North Palisade

2 Jul 2000 - by Rick Booth

On July 1, 2000 Dee and I started up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek for an ascent of the North Palisade via the U-Notch. We chugged up past Sam Mack Meadow to the tarn at an elevation of 12165 feet at the base of the Palisade Glacier. This is approximately 4200 feet of elevation gain. We camped on the snow near the tarn. This tarn is open now and offers a great source for water. Camping near this tarn is marginal. This area is essentially the terminal moraine for the Palisade Glacier. One party of two was bivied on top of a flat rock and another party of one was bivied on top of another flat rock. These are the only two clearly flat spots in the area outside of the snow so later season camping is suspect. The big rock would probably support three bivie bags.

The next day Dee and I headed up to the 'schrund at about 5:30 AM. The snow bridge at the right hand edge of the 'schrund is gone. We decided to climb the rock face next to the 'schrund. This goes by climbing the vestiges of the foot of the snow bridge up to a small icy platform. From here the rock can be climbed. One move up and two choices are presented: either stay on the fractured and detached flake and climb up about fifteen or twenty feet or go up a few moves and traverse left. I chose to traverse left since that goes directly to a rappel anchor next to a nice platform. Once on the platform with the rappel slings the problem is over. How hard? Secor says 4th to 5th class. Probably. I lead it in crampons, for what that is worth. Once the vestige of the snow bridge melts back this will get harder. My memory fails me in recalling what the rock looks like below the fractured flake.

Once past the 'schrund we headed up the couloir. The couloir is steep, icy and dangerous. There are steps kicked in the snow and plenty of ice axe handle holes so it is readily negotiated. All the way up the couloir I kept thinking of the Norman Clyde story where he fell in some couloir and sailed over the berschrund hollering: "Here I go to Hell!". Norman survived, I doubted I would fall, and I doubt if Norman ended up in Hell. The view in the couloir is stunning. The couloir is convex so the sight of the 'schrund disappears shortly. The sun rarely touches the interior of the couloir so the view is of two dark walls, a shadowed snow field steeply dropping to an edge, and the brightly lit Palisade Glacier some 500 plus feet below.

At the top of the couloir is the U-Notch itself. Directly at the top of the U-Notch is the Chimney Variation. This is two 100 foot pitches (or so) of 5.4 rock. The hardest move is right at the end. Fun in mountain boots! From the top of the Chimney a steep slab is traversed on the right. This goes to a notch. From the notch head down and then back up towards the summit (it is right there). This is unrelenting third class. At the very end is a fourth class move above a scary slot that gets to the summit block.

Going down reverses the ascent. Be very, very, wary of the rappel anchors in the chimney. They are mostly good but there is one or two losers in there. When in doubt, back 'em up.

Round trip time from near the 12165 tarn was about 12 hours. We were at the top of the couloir within 3.5 hours but seemed to bog down somewhat after that.

On Monday morning we awoke to sharply colder temperatures and increased wind. We decided to pass on the Swiss Arete. Bad decision. The front moved through and the temperatures returned to balmy by 11:00 AM or so. Instead, we participated in a rescue effort of a climber who had what was probably acute altitude sickness. He was yanked out with a helicopter.

This is, without a doubt, my favourite route on my favourite mountain. The chug in includes hiking past the Lon Chaney cabin and Sam Mack Meadow. Camping is at the foot of the Palisade Glacier, apron to the Gods: Temple Crag, Gayley, Sill, Polemonium, North Palisade, Starlight, T-Bolt, Winchell, and their couisin Agassiz. The ascent includes ascending the glacier to the bergschrund, crossing the bergschrund, ascending the spectacular couloir, viewing the panorama of Dusy Basin from the top of the couloir, ascending two pitches of fifth class rock in mountaineering boots, unrelenting third class rock, and finally the fourth class curve ball at the end: the pull up onto the summit block above the scary slot.

For mountaineers whose interests go beyond tapping the summit of one peak in order to move on to the next, this route, on this mountain, is absolutely a must do.

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