North Palisade (LeConte route), Giraud

1 Aug 1999 - by Scott Sullivan

Lacking good beta on the conditions on North Palisade, we opted to be prepared for the worst. Each person lugged helmet, harness, rappel/belay device, ice axe, and crampons in addition to the group equipment consisting of a 150' 9mm rope and a small rack consisting of five small chocks and three medium cams along with the requisite slings and carabiners.

At 7:30am Craig Haeussler, Elena Sherman, and I hoisted our heavy packs and began the trudge toward Bishop Pass. We reached the pass shortly after noon and stopped for lunch. By 1:30, we were headed for Palisade Basin via Thunderbolt Pass. The traverse from the Bishop Pass trail is not bad, but the last 400 vertical feet is over big class 2 boulders and was very tedious with our heavy packs. We crested the pass and quickly dropped approximately 400 vertical feet on the other side under threatening skies. Camp was made at the first decent water source in the drainage emptying into the north side of Lake 11523 at 5pm. We chose to camp high to avoid the mosquitoes we heard infested Barrett Lakes and to be higher up for our attempt on North Pal. It rained for about half hour starting about 10pm.

The next morning we left camp at 6:30am and traversed to the base of our chute. The correct chute is easy to identify by viewing the large (~500ft high) white cliffs on the west face of North Palisade. The chute that divides two right (southernmost) cliffs is the one to climb. We climbed the class 2 talus until reaching a point where the chute is completely filled with rock slabs. After climbing the first slab, we began our search for the catwalk on the left side of the gully. Craig investigated a higher upward slab that appeared too difficult to match the route description.

We down climbed perhaps 100 ft to an outward and downward sloping, extremely exposed, wet ledge. The cliff walls at this point are marked by black water stains. Not knowing if this was the catwalk or how difficult it might be, Craig led this section on belay. Part way across he found our first duck, and we realized we might actually be in the right spot. The climbing here is easy, but we felt the exposure merited a belay. Elena followed second on the now fixed line, clipping around the protection Craig had placed. I was belayed across last and cleaned the pitch.

We continued for a few more feet along a sandy ledge until a duck marks the place to turn right into a wide gully. We climbed up this gully over increasingly steep class 3 terrain. The pitch immediately before we reached the ice was steep and Craig belayed Elena and I up it. On top of this pitch we found the first rappel sling. Next up was a very narrow, icy gully leading to the first chockstone. Craig led this chopping steps, but Elena and I used our crampons. We didn't belay here, but the next pitch looked substantially harder and we established an anchor to belay Craig who once again took the point. This pitch was by far the crux of the climb and included mixed ice and rock as well as a very difficult move around the second chockstone.

The climbing became easier as we reached the top of this chute and turned left (north) into a broad chute leading to the summit area. We climbed directly north toward the ridge, then turned east to join the summit ridge just to the south of the summit. Most of this section is class 3. Craig led the final 50 feet over class 4 boulders to the summit, which the whole group reached by 3:30. We hastily signed the register and snapped a few photos. Clouds were all around us, and a light snow was beginning to fall.

We hurried down the way we came, belaying the summit area. As we were down climbing the broad chute below the summit, we had our first of two scares. I pulled a rock about my size loose and sent it tumbling down the mountain. Fortunately all of us were able to avoid its path.

Back above the second chockstone with clearing weather, we rappelled to a point immediately below the first chockstone. Hear we had the second scare when the rope got wedged between rock and ice as we were retrieving it. Fortunately Craig was able climb part way up the pitch and free the rope. Next we rappelled the icy section that we had cramponed up, and rappelled again on the steep pitch below that. All three of these rappels had existing slings left by a previous party.

We continued down climbing back to the catwalk, which we belayed as on the way up. Another couple hundred feet of class 3 brought us safely into class 2 talus. The pace accelerated as we hurried down the chute. At the bottom we stowed our climbing gear and hurried off toward camp, which would be difficult to find in the dark. There are lots of small cliffs across this section, making navigation difficult. We reached the gully below camp and climbed back up a small amount and staggered into camp at 8:30, just before dark.

The next day we were still tired from North Palisade, but started anyway for Mt. Sill. After an hour of hiking it became clear the we were not moving very fast and that Sill was a long distance away. We opted to spend the morning exploring Palisade Basin. Many of the Barrett Lakes we found teaming with tadpoles and frogs. Stops were also made to examine our previous days route and bolder on the cliffs and rocks. We ate lunch and returned to camp at 1pm.

Next we packed up camp and followed a high series of ramps several hundred feet above Lake 11523 and eventually winding down to Lake 11468. We rounded the south side of this lake and headed northwest up to the flatter area east of Knapsack Pass. Here we picked up a nice use trail that went west toward the pass. On the other side of the pass the going was tougher as the trail frequently disappeared. However, we still reached our camp at the second large lake shortly after 5pm. Knapasack Pass is somewhat easier than Thunderbolt Pass, but we felt the added mileage makes it a tossup.

In the morning, Craig hike out while Elena and I climbed Giraud. We ascended the ridge southwest from camp, the followed it toward Peak 12265. As the ridge steeped, we traversed into the drainage. We opted to climb the more solid rock close to Peak 12265 rather than the loose looking crude heading to the saddle between Giraud and Peak 12265. Even though this rock was solid, we lost a lot of time finding a class 3 route to traverse to the northeast side of the saddle between Giraud and Peak 12265. We descended the south side of this saddle about 400 ft, then traversed upward onto the south flank of Giraud. We reached the summit via the class 2 south face. We returned via the steep and loose class 2 route from the southwest side of the pass between Giraud and Peak 12265.

We camped at the same place and hiked out the next day in 5 hours.

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