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Climbing Middle Palisade's East Face

 
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_kick_rocks_



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PostPosted: Wed Oct 07, 2015 9:47 am    Post subject: Climbing Middle Palisade's East Face  Reply with quote

If you want the short version, the Photo Gallery is on Facebook

Pre-gaming at the Onion Valley Campground



October 2nd, 2015 -- 10:00pm - We started the drive up to the Onion Valley Campground from Independence. We had moved the meet-up about 30 miles south of Big Pine Lakes because the campgrounds closer to our destination were closed for the season. David and I were the last to show up and we were so giddy, we started making bets on what the temperature would be at elevation. We knew the ritual; exit the car, layer up, setup camp, and finally...BEER. The others immediately greeted us with warm bonfire reeking hugs. I couldn't tell who wanted us to finish setting up faster, us or them. It was a solid group of some incredible friends and all we wanted to do was share a night around a flame before the real party.

The next morning, I awoke at 7:30am and had missed the Alpen Glow, but the moonlight from the previous night had given us a black and white sneak peak of what would be seen and it was better than I expected. Our camp was surrounded by beautiful forests, towering views of Kearsage Peak, several streams, a family of Deer, and waterfalls. I started exploring and made it to a trail head where I felt like I was being torn in half by the temptation to hike up to Kearsage Pass and my previous agreement to make breakfast for the others. Damn!

Finger Lake via Big Pines Creek Trial Head



After a leisurely morning breakfast, we made our way to Big Pines for a quick coffee and restroom break before heading up to the trail head where we took a few mandatory group photos and started the trek.
My favorite thing about the first section of the Big Pines trails is that its easy walking through a mostly dry landscape filled with sage bush and other chaparral. The only hint of what was to come are the sweeping views of Pine trees off in the distance. After crossing the Big Pines Creek, we found ourselves near another mandatory photo opportunity; an official John Muir Wilderness sign with a majestic view of the climb to Willow Lake behind it which we could already tell would be a dreadful ascent. The 900 foot climb is a series of switchbacks that anyone with full gear on will tell you is worth taking base camp half way through.

Of course, like any ascent in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the relief at the top is worth every bit of the pain. After passing an absolutely gorgeous example of our native Bristlecone Pine, which I suspect would be cause for anyone to stub their toe over, I found myself confused as to how I arrived at what looked like something out of a 'Lord of the Rings' film. In fact, the entire group would soon acknowledge this place as "Middle Earth" for the remainder of the trip. The trail slithers its way through two slab walls and is surrounded by a blotchy abstract painting of long yellow grass and rocky terrain which commands a long break almost as much as the fantastic view of Mount Sill atop Willow Lake to the West and of course, Middle Palisade and the glacier, to the South. We were about half way there.

After enjoying a lunch, I felt like moving would be a good idea, even though some of our group had not made it to the saddle yet. I snagged the trail beta from Victor and started making my way toward Brainard Lake. We had agreed to meet on the West Side of Finger Lake to setup camp and rid ourselves of some of our liquid beverages before calling it a night. The image Victor showed me of the climb to Finger lake had three ascents, one of which was a steep ridge line in which he had used the term "Class 3". I knew EXACTLY which route I would take. I quickly dropped down into a shady dense forest with a well marked trail. I was moving fairly quickly and stumbled upon a family of Deer who I asked for directions to the class 3 section to. They had no i-deer what I was speaking of and I wasn't exactly 'fawn' of that...*SMH*... Very Happy

I started ascending and was worried that I missed my opportunity for an interesting climb up, when I came to a opening in the tree line with a rocky Gully just South of the trail. After a few minutes climbing here, I was able to see that this was exactly where I needed to be. A steep rocky ridge offering a complete overview of Brainard Lake to one side and the Valley I came from behind me with a clear view of the lip leading to Finger Lake ahead of me. This direct path is my absolute favorite type of climb.

By 5:30pm, after a short boulder scramble past the lake, I had made it to camp and within an hour I was set and ready for dinner. By 7:00pm I had realized that the rest of the group would not make it to camp. Shit. I was waiting in my tent with the vestibule facing the North side of the lake so that I could see their approach, but it was already dark and not a headlamp was in sight. Once I was comfortable with the fact that I would spend the night alone, I made dinner and commenced drinkage! After my second beverage, I went outside to use the restroom and saw headlamps in the distance! Success!! I picked up all of my food and started stumbling toward the lights to find that our entire group had separated into three because energy levels were low on the way up but in a few minutes, the last group finally showed up and were all grateful to share another night of star gazing and beer drinking. The conditions were perfect, and a successful summit was inevitable.

