Thunderbolt Peak 2x SPS / WSC / PD / CS
Starlight Peak PD / CS
North Palisade 2x P2K SPS / WSC / PD / CS
Polemonium Peak 2x WSC / PD / CS

Wed, Aug 21, 2002

With: Joe Hanssen
Greg Peak

Thunderbolt Peak
Starlight Peak
North Palisade
Polemonium Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2
Thunderbolt Peak previously climbed Sat, Aug 5, 2000
North Palisade previously climbed Fri, Aug 4, 2000
Polemonium Peak previously climbed Fri, Aug 4, 2000

Sierra Mountaineers Challenge 2002 - Day 5


DEET-DEET ... DEET-DEET ... DEET-DEET. It makes a very soft sound in reality, but going off at 4a it still seems rather annoying. I got up, thinking that if I'd been camped outside at 12,000ft with temperatures hovering near freezing instead of in a warm and cozy motel room, I'd probably not be able to get up at this time of morning. I can't decide if this is a good or bad thing. I woke Joe up to get him going and make myself feel better. Misery really does love company, even if it's only minor misery. I walk over and wake up Vishal who's sleeping on the floor. He barely moves. Ah, another fine morning for the Challenge!

Today's agenda calls for a climb of Thunderbolt Peak via South Lake, Bishop Pass, and Southwest Chute #1. I had previously climbed Thunderbolt and its impressive summit block, but not as a dayhike. Additionally, I hoped to also make a traverse to Starlight Peak and North Palisade which I expect will be some of the hardest climbing yet. I have never been to Starlight Peak, so I'm eager to bag this one, and I'm also interested in dayhiking North Palisade as part of my quest to dayhike all the Emblem Peaks. To give ourselves all the available daylight we can, I have pushed the start time at the trailhead for this one up to 5a, from the usual 6a. Another climber, Greg Peak, is expected to meet us at the Bishop Pass Trailhead, so I want to be sure to get there on time. As Joe and I get ready, Vishal stirs and then sits up in his sleeping bag. Mornings are not Vishal's best times. He'd struggled getting ready the previous three mornings, always late to the trailhead. Now his body was protesting - he was both tired and sore and his body was asking for a break. His brain caved and he told us he was going to take a rest day. No need to keep pestering him to wake, we let him fall back to sleep. We had the motel room for another two nights, so there was no need to check out, and Vishal could sleep until noon if he liked.

After a quick breakfast in our room, Joe and I headed out, driving our cars up SR168 towards the eastern escarpment of the Sierra. It was almost completely dark, save for the moon high overhead. Temperatures were cool but not cold, stars out without a cloud in the sky. It certainly looked to be another fine day. At South Lake we parked in the day use lot and found another light from a headlamp bobbing about a car already parked there. Greg had made it on time, early even. Greg hailed from Arizona, and this was the first either Joe or I had met him. He was about my age, and a very likeable chap from the moment we met him. Greg was interested in climbing all the California 14ers, and used this as an opportunity to bag one he'd yet to climb. Via email, we had previously discussed the merits of bringing a rope and gear or leaving it behind. It would certainly come in handy for getting up the summit block, but neither Joe nor I had enough desire to climb the block to bother carrying the rope. There were other sections that are class 4 that a rope might be handy for, though I was confident I could get up those unroped. Joe and I were both happy then when Greg decided to carry a rope and harness for our party. The rope was a short 8mm rope that didn't weigh nearly as much as a regular climbing rope, but it wasn't insignificant either. In addition to our other day supplies, Joe was the only one to bring a helmet. I left mine with the expectation that I'd be climbing up the chute in front of the other two, and therefore have less rockfall danger to be concerned with. My load for the climb was fairly skimpy - a light jacket, a small rain cover, sunscreen, flashlight, three NutriGrain bars, some toilet paper, a lighter, a camera, a map & compass, and a quart and a half of water. I wore long pants, long sleeve T-shirt, jacket, tennis shoes, hat, and some wool gloves, which just kept me warm enough as we started from the trailhead shortly after 5a.

