Temple of the Palisades

22-24 Aug 1998 - by Steve Eckert

Private trip listed with the PCS: Bob Suzuki (leader), Rich Leiker (co-leader).

One of the first climbs I did with the Sierra Club (back in the early 80's) was Temple Crag. I remember a pretty easy climb that ended in an exposed traverse to a small summit area. We did it one at a time, roped, and some people chose not to go at all (including one lady who had seen a climber splatter too recently to get her nerve up for the traverse). Fast forward 15 years, after a long break with bad knees, and now I'm doing 40-50 list peaks per year (some solo). How would the peak seem to me now? More importantly, would I be excited about re-climbing Temple and Gayley en route to Palisade Crest, or would I lose motivation and hang out in camp? Would I turn back short of the summit on Disappointment like I did last year? These were the thoughts going through my head as we trudged up the South Fork trail (near Big Pine) in the warm sun.

As we searched for a use trail west of Willow Lake, the flood of old memories fell prey to the concentration of boulder hopping, and I neglected to mention that we missed Elinore Lake on our way to Gayley many years ago. Yep, you guessed it, we did the same thing this time! Found a wonderful campsite just under the face at 3412m, half a mile north of Elinore. This campsite (see waypoint CAMP) is in a perfect position for Temple Crag, so we bagged it the same day we packed in. Following the drainage that disappears about 100m elevation below Contact Pass, we went right around a corner into the chute that opens into the southeast face of Temple. If you do this right, it is arguably second class with perhaps one or two third class moves. The face is simple second class, leading you to the dreaded knife edge ridge. Bob and Rich jumped over the 3'-wide 10'-high notch in the ridge, while I edged over to it and stemmed up the notch, and from there it's not very far or very hard to the summit block. Time changes perceptions, and on the way back I simply stepped over the notch that made me rope up so many years ago.

With a late start and long (5400' gain) first day, we didn't start early for Palisade Crest the second day! Bob was convinced it was mostly a walkup, with one long pitch of 4th class, so getting our rest seemed the right thing to do. We headed up the drainage toward Gayley, instead of crossing into the Elinore drainage, which added some time but gave us a nice Tour de Bowl, crossing below Sill and Jepson before attaining the ridge that leads to Scimitar "Pass" (the ridge crossing is loosely called a pass, but it is certainly not at the saddle). Now on route, headed south along the ridge, we quickly found staying directly on the crest was more than a simple walk-up.

If you like excitement, stay on the crest (we rappelled once on the way UP). If you want the easier route, stay on the crest from Scimitar Pass until you hit a slabby section about 6' wide with red lichens. Look ahead for an up- and-left-facing gap between two boulders on the ridge, drop a bit on the west, and go back up to the gap. Go through the gap and then drop to traverse the east side of the ridge to the big notch (see waypoint NOTCH) separating the peak from the hump you've been climbing.

The crest of the hump north of the peak. The 160' 4th class pitch and the summit to its left are in the background.

This final traverse to the notch has stumped several parties. It is arguably class 4. The moves aren't that hard if you don't mind the exposure, so if it gets harder you're off route. [NOTE: When I returned in 2006, I didn't think it was 3rd class at all, and in fact we turned back here. Some have done the whole peak unroped, some have roped to and from the notch on both sides.] This notch has a huge chockstone to help you, following which you come to the infamous "160 foot pitch" of 4th class: This smooth slab is criss-crossed with 3" deep cracks that make climbing easy but protecting the climb impossible. Send someone confident up first (like Bob!) and you'll enjoy the climb with regular boots and a top rope belay.

The 160' 4th class pitch and the summit block close up. The route to the summit is around the right side of the summit blocks.

Once again we must ask "what's the difference between 3rd and 4th class?" If it's just exposure, or risk of death, the slab is 4th. If it's the difficulty of climbing, the slab is 3rd. (Bob asked me to note in the report that the approach to the slab was harder than he expected, but the slab itself was easier than expected.) Pal Crest was indeed harder than most expected, and we returned to camp after dark: 12.5 hours for a mere 3500' of gain, with almost no time on top. The good news was that the mosquitoes had gone to bed before we started dinner. The bad news was two late nights in a row.

Sunday morning Rich and I headed down to Willow Lake with our packs while Bob, Doug, and Eddie headed for Gayley. They did fine, except Eddie missed the last Bart train to San Francisco and had to spend the night at the station. Rich and I should have added another day to our schedule! From Willow Lake we made good time after dropping our full packs. even though we were weighed down by a 50m rope, climbing helmets, some pro, ice axes, and crampons. The whole area was strangely devoid of people, but we bumped into several around Finger Lake.

Nicely colored Finger Lake, which is the base camp for many Palisades climbs.