Middle Palisade Approach via Finger Lake



October 3rd, 2015 -- 7:25am - After discussing day pack items, we hit the trail again, heading up the Western Ridge (from the North Tip of the Lake) toward the Glacier. This is a long and slow 1000 foot rock scramble up to 11700 feet, where we crossed the bottom of the Glacier and used the medial Moraine to get to the Red Rock Chute. it was during this section that elevation started getting to us. During a short break, I sat staring at the ground and one of the others asked me what was wrong. I explained that I had very low energy and within minutes, regretted this vocalization. It was the anchor in discouraging the others to continue. Within minutes Danny, Victor and I were openly discussing turning back. As I looked to David for confirmation, I noticed him up ahead moving faster than usual, almost as if he was avoiding the cloud of failure we were all engulfed by. OH HELL NAW! Pride, although not the best quality, is sometimes my biggest strength.

I caught up to him to see if he could spare any of the steroids he was using to fly up the mountainside. This is where the climbing dynamic I feel like I share with David came out full force. He reminded me that it was still extremely early in the morning, and that we only had 1500 feet to climb past the Red Rock Chute which we knew would be the most difficult part of the ascent. I still can't tell if it was the snack from earlier or his encouragement, but within minutes, I was ready to party. We took another break at the beginning of this Chute to wait for the others and asked them how they were doing. Victor swept his hand across his neck. They would not continue to the summit.

10:40am -- David and I started up the almost vertical chute in slightly different positions as to not cause rock fall to hit one another.  Like any 14er, we would take only a few steps before being halted by a wall of oxygen deprivation. Managing this was almost as difficult as the 1500 feet of class 3 mountain we were faced with, but every few minutes of climbing, we would take a short break and eventually  at 12:20pm, we made it to the peak to find THE most official Summit Register I had ever had the pleasure of signing, an official Sierra Club Register Box. The conditions could not have been more perfect. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the wind was still, while a slight haze left even Mount Whitney visible from the peak off to the South. We stared at Norman Clyde in utter disbelief as we had both seen trip reports of mountaineers that have hit both mountain tops in a Palisade Traverse.

Returning to Camp



12:45pm -- Descending the mountain was probably the hardest part to get through our head on the way up. We had talked about taking an hour longer to return to the glacier to avoid taking a spill down the mountainside. However, as we began to drop down, we noticed that we were making great time. We ended up making it back to the Glacier in under an hour and thirty minutes. We were stoked because getting back to camp before sunset meant we had more time to relax on the way there. We decided to take an alternative route down to the Southern tip of Finger Lake, straight down from the Glacier's End Moraine. I suggested it on the way up, but we became more confident when we saw another hiker descend it just before our arrival. Short cut!

Upon our arrival back at camp, we received a huge welcome and congratulations on another successful summit! Our friends were proud of us and we all talked about the trek over dinner and of course...beer! The others had spent the day hiking around and jumping into the Glacier Lakes, which in my opinion takes more guts than our climb did. I ended up heading back to my camp on the opposite side of the Lake at around 9:00pm to get any early nights rest. Weather forecasts predicted a storm to come in on Sunday and I really didn't feel like dealing with any harsh conditions.

A Winter Wonderland



October 4th, 2015 -- 4:00am - Drops of rain started to fall onto my tent. Shit.  I considered packing everything up immediately but I decided to wait it out. The rain stopped and 45 minutes later large chunks of hail inspired me to rethink that decision. The storm had come. I noticed my phone was running out of batteries so I did everything I could to pack in the dark to save battery for my return to the others camp on the North side of the Lake. As I finished packing everything, LITERALLY, as I put my tent back into my backpack the phone turned off. I should mention that my headlamp had broken a week before and the work light I brought for the trip fell into the Lake the night before when returning to camp. Fortunately I had moved back and forth from camp so many times, hopping from rock to rock was more like a drunken ballet recital and than a complete failure. I made it back to the crew and David was ready to go, so we said our good-byes and headed for the car.

The trek back was a completely different world. Not only did we navigate our own trail for the first half, but the snowfall and fog added eerie elements to the hike. We took our time and upon arriving back to the trail head, I tried convincing David to play Rock, Paper, Scissors over who would wait with the packs while the other went the extra 1/2 mile back to retrieve the car.  Luckily, we ran into a couple of older gentlemen heading down the road drinking Sierra Nevada at 9am who offered us a ride in their bed which was filled with dirt bikes and fishing rods. Why not?!

