Palisades and Cathedral

13-16 Jul 1995 - by Jim Curl

Dot Reilly and I took a four day weekend (7/13-16) to do some climbing in the Palisades. Our main objective was North Pal via the U Notch.

We had a nice hike up to about 12,200' on the Palisade glacier on Thursday under beautiful cloudless skies. The trail was clear to just below Sam Mack Meadow and over much of the trail leading out of the meadow. The snow conditions were fantastic and the weather was consistantly clear, although a bit cold at night.

On the way in, we had met a pair that had told us of their failure to overcome the bergschrund. They said that another pair had also failed and that they could see no footprints in the couloir. Nonetheless, Dot and I hiked up to see for ourselves on Friday morning.

The guy we talked to had given us an accurate story. The bergschrund was wide open and to climb it directly meant getting up and over a ten foot overhanging lip of not entirely consolidated snow. A careful traverse to the right under a giant snow tongue showed the only real possibility for us. If we carefully stepped out onto a questionable snow bridge, some 5.8 rock would lead to further climbing (of a hopefully easier level) and finally back left into the couloir.

Not for us, we decided. Dot and I discussed whether or not our mutual friend David Ress would have given it a try. I'll have to show him the photos when I get them back and hear what he has to say.

We lazily traversed over and up to Glacier Notch and I ran up and down Gayley while Dot took in some sun.

Back at camp, my MSR XGK stove went from annoyingly flakey to almost non-functional. Add in the fact that animals had eaten much of my breakfast and lunch and we decided to forego the third class climb of Winchell we had considered for the next day.

We ran into the climbing ranger on the way out and he said that he thought the rock on the right was about 5.9. He was also of the opinion that the snow in the couloir was rotten and would slide sometime soon. I wouldn't have thought that looking at it, but there *is* a lot of snow up there. The V Notch looked like a snow climb (complete with a cornice) and we talked to a pair that had climbed easily up the right Underhill Couloir the day we checked out the U Notch.

Dot and I talked of climbing in Tuolomne or perhaps another go at Cathedral for Sunday. We got up a little late Sunday morning and I suggested we just go for pancakes at Tioga Pass Resort. Of course we had the usual run-in with T.M. Herbert at the resort, complaining about the pancakes there.

Sitting at the Lembert Dome parking lot, where we planned to climb the Northwest Books, Dot and I decided to just go and climb Cathedral anyways. We drove quickly to the trailhead and madly sorted our dirty and disorganized gear, finally setting out at 9:00am under a cloudless sky.

We made decent time and arrived at the base a little before 11:00. As we geared up, T.M. and his partner arrived to solo the route. When we mentioned that we'd been there twice the previous weekend, first in the rain on Saturday and then again in the wind on Sunday, he said "what are you guys, Reinhold Messners?"

At the top of the first pitch, I looked out at the few clouds developing and jokingly told Dot that it would probably rain on us when we got to the end of the fifth pitch. We moved pretty well, the only snag being a stopper that stuck near the second belay. I downclimbed and spent 7 or 8 minutes working it free.

Our enjoyment of the climb began to fade as the clouds grew darker. As Dot reached the belay at the end of the fifth pitch it began to snow in wet gloppy blobs. Dot had no rain jacket so she put on her fleece. I donned my 8 year old Gortex (which wasn't a whole lot better) and began traversing left around the peak. By the time Dot followed the wet fourth class traverse, she was pretty freaked, and I wasn't sure whether to hunker down under a space blanket or try to get off before it got worse.

Fortunately, the weather improved. In fact, it never actually rained after that, but the sky gave no indication that things would remain dry. A short 5.6 corner brought us to the ridge and we did one short and two longer rappels to arrive at easier terrain. We took a moment to rest, I coiled the ropes very sloppily, and we started down the west side towards the Muir Trail.

Here I screwed up pretty badly. We followed what looked like an obvious descent path (complete with ducks), but soon found ourselves on wet death slabs. I worked us into a position in which I didn't want to continue and Dot didn't want to go back. So I climbed up and found a place to set up a rappel. Oops! I had Dot's pack with the ropes but no gear or harness. Also, because of the way I'd coiled the ropes, it took me 15 minutes to untangle them. In the pack was Dot's harness and one sling. I slung the sling around the horn, crossed my fingers that it would hold, and started back down the slabs with a dulfer rappel (two 8.5 mm ropes -- ouch!).

Finally down to Dot, I backed up the rappel with a couple cams, got her into her harness and she dropped down to a tree. I carefully got into my harness, pulled the backup cams and noticed that the ropes were *not* going to pull. Once again I climbed up the wet death slabs, nearly slipping off twice. I finally arrived at the sling again, fixed the problem, and rappelled down to Dot at the tree. One more rappel finally got us out of that mess. Whew!

The rest of story was just one of hunger, thirst, fatigue, mosquitos, third class grunge and trying like hell to find the next tree blaze to keep us on the snow covered Muir trail. We got back to the car at 9:00pm.

How do you spell "epic"?

Dot swore off Cathedral after this (her third) trip. Her first time she got out at 10:30pm, the second she had to bivy, and now this.

I've decided to give up mountaineering. I'm staying home on the weekends and watching cartoons from now on. :-)


To file a trip report, please fill in the
Report Entry form or contact the webmaster.