east side and is north of the U-Notch. Al led, staying on the right of the ridge most of the time and ended almost a full rope length away and then belayed us both simultaneously. There is a slab crossing in this section that has a high pucker factor because even though there is good friction on the slab, there are very few holds for hands and feet. After getting to Al, we went ropeless, now on the west side of the ridge, dropping a little below the ridgeline till the main summit area where we intially went left on a ramp and it was there that Al turned around and lo! we could see Rick and Dee on the summit of Polemonium. Al yelled out, "Rick, left or right?" and it was then that Rick shouted back, "Go right". Sure enough, after going right, we were at the summit blocks and a weird class-4 move was needed to get to the real summit. Scott and Al, taller than me, could step into the chimmney/crack and using their right arm and chicken-wing up but I had some difficulty but Al offered me a hand and I was soon on the top. Finally! The register was missing from the can. I wonder if it is the same cheeky beggar we read about on the mailing lists, who has been pilfering registers? There is an outstanding view from the top. We saw and even heard a couple of people on Starlight's Milkbottle.
Al found a rap station just a little south and west of the summit and we rapped to the ramp mentioned above. This time, at the ridge traverse we did not need a belay and just walked accross. It didnt seem as intimidating this time. Two raps got us down to the notch and we were pleasantly surprised to see Rick and Dee waiting for us there. We all started down together. They had a double rope system also. So, 4 ropes, 5 people. Plus, Rick volunteered to down climb the couloir...sounded like an ideal setup to get down quickly but this was not to be. Smaller diameter double ropes tend to tangle quickly so we took an inordinate amount of time getting down. At one point, the absolute tip of one end of Scott's rope got stuck in the rap station and Scott had to climb up to retrieve it. We all rapped over the schrund. Due to the lack of sun and the cold wind, the snow in the couloir had hardened but the walk back to camp was painful because of the postholing as the snow in the glacier bowl, being in the sun so long, was softer. Finally, we got back to camp just as it got dark, making it a really full day.
The next day, Monday, we woke up late and hiked out, splitting up as the carpools dictated.
Gear notes: Ice axe/crampons/helmet mandatory. Rock gear: Take a lot of slings and some throwaway ones in case the existing slings at the rap stations are worn but they looked good when we were there. We had taken a whole set of stoppers, some Aliens and Camalots upto #3 (single set).
The description in Secor and Fiddler/Moynier is correct but details on the ridge traverse are sketchy. Once on the ridge, it is not too hard to find the way. The slab on the ridge is severely exposed. On the ridge, stay east after the 2nd Chimmney-pitch till past the slab and switch over west when close to a tall gendarme and then squeeze through this gendarme and another slab on the west. Continue west and downward to a left going ramp and then turn right to go to the summit area. The two rock pitches could be rated 5.0 and 5.4 if going right or 5.5 if going left while climbing up). The Chimmney which has these two pitches begins right at the notch, straight up. Dont go right or left.
Thanks to Rick Booth for his report of the climb that he did with Dee in 2000 and for all the route beta and to everybody else for their fine company and assistance along the way.