Headlamps ablaze, the three of us wandered past South Lake, just visible as the morning sky began to lighten. We used our headlamps for about half an hour before one by one we turned them off as we plodded along. A year ago I had never been on this fine trail, now it was my third visit, and I was enjoying it just as much. I knew most of the surrounding peaks by name and was learning the names of the lakes as well. Hurd Peak dominates the view to the south on the first part of the trail, but as we passed along Long Lake's east shore, Mt. Goode's majestic north face appeared, making Hurd look rather inferior by comparison. It was 6:30a when the first rays of sunlight struck the Sierra crest to the west, signaling Joe and I to start snapping photos as the day broke in glorious fashion. Joe had been out in front leading the charge up to Long Lake, myself a short distance behind, and Greg further back out of sight. We all caught up together at the lake for a break and headed out. This time I took the lead as Joe stopped more frequently for photographs, and Greg kept his own pace. I cruised past Bishop Lake as the sun alighted on Mt. Goode's southeast slopes, and reached Bishop Pass at 7:15a, well ahead of the others. I had about half an hour's wait for the them to show, and found myself getting cold as my body cooled down. I studied the SW face of Picture Puzzle for routes and otherwise tried to amuse myself while a chill slowly enveloped me. Joe's thermometer showed it to be 32F, not surprising for early morning at 12,000ft (had I camped here, I'd probably just now be getting up, I recalled). Mt. Agassiz rose grandly to the east - the only previous time I'd been to Bishop Pass had been to climb Agassiz on a day with terrible weather and no views. How fine the views would look today. Joe expressed an interest in climbing Agassiz on his way back from Thunderbolt and I might have joined him if I wasn't planning to continue to North Palisade.

After we regrouped and everyone had had a break, we headed southeast into Dusy Basin. Our goal was to traverse as high as reasonable to Thunderbolt Pass to avoid losing excessive elevation down to the lakes that would only have to be regained. Going too high would result in traversing across steep slopes, which would probably take even more time. The traverse here turned out to be as good as I could have expected, and we made fairly good time. A mix of ramps, ledges, boulder hopping, and some unavoidable steep, loose, sandy sections combined to give us quite a variety. It took us a little under an hour to cover the nearly two miles across Dusy Basin, which was a pretty good cross-country pace. Much of that time we were in the shade, the sun hiding behind Isoceles Peak. Though the sunshine that greeted us at Thunderbolt Pass at 8:45a was welcome, temperatures were rising and we would be content to continue in the shade. Looking east into Palisade Basin, we saw a few tents set up at the small lakes several hundred feet below us, but nobody moving about. Dusy Basin had been completely free of visitors - and was just now getting sunlight at the large lake in the middle. We took a short break at the pass and then headed for Southwest Chute #1.

From the pass the chute is quite obvious. Turn left and you can't miss it. We descended a short way and traversed about a hundred yards before we reached the bottom of the chute and started up. Shortly after starting to climb we were back in the shade again. There's some serious climbing ahead and it was going to take some energy, so I was glad to get more respite from the sun. It's a long way up the chute, deceptively far in fact. About a third of the way up a huge chockstone (several large chockstones, in fact) blocks the way. The route description says to go right at this point, but since I had a good lead on the others, I took the time to explore the chockstone. I found a hole in the back side that would let me climb up onto the top of the bottom block, about 15 feet up. But I could go no further up by this route. I took a photo of the others who weren't far below my perch, then climbed back down through the hole. We traversed right onto some class 3 ledges that led around to the start of another chute. We found some ducks here, but I didn't think they were particularly helpful. Once here, where else would one go but up the chute? Here's where we found ourselves deceived - we'd thought we'd already climbed halfway, but really it was little more than a third. Up and up we went. Where the chute divided, we stuck to the right fork which the guidebook said would lead to the notch between the north and south summits. Thankfully, it did. As I climbed the last foot into the notch, the sunlighted flooded into my eyeballs, temporarily blinding me. It was incredibly bright now with the sun reflecting off the light-colored granite. I dug in my pack for my glasses, and let my eyes readjust.

