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Accidental Palisades Traverse

Posted: Thu Sep 28, 2017 9:25 am
by RockSolid
A number of years ago I decided to climb as many California 14ers as possible. Last summer (2016) 4 of us went to Wyoming for a 4 day package to climb the Grand Teton with Exum Guides (2 days mountaineering school, a day approach to the Exum hut, a day to climb and return). Ended up climbing the upper Exum Ridge. Wonderful experience which gave me the confidence to think about climbing the 5 peaks in the Palisades. Thunderbolt, Starlight, North Palisade, Poleonium and Sill.

Beside doing the relatively easy walk ups; Whitney (x2 via Miter Basin, Crabtree Pass/Lake and dreaded sand hill) Langley (x2), White (x3); with a couple of pals we’ve made it to Split (x2), Williamson and Tyndall 2016 over 3 days, and Middle Palisade Sept. 2016.

The Tetons experience gave me the confidence to seek out a guide to get me up the Palisades from the west. The plan was 4 days with the guide, starting South Lake hike Bishop Pass (6miles) and cross country 2 miles south to the base of Thunderbolt Col. 2 days of climbing and walk out the 4th. I certainly didn’t over sell myself to the guides and they also sought to set lower expectations, maybe 2 or 3 peaks over 2 days. Through a referral I used Sierra Mountain Center out of Bishop with guide Dave Stimson. Dave Stimson personally prepared the whole trip, food and all. Super easy.

Regressing, the Wednesday after Labor Day we started a couples hike from Mammoth to The Ahwanhnee Hotel Yosemite Valley, 56 miles, 5 days 4 nights. Back to Long Beach for a short week of work and rest, and up to Onion Valley for night before meeting up with Dave Monday Sept. 18 8am in Bishop. Being my wife’s mule (starting w/50lbs) for 5 days put me in a good position to tackle some 14ers.

Bishop Pass with about 35 lbs on the back was delightful. The cross country to Thunderbolt Col (about 12,600 ft.) was fairly straight forward, 5 hours total. Made a base camp amongst the bolder field south side of Thunderbolt Pass, plenty of nice flat one/two tent sites. Guide Dave was pleased with the time we made to Thunderbolt Pass. So the plan was to get up Thunderbolt, traverse to Starlight, maybe N. Pal, and then go back the next day for Poleonium and Sill. Although I have plans to tackle Sill on its own, east facing Swiss Arte.

We walked out of camp at 5:30 am Tuesday and we’re sitting on top of Thunderbolt at 8:05am, then down climbed/traversed to Starlight and topped out at 10:40am. This is when Guide Dave questioned why I didn’t just sign up for the Palisades Traverse. Our goals were changing fast, why not hit all 4 in one day, sleep in the next day and walk out? We were on N. Palisade by 12:15 and Poleonium by 3:15. Arrive back at our tent at 6:15 for a 12 hour 45 minute traverse. It was one of those trips where everything was falling into place. Dave is super knowledgeable of the Palisades, never once off course or back tracking. With just two climbers working to together we traveled very efficiently. He even took time to cleanup and reset a number of rappel anchors along to route. Talk about a blessing in disguise, we got out a day early and that Wednesday night the 20th it snowed. It would have been a miserable 2 mile cross country and 6 miles on trial in the snow. Instead we were at Wednesday night Trivia at Mountain Rambler Brewery in Bishop.

I first took our boy scout troop to Palisade Glacier in 2007 and returned in 2015. I marveled at those peaks thinking how cool it would be to have the skills to climb them. And here I am now, 57 yrs, cancer survivor (throat -7 weeks radiation 3 rounds of chemo 2014) with only Muir/Russell/Sill/Shasta to go. The moral of the story is push yourself out of your comfort zone. I can say enough about Guide Dave Stimson and Sierra Mountain Center, so professional/talented/safe. Worth every cent. Get out and live life! Save climbing all....

Re: Accidental Palisades Traverse

Posted: Thu Sep 28, 2017 10:27 am
by Hobbes
Dave was our guide when we did the alpine MR a few years ago; super chill and knowledgeable. I recall he mentioned how a special forces group from the UK had SMC set them up on a 'special' guided trip across the Palisades. Only I think their packs were more in the 75lb range - you know, training and all. LOL

I always recommend using a guide if you've got the physical ability, but not necessarily the technical skills, to get out and do something beyond your own capabilities. It's nice just having to be responsible for yourself to do what (physically) needs to be done, and not have to deal with the mental side of figuring out the 'how'.

Re: Accidental Palisades Traverse

Posted: Thu Sep 28, 2017 4:31 pm
by cefire
Awesome trip! Thanks for writing this up =D>

Re: Accidental Palisades Traverse

Posted: Thu Sep 28, 2017 6:18 pm
by maverick
Fun TR and wonderful views looking west.

Where did you get the name "Thunderbolt Col" for your third picture, thought that was one of the two "Southwest Chutes", never hear it called TC, Winchell Col I know of, so just asking for some clarification, or source. Thanks

Re: Accidental Palisades Traverse

Posted: Thu Sep 28, 2017 7:01 pm
by cslaght
What a great trip, usually the itinerary is backwards of what you described. Keep on!

Re: Accidental Palisades Traverse

Posted: Fri Sep 29, 2017 10:05 am
by RockSolid
It was Guide Dave that referred to our campsite as Thunderbolt Pass/Thunderbolt Col. Regardless of what you call it, at 5:30 am it has the same effect on the heartbeat, no gentle warm-up, climbing right out of camp. Nice that Guide Dave, 20 years my junior, mention his struggles with attaching the hill at such an early hour. And I thought it was only my age....

Re: Accidental Palisades Traverse

Posted: Sat Oct 07, 2017 7:05 am
by commonloon
Great TR and photos!

A friend and I are heading to the Palisades in a couple of weeks, likely going to go up Mt Sil from SW. Last time I was in the Palisades (Aug) there was lots of snow in places. I wondering if Mt Sil still had snow in the "Chutes?" One of your pics looks like it show Sil in the background with very little snow... thanks.