North Palisade 2021

Back in 1991, as part of my “Summit all the California 14Kers Before Turning 30” quest, I was part of a group that spent several days just west of the Palisades Crest, climbing Mt. Sill, Polemonium, North Palisade, and Thunderbolt. When I look back on some of those photos, I wonder what I was thinking…unroped on super-steep snow-filled chutes, 4th class mantle moves with 1500ft below my feet, damn.

Doug Virtue and Jeff Muss

Thirty years later it was time to re-visit that area, mostly because Jenna wanted to summit North Palisade as part of her California County High Points list (it’s the high point for Fresno county). But this time (totally handled by Schmed) we brought a full set of climbing gear. It was also a very dry year, which meant no snow in any of the chutes. So all we had to worry about was crossing talus fields, ascending/descending loose crud, and falling rocks.

Jenna was finishing up her summer at the USDA predator research facility in Logan, Utah so she drove separately to meet us at the Mountain Rambler Brewery for lunch (highly recommended). We then headed up 168 to the South Lake trailhead, packed our gear, and hit the trail. The Bishop Pass trail covers some beautiful country, as it works its way past lakes and across creeks.

In about 5-6 miles we reached Bishop Pass, at a bit over 12,000ft, and camped at a small lake nearby.

The next morning we got up early and climbed Mt. Agassiz, just a short distance east of the lake.

And for reference, here’s a picture of Chris on top of Agassiz back in 1991…

We then returned back to our campsite, packed up, and headed XC to Thunderbolt Pass. We decided to camp right at the pass, which wound up being the right call, though it did mean a 400ft descent to get water.

The next day we packed up our climbing gear (and not enough water) and continued southeast to the start of the “LeConte Route”, which ascends the large chute between the middle and southernmost cliffs at the base of the southwest face of North Palisade. As you might guess from the above description, the route up North Palisade is a bit convoluted, at least if you want to keep the level of difficulty to class 4. Mostly you wind up climbing steep, loose chutes, punctuated by the fun of the catwalk.

The catwalk is a ledge that connects two chutes, and is the key to this “easiest” route.

Jenna on the catwalk (on the way down)

After climbing most of the chute that you reach following the catwalk, you come to a point where it narrows, and you have to bypass two chockstones in order to reach the U Notch (low point on the ridge in the photo below).

We were about to start this challenging portion of the route when it became clear that we had run out of time – it was 12:45pm, and we still had 700ft of vertical to go. So we called it, and started our descent. We got back to water at 7pm, reached our camp at 7:30pm, and had just enough daylight to enjoy dinner AND the bottle of cab that Schmed had schlepped all the way in from the car. That was some good wine.

We spent the night, then did a fast hike out the next morning, reaching the car by 11am. We enjoyed another meal at the Mountain Rambler in Bishop, then Schmed & I drove home while Jenna headed up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, spent the night at the Barcroft research facility gate, jogged up to the summit of White Mtn (another 14Ker) the next morning, and drove to Nevada City that afternoon. Oh, and she wants to try North Pal again this fall. To be young again…

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