North Palisade

16-20 Aug 2000 - by Andy Martin

Short report: North Palisade is one tough sun-of-a-gun.

Incredibly verbosified report:

8-16 Guy and Andy drove to Bishop from Tucson, met up with Adam and Edward at 4 Jeffrey Campground ($12) a few miles north of South Lake. The high peaks were a bit cloudy in the afternoon, but this was the only bad weather spotted on the entire trip - other days being clear and sunny. Adam asked ranger station to leave his permit (for group) in the Bishop pick-up box, and this worked well.

8-17 Andy set alarm for 5:00 AM, and rousted Guy off his cot a bit after that. The long term parking area by South Lake only had 2 open slots, and they both filled pretty quick. Edward ended up parking some distance downhill later in the morning.

We met up at Bishop pass for lunch, then headed on to Thunderbolt Pass. We went by way of 11,880' +(40) lake outlet, gradually downhill on nice benches, then to big 11,640+ (40) bench above largest lake in Dusy Basin. Now it was all uphill, with a lot of rock hopping up to saddle.

Here we had a vote on camping at the saddle (1.5 votes) or continuing down to well watered bench at about 12,000' just south of the pass. (2.5 votes). The higher camp required less hiking, but was windier, cramped, and might require melting snow. In any case, the lower camp worked out well for everyone. The altitude pretty much killed my appetite, so I forced down a freeze dried dinner and turned in early.

8-18 Andy set alarm for 5:00 AM, and got to roust everyone out of their sleeping bags. We headed off for the LeConte route. Catching the right chute was a bit tricky, buy we used a xeroxed photo of page 67 of Porcella and Burns "California's Fourteeners" to lock in on the right route. This book has good route descriptions and photos, and I'd recommend it for North Pal climbers.

A herd path was also found, and the ground was a mix of loose dirt and rock. At 13,100' we found the key ledge without much difficulty. It was completely dry, fairly wide, and usually had good handholds, though it was downsloping in sections. In any case we all got across without needing a belay or handline. I did resort to seat of the pants sliding right at the start. The ledge went around a corner after about 70', got very wide, and difficulties were over. Continue perhaps 200' to the last cairn. From here a clear view is presented of your route up the mountain to your right.

We gained the next 400' vertical fairly easily, and got close to the point where a narrow chute is entered. Here a 30' steep patch is encountered, where we used a handline to assist climbing up and (later) down. Once in the chute the first chockstone was reached, with a 30' long patch of snow below it. Once again the rope was used to aid ascent and descent here. The snow could be bypassed to the right, (all right/left directions are given looking uphill) so crampons were not needed. A boost can be used to get over the big step here, so parties without a strong lead climber could probably get by this spot.

However, they would be stopped at the next barrier, the crux of the route, another chockstone perhaps 12' above another snow patch. An ice axe was handy for chopping footholds here (though not essential). Edward was able to climb past the chockstone, placing one piece of protection, and Guy and Adam were able to swarm up the rope he placed here. Andy had to resort to a one legged prussic to make up for a missing foothold. It was a struggle to get packs up this spot. We all rappelled down this drop on the descent - Andy's first ever rappell.

Not much further uphill you reach the top of the chute, and drop into another one to the right. There was a small rock shelter here, and we left almost all our climbing gear, and the rope. Elevation is perhaps 13,800'. Heading up to the summit bowl another chockstone is passed to the left (Andy), straight over (Adam $ Edward), or to the right (Guy), which is the easiest way.

Things got confusing in the last few 100 feet of climb. Porcella and Burns page 68 states:

"Continue up the basin to gain the summit ridge, From here the northeast face can be seen dropping away. Turn west and continue climbing between the huge summit boulders until the summit platform is achieved"

I took this to mean the summit ridge SE of the peak could be traversed. Maybe there was a nice patch of tundra over the ridge, like Franc's Peak ? (NOT !)

Unfortunately, I went up to the ridge too soon, and was blocked by a large gendarme. After dropping down and passing the mini-tower it was back up to the knife edge ridge, which was still way too tough for me to traverse. Edward and Adam went up to the ridge just west of the summit, but were also stymied. So close, and yet so far !

In any case, we eventually blundered on the real zig-zagging route up, by aiming for a point perhaps only 50 feet to the right of the summit block. In detail -

  1. Follow faint herd paths to a broken white streak that zigs left. Go aling the white streak perhaps 20 yards till it peters out.
  2. Now zag back to right in a split ledge. Pop out of the split near a cairn (there are not many cairns to outline the route)
  3. Continue to top of split ledge, then zig up to left a short distance.
  4. Zag up to right a short distance.
  5. An unusual spot is reached - you have to zig downhill to the left about 10 feet, and end up on top of an overhanging rock. From here you can crawl up about 5 feet thru a 1 foot wide crack to avoid a more exposed route route up. You are now in a roomy opening between huge rocks. Head across room towards the top.
  6. It is about 5 feet up to a nice 1 foot square platform. You can either drop down a crack on far side and wriggle your way forward, (if small enough), or take a big step up a bannister like rock. In either case you will finally see the summit rock, which is only 20 feet of easy going further on.
  7. Collapse breathless on the summit.

      Views are great, Sierra Club register and a couple BM are found, and we enjoyed a breezy and all too short summit stay.

      Descent was slow and uneventful, and we arrived back at high camp after 6PM. I forced down Ramen soup (much better than the old freeze dried meal from previous night) and headed for the sack. Another night of trying to find the least sore hip to roll over on.

      8-19 No early alarm this morning. Lots of ice on the tent, and no sun due to shade of North Pal. Hiked out to trailhead a bit after 3 PM, left Guy at a bush camp for further adventures with Jeff Smith, and I bush camped myself near Ludlow CA. The hot desert winds were quite a change from previous night.

      8-20 Back to Tucson by noon.

      Trip trivia:

      This was Guys 3rd attempt on the Pal, Edwards second, while Andy and Adam were North Pal virgins.

      While on the summit you are:

      • Highest person in Fresno county CA
      • Highest person in Kings Canyon NP
      • On a USA 14,000' peak.
      • On a top 50 highest USA county HP
      • On a California Fifty Finest also ran (#52)
      • On "one of the most sought after summits in all CA"
      • On an APEX county HP
      • On a 5,000' gain county HP
      • On a HE-MAN county HP.
      • Highest person in the Kings river watershed

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