We made it back to Lone Pine to take a $5 shower at the Hostel and eat a massive "Clint Eastwood" breakfast at the Alabama Hills restaurant where we ran into Rebecca Brinegar from the "California Peaks" facebook group who congratulated us on our victory. What a journey! We kept going over what had just happened and how excited we were to have climbed a mountain that, a year ago, we would have considered out of our league. On the way home, I kept thinking about how many times David and I had worked together to navigate off trail terrain in a place we had never been. We were becoming a solid team and the trips to come would only encourage that trend.


TRAIL BETA (all rough estimates)

Decided not to include elevation gain as all of my previous reports have been inaccurate since I didn't account for the descents in between. OOPS!

Willow Lake Vista (Ev. 9823 ft.)  via Big Pine Lakes Trailhead (Ev. 7793 ft.)
This section of the trail is really easy. Stay on the South Fork Trail and cross the creek until you get to the John Muir sign before ascending the switchbacks to the vista. From here, you should spend some time gauging the next bit of the trail to finger lake.

Total Distance: 2.8 Miles

Brainard Lake Shore (Ev. 10246 ft.)  via Willow Lake Vista
Easy to follow trail, with couple gorgeous log crossings at the bottom of your descent. The trail has a few off shoots but stay in the general Southern direction and you'll be fine. Once you start to ascend however, the trail will head east for a bit before bringing you to Brainard Lake.

Total Distance: 5 miles  

Finger Lake (Ev. 10788 ft.)via Brainard Lake
This last bit to Finger Lake is quite the climb, but not long enough to be considered a struggle. You'll come to a lip and the Lake is just over that. Enjoy!

Total Distance: 5.5 miles

Red Rock Chute (Ev. 12745 ft.) via Finger Lake
This starts at the Ridge to the West of the North Tip of Finger Lake. It is a difficult Class 2 Rock hop for much of your 1000 foot ascent. Very little is easy from here on out. You will take many a break.

Total Distance: 7.35 miles

Middle Palisade Peak (Ev. 14018 ft.) via East Face
The Red Rock Chute is described by some as a Class 4 ascent, while it probably only really qualifies as an upper Class 3. There is a lot of loose rock on this vertical rock scramble. However, once you are past this, the rest of the East Face is somewhat less vertical Class 3 all the way up to the peak. The elevation was difficult to manage anything more than a few steps at a time and we took short 5 minute breaks by the suggestion. This entire last section is exhilarating.

Total Distance: 8 miles
Total Vertical Gain: 7864 feet

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tekewin



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PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2015 8:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the report. Middle Pal is a spectacular mountain and the Finger Lake is something special. I never get tired of pictures of that lake. Way to hang in there and bag a 14er. It is on my bucket list for sure.

Those fancy aluminum register boxes are rare. The only one I've personally seen is on Cobblestone in Los Padres. North Pal, Polemonium, Mt. Sill, and Starlight also have them, at least based on other reports I've seen.
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2015 12:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Congratulations. That's a great accomplishment. Keep it up!

Quote:
We stared at Norman Clyde in utter disbelief as we had both seen trip reports of mountaineers that have hit both mountain tops in a Palisade Traverse.


Has anybody here ever climbed or attempted Norman Clyde peak? It's just got stunning lines any way you look at it. Couldn't be a more fitting peak to name after the guy. I once turned back from the third or fourth pinnacle of Palisade Crest when I decided I wasn't going to make it solo, but I couldn't take my eyes off the northeast rib route directly up the face of Norman Clyde Peak. The whole area of that ridgeline extending from Palisade Crest, over Norman Clyde and on to Middle Pal seems to defy gravity.
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_kick_rocks_



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2015 6:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

tekewin wrote:
Those fancy aluminum register boxes are rare. The only one I've personally seen is on Cobblestone in Los Padres. North Pal, Polemonium, Mt. Sill, and Starlight also have them, at least based on other reports I've seen.


I was so pumped to see that box. I was really glad I let my friends do all the reading of trip reports prior to the trek. The surprise was the best! Thanks for reading.
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_kick_rocks_



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2015 6:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

walker wrote:
Congratulations. That's a great accomplishment. Keep it up!


This was my first time ascending any peak near Big Pine Lakes. All this stuff looks waaaay out of my league. Thanks for reading!


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