Pressing on, the crampons came into use for the eastern flank of the Palisade Glacier. A major rockslide was the first obstacle - a single rock had made an 8 foot deep trench, and debris was everywhere. We took pictures and congratulated ourselves on being somewhere else when it all came down. Then we hit the bergschrund, passed easily on the right if you don't mind 50+ degree slopes, and started up the 40 degree chute that leads to the ridge east of Balcony. As I found last year, the snow near the top had turned to water ice from melt/freeze cycles. Rich balked and we took to the horribly loose rock to our left.

At the saddle (waypoint SNOTOP), we knew it was going to get late. We talked about a turnaround time, but didn't set one. Traversing over to Balcony I was fighting the demons from last year when I turned back because I had only half a rope and no partner. We quickly found the chute south of Balcony, as described by Secor, and Rich told me later he was hoping I would suggest turning around. It's narrow, it's loose, and it's vertical. There are two chockstones (not one, as Secor says) the upper of which can be climbed around on the right (facing down) and the lower of which is best stemmed. A full length (50m) rope tied off to a sling near the top will get you past all the 4th class, but there is no good place to set protection in the middle of the descent. Near the top is an oddball white stone formation (quartzite?) that takes a sling well, and I had a small ascender for a self-belay on the way back. We rapped down, leaving the rope tied to a sling.

The 4th class chute, with two chockstones, that you descend from Balcony to reach the 3rd class face of Disappointment.

The chute joins a much larger chute, where you turn toward Disappointment on 2nd class footing. There are a surprising number of constructed bivy sites on the 3rd class ledges that make up the southeast face, indicating the few people who climb this thing don't always make it down on time! We worked up to the notch between Balcony and Disappointment, then traversed over to the southwest ridge, and finally ran the ridge to the summit. Not sure if that's the best way, but we wasted no time thinking about it. Just a few feet below 14k at 6pm is nice, but we had a lot of real climbing left to do. We didn't admire the sunset too long.

The 4th class chute is not one for a large group of people. It's hard to take cover, and your rope will knock rocks down on you just from rappelling. There are tempting detours on one side, but they mostly lead you to 5th class dead ends. On the way back, Rich got impatient and forced one of the dead ends to go, passing me, but cries of "oh shit" and worse echoed down the chute, along with some rocks. I felt safe using the ascender for self-belay on a fixed line, and while Rich saved some time climbing unroped I'm sure that waiting for a top belay would have been safer. At that altitude, with no food or water and a cold wind, a simple broken leg could have been fatal. (The web version of this report will have some pictures after I shoot the rest of the roll.)

I thought we should admit the day was too long, and head down the 2nd class (south) side of the ridge where we could get to lower elevation more quickly. We would not be as cold as a forced bivy on the ridge at 13k, and we would have water, but we would have to climb back out the next day. Rich had his sights set on camp or bust, and believed we could sit out the night at the top of the snow chute (which was at least out of the wind). Rich won, but 15 minutes after we sat down he started to shiver and we decided to attempt the glacier in the dark. It was now 930pm, and there was no moon. I taped my flashlight to my climbing helmet (OK, I should have had a headlamp, but that's what duct tape is FOR!) and we did battle with the loose rock, the steep snow, the bergschrund, the moraine, and finally stopped to wonder where we were when it warmed up enough to remove a layer. My GPS said our gear cache (ski poles, water filter, etc) was not in the direction we were travelling. Without it, we would have walked on down the drainage with no hope of finding the cache.

We tried to bivy at Finger Lake, but even below 11k it was too cold to sleep for more than an hour. Back on our feet, after midnight, we stayed on the use trail and then the real trail until reaching our packs at 3am. Again, the GPS proved its worth by leading us to within 50m of our gear, even though the area did not "look right" and we almost chose not to believe it. 20 hours of climbing ended with hot chocolate and the softest bed of pine cones I've ever had. Bliss is easy when you abuse yourself first!

Mark Adrian wrote:

> I've been reading reports on tcrag and I'm wondering if you recall
> the final move towards the summit any worse than [insert other peaks].
> Or, better yet, I'd think a 7mm short rope would be enough?
> Recollections? Looks like helmets, axe and crampons are mandatory.

Steve Eckert replied:

Hmmm. Which reports have you been reading? As I said in the report above, I remember wanting a rope the first time I went there... but then again we had someone on that first trip who was testing her nerve climbing again after watching a friend splatter the previous season. All that talk of accidents probably freaked me out. She did not do the summit block, everyone else did and everyone roped up as I recall. We went to and from the summit one at a time back then.

The 98 climb was done without a rope and without wanting a rope: "Time changes perceptions, and on the way back I simply stepped over the notch that made me rope up so many years ago." There was ample room on the summit for the three of us.

I think a lot of people make the HUGE mistake of climbing UP from Contact Pass, instead of dropping around to the second class route. Unless, of course, you WANT some more exciting climbing before the summit is in sight. We climbed from Willow lake rather than from the numbered lakes (south fork trail vs. north fork trail) so didn't have to make that choice. There is really only one move (a stem right at the summit) that's even close to 4th class... or you can walk across the top.

