North Palisade, Polemonium, and Mount Sill

14-17 Jul 2006 - by Ted Lenzie (view roster page)

On July 14-17, 2006 I climbed both North Palisade via the U-Notch and Polemonium via the V-Notch. Since I was going by myself and wasn't prepared to solo the steep snow, ice and rock I hired Scott Brown of California Alpine Guides. I utilized Scott's services once before on Pico De Orizaba several years ago and found his skills, professionalism and respect for his clients to be excellent. So I hired him for a 1:1 guide/client ratio.

We started our hike up the TH from the old Palisades Lodge and passed several lakes to Sam Mack Meadow. Our packs were loaded with climbing gear required for the mixed bag we would encounter on both peaks. Each of us carried two ice axes (ice tools) a 200 foot climbing rope, a mixture of nuts, cams, slings, harness and crampons. Not to mention the much needed helmet. Because of the late snows this year we encountered snow at Sam Mack and more as we continued higher to our base camp at the Palisades Glacier. After a 1/4 mile past the meadow the trail was lost and we just rock hopped and cut across a few snowfields. Once at base camp we had the place to ourselves. It was a sunny day. Maybe too sunny since we got there around 3:00 in the afternoon. But we had the choice of many sites and picked the one with the best shelter from the sun, wind and a great view of the Palisades amphitheater. After setting up camp, preparing gear and dinner it was off to sleep for our next day's early rise.

We got up at 5:30 in the morning and started our trek across the glacier. Making our way toward the U-Notches bergshrund we could see a small pillar on the right. This was our approach onto the U-Notch colouir and up to the saddle. Scott led and set up a belay. The recent high temperatures caused the snow to become rather soft and it was at times difficult to find good ice under the pillar, but after digging and kicking a while I able to climb up and onto the slope. Here Scott and I continued up the slope zigzagging our way to the saddle. Scott and I stayed on a short rope but it was never needed. At the saddle we took a short break and removed all of our ice climbing gear. The next section required some lower grade class 5.0-5.6 rock climbing. But if you have ever rock climbed in the 14,000-foot range you know it feels a lot different than lower altitude rock climbing.

We dropped down a narrow chute on the west-facing slope and traversed north toward the Palisades ridge. This is where the rock climbing, belaying, protection, and anchor station setting started. I can't remember how many pitches but there were at least five, but not of full rope length because of all the zigzags would put too much drag on the rope. We continued up and in a northern direction. Moving at a good pace we got to the false summit then down and around and up to the summit itself. We were on top just after 11 am. Found the register full of scrap paper and ate a little lunch. The sky was clear but we decided to make our way back down. Continuing south and down we reached the first rappel station. Scott checked it out and I confirmed. It was backed up and we rappelled 100 feet to the next station. Checking that stations it was another 100 feet and we traversed to the gully and back to the saddle. It was 12:30 in the afternoon.

From the saddle of the U-Notch Scott set up a rappel to the next several stations on the slope. The snow was very soft and it would have been easy to have lost footing. It was so soft I do not believe an ice axe pick would hold in a self-arrest. So after several low angle and tedious rappels we were at the bergshrund. We rappelled over it and walked back to camp. It was a long day but nothing in comparison to next days V-Notch. We looked over the notch's approach for the next day's climb.

The next morning we got up at 4:15 am. We wanted an earlier start for several reasons. We wanted to climb on firmer snow, the route was more technical and would take more time, and the bergshrund was going to require a little more effort to surmount.

We hiked over to the V-Notch's bershurnd and Scott looked it over. There was no way on unless we did a 30-foot mixed section of rock, ice, and snow. I have rock and ice climbing experience but not both at the same time. At least not like this. I belayed as Scott climbed on the vertical mix with crampons on and ice tools at the ready. Watching his every move as he climbed the rock and ice, but it was not without a tricky rock to ice maneuver. After setting some snow protection he traversed across and set up an anchor system.

Now it was my turn. I followed his lead looking for anything on the rock to support my crampon's points. The crampons locked in well. Taking out Scott's rock protection I continued up to the transition point from rock to snow. Here I followed Scott's instructions to lock the hammer end of the tool into a rock crack, place the spike high up into the snow (glacier's lip), get a good high purchase with my feet and make a single transition up and over. It worked perfectly! I was up on the slope making my way toward Scott and removing protection. Once at the anchor it would be seven more pitches to the saddle. This slope was and felt much steeper than the U-Notch. Scott climbed and set up one anchor station after the other. The slope required that I use two ice tools while climbing. It was quite exciting. We stayed in the shadows up until the last pitch. The hard snow became instantly soft once in the sun. Up on the saddle we took a break and made our way northward toward Polemonium Peak. On the saddle we reach another notch. We down climbed into a mix of loose rock, dirt, snow and ice. We took an eastern direction and climbed out to the base of the peaks final ridge. Scott climbed up setting protection on the narrow one-foot (Give or take a few inches) wide ridge. I followed leaving the protection for our return. Next thing we were on the top. It was a cool summit but we spent little time since we needed to traverse over toward Mount Sill for our return.

I cautiously down climbed the knife edge ridge resetting the placed protection. Scott followed and once at the anchor station he told me he scoped out a safer and faster return to the class 2 rock. He lead a short and solid traverse then up and over onto the south peak. I followed and was there in no time. We rock hop the ridge south toward Mount Sill. It was an easy class 2 section but after a long climb it felt much harder. We checked out the rappel station and decided to continue to Sill just for fun. Up on top we saw two sets of climbers just coming up the Swiss Arete. So as to not have too many people on the rappel we went to the first station and started our first of three rappels to the ledges. Each of the stations checked out and although there is a real possibility of rock fall when we retrieved the rope we only had a few pebble come down. We traversed the ledges and plunge stepped the L snowfield to the rocky pass and back down on the Palisades Glacier.

We got back to camp around 5 PM instead of the 3 PM we did the day before so Scott heated up some dinner and we continued the eating feast and off to sleep.

The next morning we left at 8 am and went straight down the snowfields to the third and second lakes. The water was too high to cross the Third Lake's outlet but there were bridges at the spillway at the Second Lake. Here we contacted the trail and were out by noon.

These peaks were exciting and fun. I have to say having the expertise of Scott's caliber took a lot of the stress off the climb. He set pro and anchors like the professional he is. Always with an eye on safety we climbed without a single minor or major mishap.


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