Looking over the other side of the notch I had a fine view of Mt. Gayley and the Palisades Glacier far below. Joe wasn't far behind me, taking a moment to rest as the sun now began to penetrate the chute. Greg was a few minutes further behind, and within about ten minutes we were all at the notch together again. Greg was now beginning to strongly feel the affects of the altitude. Having taken no time to acclimatize, now that we were over 13,000ft it was taking its toll on him as he was fairly winded. Though we'd been beating ourselves up the last four days, at least now Joe and I were feeling none of the usual affects of the altitude, feeling the same as if we'd been climbing at 7,000ft. The next section is a short pitch of class 4, though from the notch it certainly looks tougher, and even afterwards Joe and Greg would agree amongst themselves that it was class 5. Having climbed it before a few years ago when I'd come up an east side route, I knew it wasn't too hard and climbed up the 40 feet for demonstration. The other two weighed the pros and cons of getting out the rope for a belay. Joe was considering the wall carefully, with the same look he'd given to Clyde Minaret and Bear Creek Spire the two previous days. Then he started up as if to sort of check things out, but continued on up to the top. He was smiling when he joined me, but not really sure if that was the wise choice. Greg then followed up as well, the rope still tucked in his pack.

From there it's a short class 3 scramble to the base of the summit block. We found the register at the base. The day before we'd read on the Internet that Jack McBroom had just set the CA 14er record, so I was eager to see his entry in the Thunderbolt Register. There is was, dated Aug 10, 7:25a. Interestingly, the previous entry was from Josh Shwartz (the previous record holder), who'd been up here four days earlier than Jack. Josh had noted it took him just under three hours from the South Lake trailhead. It had taken us just over five hours, and I thought we'd made pretty good time! We now went about rigging a system to climb the summit block, based on a brief overview I gave on how I thought it might best be done, a variation of the scheme I used the first time to climb it. Greg unpacked the rope and gave it to Joe, who offered to go for the toss over the summit block. This he did in fine style while I held onto one end of the rope and he the other. Then Joe began to tie a series of loops in the rope about eighteen inches apart while I slowly pulled in the rope from around the south side of the summit block as he tied each one. This created a series of loops that we planned to use to climb the block with our feet and hands. Once a string of loops reached to the top of the block, I tied the end I held off around a large block at the base. The other end we tied similarly so that it wouldn't be possible to roll off the block once we started climbing.

It seemed simple enough, and Greg volunteered to go first to climb it. Stepping into the first loop, it no longer looked so simple. The rope stretched down, grew taut, and pivoted Greg around and into the rock. The loop bit into his shoe, and the next loop up was not easy to get his other foot into. After about 30 seconds of the struggle, he backed off and said he'd let someone else have a go. Joe was hardly interested at this point, preferring to see a successful bid completed before he tried himself. It seemed the ol' loop climb was harder than I'd hoped, and I decided to go to plan B. This was essentially the same method I'd used previously. There is a nearby block to the northeast that can be bridged, but leaves one with about twelve feet of air underneath. Borrowing Greg's harness, I climbed the NE block and clipped into the highest loop on the rope that I could. This would catch me if I fell attempting to step across. I then took a breath and stepped across, landing cleanly and holding myself upright. That was the only hard part, really. I clipped the next higher loop into the harness, and then pulling on the rope I brought my other foot over to the summit block. I tried to pull myself higher but was stuck. Aack! I forgot to unclip the lower loop which now held me back since the end of the rope was firmly fastened below. With one hand holding the rope and keeping me on the summit block (the slope was too steep for my feet to hold me), I unclipped the loop with my other hand, and then took a step higher. Once more I clipped in a higher loop, unclipped the lower loop, and took another step up, bringing me to the easier slope on the top of the block. I could now hold myself up with my feet and with a last bit of rope management, I was sitting on the summit. With the safety of the rope I was even feeling brave enough to stand on the summit, though the vertigo it induced did not allow me to stay standing for long. It's really an impressive summit block, one of the most stunning in the Sierra.

After the requisite photos and moment of triumph, I reversed the moves and came back down. Apparently I didn't make it look at all easy, and to my surprise neither Joe nor Greg were interested in trying it themselves. They were content to be able to add their names to the summit register. We then untied the rope and began to pack everything back up. I was grateful that Greg had taken the effort to bring the rope in the first place and thanked him. As I was continuing on to Starlight Peak, I left the others before they were in turn ready to leave, bidding each other well as we parted. On to Starlight Peak!


