After summiting North Pal and Starlight on Saturday we bivied again on Starlight before Underhill Couloir. Ideally we would've finished the traverse by Saturday night but we encountered route-finding difficulties and also lost time retrieving a stuck rope and waiting on another party. We also spent a fair amount of time rigging the rope to aid the summit pinnacle. The "milkbottle" summit pinnacle is remarkable and was one of the highlights of the trip. I prusiked up, then Michelle climbed it free on top rope.
Monday we went down to the Underhill Couloir, climbed Thunderbolt (again I prusiked and Michelle freed it on top rope) then exited via the Underhill Couloir and hiked down to the trail at Sam Mack Meadows.
We brought a stove for melting water from snow and this was key because there wasn't any running water on the way. We each brought ice axes and one set of crampons. We used the axes but not the crampons. We'd heard rumors of water ice in the Underhill Couloir, however we found only patches of soft, rotten snow intermingled with lots of loose rock. Also, there were plentiful rap anchors and we rapped much of the way down.
Down low, the mosquitoes were pretty vicious, particularly in the South Fork. If you go up into the Sierra right now, don't forget your DEET! On this trip, we also tried using permethrin on our clothes. I'd read that this worked well in combination DEET. The idea is to spray your clothes with permethrin and let it dry before wearing it and then applying DEET to all exposed skin. Unfortunately, the permethrin did not appear to have much effect on the mosquitoes as they continued to land (and bite through) the back of my permethrin-treated shirt, until I sprayed some DEET on it.
I'd forgotten what a pain it is to climb with a pack. I think there is a lot to be said for just trying to do the traverse in one really long day. But I think this might be difficult to do if you don't know the route or go with someone who does. Traversing Starlight is a bit tricky and the beta is rather vague. The way we did it, we dropped down a couloir a bit and then traversed over into a couple of other couloirs on ledges and via a rap and then regained the top of the ridge. If I did it over again, I would try to stay closer to the top of the ridge. The best bivy spots that we saw along the route were in the notch between North Pal-Starlight. There was also a good bivy spot just south of Polemonium.
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