Middle Palisade

4 Jul 1999 - by Kelly Maas

Over the July 4 weekend, several of us had a great time climbing Middle Palisade. With three days to do the climb and get home, we were not rushed. We marveled at the beautiful flowers (wild rose, lupine, columbine, shooting star, cactus, Indian paintbrush, buttercup, penstimen, etc.) as we hiked in, but our attention soon turned to a rushing S. Fork of Big Pine Creek that we had to cross. It wasn't very wide, but it was thigh deep, and it delayed us several minutes. It would no doubt pose little trouble later in the season. We then battled mosquitoes as we passed near Willow Lake, causing us to rush up the trail to Brainerd Lake without a rest. Fortunately good tent sites outnumbered mosquitoes at beautiful Finger Lake, so that's where we dropped our packs for the night.

I had a permit for 5, but we ended up with 10 at our camp. Chris and John Kerr had gotten their own permit and joined us, and some of their friends had a permit that they were using to climb Norman Clyde Pk. It was a great group and they made my job as leader an easy one.

Sunday morning dawned windy but otherwise beautiful. 7:00 saw us heading for the peak. As if on an expedition climb, almost everyone had crampons and helmet as well as an ice axe. The crampons were nice to have early in the morning but were not essential for the more experienced. We donned the helmets when we stepped off the glacier, as we had heard of loose rocks in the gullies. It proved to be a good idea for a group our size.

As with many previous parties, our group spent some time wondering what gully was what as we struggled to match the guide book descriptions with what we were encountering. Only after we were done with the climb and I did a little more scouting did we come to a real understanding of the route(s). After an incorrect start on some terribly loose rock (one person turned back), we ended up climbing the same gully that Peter Maxwell's group did almost 6 years ago. His description is right on - it's an enjoyable climb, but rather stimulating at times as there were a couple of class 4 moves. While we were all able to climb it, none of us wanted to down climb it. A stimulating but short traverse of the ridge took us to the summit, which itself is non-trivial.

After lunch and a rest and some fantastic views on the summit, we descended the "correct" chute which directly intersects the summit. Again echoing Peter, this was an easier but less exciting chute, with a bit more loose rock. With 7 people, we went slowly to minimize knocking down loose rock, which was impossible to avoid. We all got off safely and enjoyed glissading and boot skiing back to camp.

That evening the mosquitoes arrived with warmer temperatures. We tried to linger and socialize after dinner but these pests drove us to our tents, where we soon fell asleep. The hike out Monday morning was a bit over 3 hours. While some of us rushed home, others stopped for a relaxing swim in Hot Creek.

The participants were Jeff Fischer, Wendy Wason, Landa Robillard, Dave Erskine, John and Chris Kerr, Mark Wallace and Kelly Maas (scribe and organizer).

So what's the secret of the Northeast face route on Middle Palisade? I don't normally engage in protracted route descriptions, but this time I can't resist - probably because we goofed - but with good results.

Our mistake was that we didn't start at the correct place. As David Harris says in his report, the key is to find the ledge, which is above the moraine. We got off the glacier and onto the buttress too low, on some rotten red rock. We should have known better since there was no ledge, and we were below the top of the moraine. I later found the ledge and it is much better.

All of my guidebooks (Secor (1992), Roper and Moynier/Fiddler) correctly say to follow the ledge into a chute. Note where you enter this chute so that you can find it on your way down - it's the only way off. At the top of the chute, Secor and Roper both say to "traverse right" at a particular colored rock, but this is confusing. Topping out of this gully (by a small pinnacle) is obvious - you get a much improved view of the face of the mountain. A large couloir comes up from the right and splits at a point about 100 feet lower down. (From a distance, this is the wide chute immediately to the right of what I call the "lower buttress" of the face.)

The left fork is the "correct" gully, and during our early July climb it had a patch of snow in it. (The snow was easy to avoid and will probably be gone by the end of July, but it made a great landmark since it was the largest snow patch on the face.) To take this easier way up the mountain, just climb straight up and into this chute. Higher up, take the left fork when it branches. This takes you directly to the summit.

The right fork is the "wrong" gully, which our group climbed. If you wish to take this route (a good route, but not for novices), traverse across the left fork to get to the right fork. This will also require about 100 feet of descent. As with the other route, take the left fork when it branches higher up. A traverse left along the summit ridge takes you to the summit.

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