Joe and Greg headed back for Southwest Chute #1 shortly after I left. Neither of them were too thrilled with the prospect of downclimbing the class 4 section to the notch, so they rappelled on Greg's rope. Unfortunately it got stuck when they pulled it down, and neither felt like climbing back up to retrieve it. Concerned that someone might get hurt by using the rope to climb up, they were relieved to run into three climbers near Thunderbolt Pass who were on their way up, happy to pick up a free rope. At Bishop Pass Joe did detour and ascend Mt. Agassiz - a fine double ascent dayhike. Greg continued out to the trailhead, arriving around 5p, for a 12hr day. Joe was back to the cars around 7p, about a half an hour before me.

Leaving the summit of Thunderbolt Peak, I bid good-bye to Joe and Greg who were heading back down the way we'd ascended. I was heading off to Starlight Peak and North Palisade, on what is considered a very exciting and very serious undertaking. It was still early, just after 11a, and I figured I had a good nine hours of daylight remaining, should I need it. My plan was to traverse the Sierra Crest to North Pal, then return the same way and descend Thunderbolt's Southwest Chute #1, our ascent route. I knew there were other class 4 routes that could be descended between Thunderbolt and North Pal on the southwest side, but I didn't feel at all comfortable descending such a commiting route without first having ascended it.

My first goal was to get down to the notch above the Underhill Couloir, the low point between Thunderbolt and Starlight Peaks. The first part is an easy class 3 traverse that brings one to within a hundred yards or so of the couloir, then the climbing grows more serious. On a previous visit, Mark and I had found some slings on the north side of the ridge and started rappelling down into the Underhill Couloir. We had been a bit anxious to descend at the time and did not spend much effort trying to get to the notch. Now I was wishing we had. I found one of the rappel slings but continued around heading for the notch, staying on the north side of the crest when forced off. I downclimbed a chute a short distance, traversed around some blocks into another one, and could finally see the notch I was aiming for. The most difficult part was a 20-foot traverse with some severe exposure around a steep rock face with small inch-wide ledges to stand on. A fall here would be most likely fatal I surmised. I took my time (but not wanting to stand on those tiny ledges too long) trying to ensure I had a least a pair of solid holds before moving on. This didn't look class 4 to me, and I was beginning to wonder what I was getting myself into. Later I found the class 4 route goes around the other side of the ridge. I carried some route descriptions with me, but these were for getting from the notch to Starlight and then to North Pal. I had expected the easiest part to be getting from Thunderbolt to the notch. Once off the scary part, it was an uncomfortably sloped granite face down to the notch. These were fairly solid slabs of granite with a crack system permeating the face that made the downclimbing easier than it looked. It was 11:30a when I reached the notch.

I took photos down both the northeast and southwest sides of the notch. I was really wishing I had brought some descriptions of the other routes down the southwest side. My next objective was to reach the summit of Starlight. Following the beta I'd brought, I stayed on the right side of the ridge when I ran into anything harder than 5.5. This was the start of the famous Northwest Ridge, first pioneered by Norman Clyde, David Brower, and Hervey Voge. Fine company I was feeling part of. I found myself favoring the right side quite a bit in fact, until I was well away from the ridge and I was pretty certain I wasn't on the more regularly travelled route. I found the options more varied the further over I went, but I did eventually have to make my way back to the left. I found the route-finding and scrambling quite fun. No truly scary moves on this section, but one still needed to be careful. Up and over large blocks, around blind corners, I kept finding ways to make upward progress. I came across more rappel slings, the third or fourth I had found since leaving Thunderbolt. On a whim I started to collect these, figuring I'd see how many I might get before reaching North Pal. Most of them had been weathering for several years, and probably not too safe to be reused - so I figured I was just giving the route a spring cleaning. It took about 45 minutes to find my way to the summit block, and the time went by quickly. My original plan had called for me to make it from Thunderbolt to North Pal in an hour, plus another hour back. I'd already spent over an hour getting to Starlight with the hardest climbing ahead still. My plan was beginning to sound pretty bad.