I felt no need for a helmet, and we climbed on dry rock. This time of year, however, it's hard to predict what the snow will be like. It's a great summit. Enjoy! And remember your climbing route for the descent. There are ducks everywhere, not just on the best route.

Eric Beck adds:

We climbed the Sun Ribbon ( good climb ) in August 78. I don't remember that the summit block was anything other than routine 3rd class. On the descent, we lost 600 feet unnecessarily. We could have done a single rappel right onto Contact Pass. On the ascent, I believe this is supposed to be class 4. This presupposes that you have a rope of course. If you go up the class 2 route all the way, it is just a sand slog with a little 3rd at the top.

Mark Adrian adds:

Steve, thanks for your posted recollections. I read the PCS reports (re'd above) and RJs 1st edition. I don't particularly want to carry a full 9mm and hence my inquiry. RJ mentions 50' of class three just before the summit, which contrasts your and others' recollections (exposure, etc). So, I'll take my 7mm and some slings. I know the SPS requires helmets on this peak as well, perhaps due to melting snow and potential falling rock. Some friends just did the Swiss Arete last weekend and reported ideal conditions. So, I hope that means dry rock and NO mosquitoes.

Peter Maxwell asks:

After reading your report on Palisade Crest I get the impression that taking pro is almost a waste of time. Is this true? If someone has to go up that slab unprotected then it seems all that's needed is a rope and sufficient equipment to set a belay up top.

Steve Eckert replies:

I think Bob put one piece in part way up, but it was pretty hard to protect. Since he led, I'd ask him for specifics. I just followed the rope!

Peter Maxwell asks:

I'm planning to attempt Palisade Crest this weekend and would like some advice on the famous 160' pitch. In particular, how much pro should we take and are two ropes necessary in order to rappel back down? SRE's description gives the impression that the slab in question is virtually impossible to protect, suggesting a minimal amount is needed to take with us. Also, since 160' is almost 50m, one rope for rapelling would not be sufficient unless there is some place half way down to stop.

Bob Suzuki replies:

The slab is at a low-moderate angle so is fairly easy friction climbing. There are many very shallow 0.2-0.7" wide cracks meandering along it's surface but mostly not quite deep enough to take pro. Along it's left side is a dihedral with a 1-2" crack offering good placements. After climbing up about 1/3 of it, having passed by many shallow surface cracks without much effort to set protection (it's easy climbing), I diagonalled left to the dihedral to set a piece. Trouble was then the rope wasn't long enough to reach the top of the pitch so I had to diagonal to the right side to a good belay ledge, bring people up to the intermediate ledge, and then finish the 160' with a second short pitch. Mistake was not making any effort to set pro in the shallow surface cracks. If you can find placements then you could climb straight up in 1 pitch. Some people have climbed it without protection (it is class 4).

I would take a light rack, chocks #4-10 and cams <= #1 Camelot, slings, 2 ropes for the rappel, and try to use the surface cracks. Also, boots are adequate for the climbing.


info Download the Waypoint+ data below as a GPX file for your GPS.

Datum,North America 1983,GRS 80,0,-1.6E-7,0,0,0
RP,D,CAR , 37.128446103,-118.4273064975,09/02/1998,23:26:57,21-AUG-98 02:48
RP,D,TRAILH, 37.125517131,-118.4384483937,09/02/1998,23:26:57,21-AUG-98 02:48
RP,D,CAMP , 37.102922202,-118.4810096864,09/02/1998,23:26:57,21-AUG-98 21:25
RP,D,CONTAC, 37.109155656,-118.4855104331,09/02/1998,23:26:57,21-AUG-98 02:48
RP,D,TEMPLE, 37.109654547,-118.4912396315,09/02/1998,23:26:57,21-AUG-98 02:48
RP,D,NOTCH , 37.081813217,-118.4902311210,09/02/1998,23:26:57,22-AUG-98 21:56
RP,D,PALCST, 37.081448437,-118.4896517638,09/02/1998,23:26:57,21-AUG-98 02:48
RP,D,ELINOR, 37.096356154,-118.4795881156,09/02/1998,23:26:57,21-AUG-98 02:48
RP,D,GAYLEY, 37.103029490,-118.5004878882,09/02/1998,23:26:57,21-AUG-98 02:48
RP,D,CACHE , 37.078573109,-118.4611023311,09/02/1998,23:26:57,23-AUG-98 19:01
RP,D,SNOTOP, 37.066513897,-118.4612954501,09/02/1998,23:26:57,24-AUG-98 04:19
RP,D,DISAPT, 37.067924739,-118.4674216155,09/02/1998,23:26:57,21-AUG-98 02:48
RP,D,FINGER, 37.088647486,-118.4612578992,09/02/1998,23:26:57,21-AUG-98 02:48
RP,D,PACKS , 37.096136213,-118.4599328879,09/02/1998,23:26:57,23-AUG-98 16:20

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