Finger Lake to the peak of Middle Palisade

4-7 Jul 2002 - by Caleb Courtney

Caleb Courtney, Andy Hillstrand, Dessa Drake-Courtney and Michelle

This hike/climb to Middle Palisade (Eastern Sierra Nevadas up Hwy 395 out of Big Pine California) was really rewarding. Depending on the experience of your party should determine what preparation you should take. For our particular party, there were four of us. My best friend Andy Hillstrand, his Girlfriend Michelle and my wife Dessa. Neither his girlfriend nor my wife had ever been seriously backpacking much less summited a 14er like Middle Palisade. So packed up to Finger Lake to try and get a solid base camp to make the approach easier. I recommend going to the UN-named lake past Finger Lake if possible.

We left the car at 8:30am and arrived at Finger Lake at 4:30 which included stopping to pump water a couple times and lunch. The following day my friend Andy and his girlfriend Michelle took some gear (water, rope and rack) up to near the base of Middle Palisade to help ease the load the following day as well as stake out the best route from camp to the base of Middle Palisade. In order for all of us to make it we had to eliminate any errors that could create mental breakdown with my wife and his girlfriend (who both turned out to be tougher then nails). They left at 9:00am or so and returned around 3:30pm. Also- Mesquites at all of these Lakes are insane-take whatever you can to fight them off.

So day 3 (July 6th) Andy and I get up at 4:00-4:30am to get breakfast and coffee going. We finally left just before 6:00am. The hike to the base isn't bad except for the constant changer from boulder hopping to deep sloped snow fields/glaciers. Once we arrived at the base of Middle Palisade we took the Class 3 route up the middle following to the left which if you do follow the route all the way it will actually put you just to the right of the true summit. So when approaching the center of the two peaking towers if you work toward the one on your left you can actually come around it on the left and almost walk to the peak from the backside.

What we did was go directly to the peak then had to climb a couple boulder problems (5.7 easy) which featured a 3000+ foot drop on almost all sides and considering Andy and I were climbing solo, we'd preferred the walkway from the opposite side. Once on top standing 14014 feet, which took about 7 hours we stayed for about 15 minutes took pictures of the Western Divide etc. Then it came going down. Andy and I felt very comfortable on the mountain so we were fine continuing solo. Our girls, Dessa and Michelle needed to rope in and repel down. Which was very safe but also very time consuming. So I would down climb to a safe ledge while Andy anchored in and repelled the girls down to me. After about repelling almost a thousand feet the girls, especially Dessa, was finally comfortable having me basically guide her foot by foot, hand hold by hand hold down. This was much safer considering we had 2 near fatal accidents due to rock fall from the climbing rope fanning off lose rock.

Once we were down off the face and back onto the head of Palisade Glacier we took the fast way down the glacier. Glissading down it. Basically grabbed our ice axes, sat on our duffs and rode the glacier for a few hundred feet down on our butts. It saves time but you do end up with a few ice burns. The hike back to base camp was painful, as we were all beyond exhaustion and fighting dehydration. Michelle unfortunately ended up with altitude sickness and was too sick to eat or drink and just climbed into her tent and went to bed pretty much when we returned to base camp which was about 7:00 PM. So in all it took a little over 13 hours to summit and return.

John Muir was quoted saying Middle Palisade is the most difficult to climb out of all the 14ers. I don't know. It was tough but I think there is a more difficult 14er. My wisdom that I can offer is this: Take Helmets!! Take lots of Insect Repellent for base camp. If possible camp as close to the Middle Palisade base as possible or do what Andy and Michelle did and stake out your approach the day before you make your assault. Any wasted energy trying to get to the glacier can kill the goal. My wife (Dessa) and I have to thank Andy as if hadn't brought the gear and done the route prospecting the previous day I don't know if my wife would have made it or any of us for that matter. Hats off to Michelle and Dessa, two bad ass chicks that bagged one hard 14er that took every emotion to the distance. I personally don't know too many girls or guys for that matter, that can handle the altitude, the exposure and the stamina it takes to literally push mind over matter. Andy and I couldn't have had better partners. Thanks Dessa, Andy and Michelle, I love you all. We rock- literally.


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