I found the summit register at the base on the north side of the summit block, but decided to have my go at the Milk Bottle before signing the register. The Milk Bottle is an impressive block some 25 feet high from its most photogenic side (the northwest). It is a solid block of granite without cracks anywhere, rising to its pinnacle as a slender needle about six feet around. The northwest side is a difficult 5.9, and well out of my league. The southeast side is a better story. There, the summit block rises in two steps. The trick is to get onto the horizontal "saddle", sort of like getting on the back of a giraffe before climbing his neck. This is the 5.4 "easy" side, and requires a not-too-difficult, but I'm-way-out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-so-don't-screw-up move to mantle onto the saddle. Once there, life is tenuous and uneasy as there is no resting. The back is slanted on the left and right side, as well as slanting backwards, so there's no resting here. I scrambled up and grabbed the neck of the giraffe and slowly stood up to get a good look at the final moves to the top. A rusty 1/4 inch bolt was attached near the top with a series of slings tied together running down the north side of the monolith. "Cheaters!" I smugly declared. But would I use it to pull myself up the rest of the way? I decided to do this as cleanly as possible, bypassing the inviting bolt hanger which would have made a great finger hold, and heaved myself up to the summit pinnacle. Ha! I was Norman Clyde for that moment while I sat there atop this fine hunk of granite reveling in my success. I couldn't free Thunderbolt's summit, but this one I could. My legs were firmly wrapped around the top of the pinnacle, gripping like a pair of locking pliers to the point I was getting leg cramps before I realized how hard I was grasping it. Exciting as it was, it was also more than a bit frightening!

One of the unfortunate aspects of solo climbing is that you don't get many photos of yourself enroute. On this baby, even the self-timer was useless as there was nowhere to place the camera. How to provide evidence of climbing to the top? I held the camera over my head and took a picture of my shadow atop that of the Milk Bottle projected onto the rock below. As a second attempt, I held the camera out in front of me as far as I could and took one with North Pal in the background behind me. That was about all I could think of. I decided to take the slings from the summit bolt with me on my way down, pondering the ethics of this as I did so. I could see arguments for both sides, but decided collecting slings was fun for its own sake. Maybe I could tie them all together to make a 40-foot rope if I got into trouble. Back at the register, I looked through it before adding my own signature. I found Josh Shwartz's entry from Aug 6, Scotty and Barry's (also from SP) on Aug 17, but did not find an entry for Jack McBroom who had just claimed to have set the CA 14er record eleven days earlier. I was intrigued and took photos of the last three pages as they appeared in the register. I also checked the other books in the bag with the current one, but found no recent entries there. I wondered if perhaps Jack had cheated, or just missed the register. Not knowing anything about Jack or his character, I thought this evidence might be valuable if questions were to arise. I didn't take any photos of the summit block from below at this time, because the sun was almost directly behind it and the photos would be crappy. I figured I'd wait until my return when the sun had moved further west and the pictures would be better. I did take a few nice views that I did have, east to the peaks around Middle Palisade, and southeast to North Palisade - my next objective.

It was 12:30p when I left the summit of Starlight Peak, heading for North Pal via the Northwest Ridge. Travelling unroped and solo, I had expected to make fairly good time from Thunderbolt. It had taken me already an hour and a half, and I still had the hardest climbing ahead to North Pal. And somehow I thought I'd get to North Pal in an hour. Aaack! I was now looking at a five hour round trip time back to Thunderbolt which would put me there around 4p. That would leave about four hours of daylight to get back to the trailhead. And I had to be up at 5a the next morning for the climb to Middle Palisade. It wasn't an epic in the making, but it was looking awful. I hadn't planned on a 15hr day. My alternatives were several. I could try to descend one of the southwest chutes between North Pal and Thunderbolt to save me climbing all the way back to Thunderbolt. I had no route descriptions for any of these chutes which were mostly class 4 from what I remember. That sounded like a stupid alternative. I could turn back now, since I had already climbed Starlight, the last 14er in this region I'd yet to visit. I climbed North Pal once before, so what's the big deal? The big deal was that I hadn't climbed it as a dayhike, which meant a great deal to me. It had been on the 2001 Sierra Challenge schedule, but I had balked on attempting it after an exhausting day climbing Darwin the previous day. I was on a quest to climb all 15 Emblem Peaks as dayhikes, and this one comes in as the 6th hardest of the bunch. I was hoping that I could bag it along with Thunderbolt and Starlight today, and felt compelled to continue. As long as I wasn't setting myself up for an epic, I would press on.

I had a photocopy of Secor's description of the Northwest Ridge in my pocket, and before heading out I went over it for the tenth time. The part between the start and Starlight Peak takes up two sentences. The rest of the description takes eight very detailed, mostly rambling and confusing sentences. I suspected I might be in trouble at this point. I was also armed with the knowledge passed on by Josh that routes on both the left and right side of the ridge could be used, the left side being somewhat easier. If in doubt, I would head left. Almost immediately I ran into trouble - how to get off the summit of Starlight and find the notch between it and North Pal? I looked left - steep, horrible climbing. I looked right, or tried to, but was blocked by a cliff. Where the hell's this class 4 chimney that's supposed to take me to the notch? I found a third option which involved staying on the very ridge, or actually a groove between two large blocks that formed the ridge, and squeezing through a tight opening I found at the end. After that, I made my way down over a series of class 4-5 obstacles to find the notch - no chimney in sight.

At the notch Secor suggests traversing the southwest (right) side to find another notch. It wasn't apparent to me that I could do that without exceeding 5.5 climbing. Hmmm. I took Josh's advice and started climbing down the northeast side of the notch. Steep and loose, but class 2-3. That worked for about 20-30 feet and then I found a class 4 way to traverse around the cliffs. This began the most frightening part of the whole day. The northeast side is very steep here and a fall just about anywhere would take me down 30, 100, maybe a thousand feet - it was hard to say. There is a lot of loose sand on the slabs, evidence that these slopes are covered in snow much of the year. After the short traverse I ran into another cliff requiring another 20 feet of downclimbing. Another traverse, and I was forced into a third downclimb. This second traverse involved one place where the only handhold I could find at one move was to place my hand behind a chunk of hard ice that still clung tenaciously to the side of the mountain in a small patch. I imagined my hand slipping off as I used it to weight my body in transition. I could get my fingers a good three inches around the back side, but what if it broke off? The ice was several inches thick in a rounded ridge and was very cold. I really hated using this to weight myself, but didn't see an alternative. Thankfully, it held. Now I was really thinking hard about how poor my plan was. I was going to have to reverse all these moves including the ones like this I had no faith in. My veins were already screaming with adrenaline and my muscles were close to being drained from the stress. Then it hit me. A better plan. A far better plan. I could continue traversing over to the U-Notch and descend the chute on the south side of the notch. Though I hadn't researched the route beforehand, I recall that it was class 2 or class 3 and had been used by LeConte's first ascent party to North Pal. This would be far faster than trying to return to Thunderbolt's summit.

I was now inspired (also wondering why I didn't think of this before), and lost my concerns about having to reverse all the moves. After a total of about 60 feet of downclimbs, I found the slopes above more broken and less cliff-like. It was very steep climbing, certainly class 5, and at one point I found myself climbing into an awkward diagonal chimney with poor holds. I judged that there had to be an easier way, and I backed myself out and downclimbed the 15 feet that had led me to that trap. I found another way, exposed but technically easier, and I steadily gained height as I climbed through these last giant slabs that brought me up to the summit ridge. I was highly elated. I found my way to the summit and fairly jumped for joy (ok, my feet never left the ground). That had been one tough climb. Later I realized how focused I'd been - I didn't take a single picture between the summits of Starlight and North Pal. As if to compensate, I took a flurry of photos in all directions (NW - NE - ENE - E - SE - S - W) - fine views from the fourth highest peak in the state. The Palisades Glacier swept out dramatically below me to the northeast, and in the other direction were a hundred peaks I could not identify. It was now 1:30p, and I didn't stay long. I ate the first snack I'd had since breakfast, a NutriGrain Bar, signed the register, and continued on my way.

I was feeling pretty darn good about now. I'd just completed the Thunderbolt - Starlight - North Pal traverse, climbing the summit blocks of all three, the weather was as fine as one might wish for, and I had plenty of energy left. The hardest climbing was all behind me, and it seemed a straightforward matter to head down to the U-Notch and then the Southwest Chute. As I headed southeast across the large summit blocks (much class 3 scrambling) I considered that I might just tack on Polemonium as well since it's so conveniently close to the U-Notch. I dropped down off the Southeast Ridge where difficulties increased, finding ledges down about 30 feet in the bowl that drops to the southwest. Across this, and back on the ridge, it was easy enough to find the top of the chimney since I'd been here before. This time I was without a rope, so I cautiously approached the top and inspected the route before heading down. Rated 5.2-5.4 depending on who you ask, there is a good deal of exposure in the chimney, but the holds are generally large and easy to locate. For some of the footholds I had to lean far out to see below me, but I was always able to spot another foot placement not far below me. I stopped in the middle of the chimney to take a few photos and collect another sling. I had been "cleaning" the slings I came across since I had left Thunderbolt Peak, and now had about 30 of them slung around my shoulders. I would have been an odd sight I suppose if another party had spotted me. I continued down and reached the U-Notch at 2:15p. I dropped my load of slings here and headed up the regular route to Polemonium Peak. This is the easiest peak in the bunch here, mostly class 3 with a few tougher class 4 sections. One of these is right at the beginning, a short chimney that leads up to a rappel station with half a dozen odd slings. This was followed by an easy traverse around the west side, some more climbing on the southwest ridge, and some large blocks to be surmounted to the summit, all in a little more than 15 minutes. I stayed but a minute at the summit to add a note in the register before heading back down, collecting all the slings I found.

Back at the U-Notch I shouldered my load of slings which were now becoming cumbersome, and headed down the Southwest Chute. This is a very long chute heading down to Palisade Basin. The only positive things it has going for it is that it is the easiest route to North Pal and the route-finding is fairly straightforward. Countering this is the fact that it is steep, loose, and tedious climbing even though I was going down! I might have enjoyed the views if I didn't have to watch every step closely to keep from slipping or twisting an ankle. By the time I emerged at the bottom, the slings around my shoulders were irritating my neck to the point of taking action. I used a few of the slings to tie the rest into a compact and stiff oblong shape. I then used another to make shoulder straps to carry the bundle like a knapsack which worked out quite nicely. Getting back to Thunderbolt Pass required a traverse over quite a bit of talus and boulders along the base of North Palisade, with enough of a gradient to be quite trying on my ankles, bent at an angle to the side. Climbing back up to Thunderbolt Pass made me admit I was getting tired as my muscles found the uphill increasingly taxing. Once through the pass and connecting the loop begun in the morning, I retraced my route through Dusy Basin. I had one more trying uphill climb as I made my way towards Bishop Pass once I'd crossed the basin. I paused often now to rest, and used the last bit of memory in my camera to take a picture of Picture Puzzle poking up above Bishop Pass. It was 5:20p when I reached the pass, and 7p when I finally returned to the trailhead, for a solid 14hr outing. To my surprise Joe was still at the parking lot, having returned about 45 minutes before me. He had taken a side trip on his return from Thunderbolt to climb Agassiz, a peak he had tried but failed on once before. I was more tired than any of the previous days, but my fatigue was countered by an elation at succeeding even more than I had planned in climbing the 14ers of the region. The only 14er in the area I missed was Mt. Sill, but I now knew I could do the single day Palisades traverse from Thunderbolt to Mt. Sill - a project I would save for some future date. I celebrated with a beer, a toast with Joe, and the removal of the tennis shoes I was hiking and climbing in. More comfortable than hiking boots, my feet were still happy to feel fresh air, a pleasure that felt almost as good as the beer tasted.

We drove back to our motel room in Bishop where we found Vishal only about four feet from where we'd left him early this morning. Only now he was chatting on the phone, papers spread out all over the floor, looking like he'd been having a ball in our absence. He'd decided to take a rest day, and from the looks of things he was now quite rested. He'd been busy contacting friends to line up hiking partners for later in the week (including a trip to Thunderbolt since he'd missed it this morning). He planned to climb one more day of the Challenge, the next day's climb of Middle Palisade. It was sure to be another tough day, so I let Vishal know we'd need to get to bed around 9p. After our showers Joe and I went over to Jacks for dinner, then back to the motel for much needed rest. Five down, five to go!


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For more information see these SummitPost pages: Thunderbolt Peak - Starlight Peak - North Palisade - Polemonium Peak

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