Peak(s):  Thunderbolt Peak - 14003
"Starlight Peak" - 14220
North Palisade - 14242
Polemonium Peak - 14100
Barrett Peak - 13962
Date Posted:  08/17/2016
Date Climbed:   08/02/2016
Author:  Furthermore
 Palisade Traverse - Variation   


Thunderbolt Peak 14,003 (un-ranked)
"Starlight Peak" 14,220 (un-ranked)
North Palisade 14,242
Polemonium Peak 14,100 (un-ranked)
"Barrett Peak" 13,962



August 02, 2016
~20.8 Miles, ~6,300 Gain
TH: South Lake
~30 minutes from Bishop
Max difficulty: Class 5.5 to 5.9 or C0


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I was pretty excited for this traverse as it was the entire reason I wanted to go to California; I'm glad that I saved the best for last although I wasn't sure how a 20+ mile day was going to treat my poor legs after 6 long days of climbing. A rest day was warranted after Middle Palisade where we enjoyed some of the hot springs in the area.

Michelle decided to join us for part of the approach hike to climb Mt. Goode. We ended up sleeping in our cars well below South Lake as the camping and parking is Nazified near the lake. We woke up early, made the short drive to the trailhead and started our long slog up the trail in the dark at 3:15 AM.

Silly trail games kept our minds off the plotting where Michelle left us just past Saddlerock Lake for Mt. Goode. Gerod and I continued up to Bishop Pass where we arrived at 6:00 AM just as the sun was starting to rise. We left the trail and started our easy cross-country hike southeast towards "Thunderbolt Pass." Easy tundra hiking interspersed with an occasional cliff band led us towards Thunderbolt Pass. The last 0.3 mile to the pass was obnoxious talus/boulder hopping; where after 7.2 miles, we arrived at the pass at 7:20 AM. Whew, that was a long approach.

Sunrise after Bishop Pass.
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Thunderbolt (left) and Starlight (center)
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Flowers
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From the pass we could finally get to view the peaks we were climbing and they looked impressive. We continued over Thunderbolt Pass and started up the first obvious talus gully leading up towards Thunderbolt Peak. Loose talus guided us upwards where a large cliff in the middle gully prevented upward progress. To bypass the cliff, we traversed up some class 3 ledges and terraces on the right side of the gully. Once past the cliff, it was easy climbing up the gully. We veered right near the top of the gully and tunneled under a large boulder which took us to the final summit ridge/scramble to the summit boulder.

Class 3 ledges to bypass cliff on Thunderbolt.
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Gully to reach Thunderbolt.
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Gaining the ridge on Thunderbolt.
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Sinuous class 3 scrambling on excellent stone on the northeast side of the ridge took us to the summit block where we caught up to a solo climber. I started to lead the summit block but backed off due to the nasty fall potential. The summit boulder on Thunderbolt is definitely in the PG-13/R range. After some little rope tricks, we had a line up to the summit by 8:30 AM. Once on the top, I discovered a key crimp that I missed when I tried the climb free.

Starlight in the distance.
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Class 3 scrambling on Thunderbolt
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Class 3 scrambling on Thunderbolt
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Class 3 climbing to Thunderbolt. (Photo by Sara)
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Summit area of Thunderbolt. Starlight in the distance.
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Since Gerod and I were planning on the traverse, the solo climber, Sara, asked if she could tag along. Sure! We departed the summit area of Thunderbolt and followed the ridge crest southeast, along with some class 3 down-climbing, to our first rappel anchor. We couldn't easily find the "class 4" chimney to descend to the saddle.

A single 60M rope rappel led us to the top of the class 3 slabs which then guided us to the Thunderbolt-Starlight saddle. Two large gullies, not obvious from the saddle, between the saddle and the summit of Starlight made route finding complicated. From the saddle, we climbed up a series of class 4 face/blocks which took us to a ridge and the second hidden gully. Our beta didn't describe a rappel, bypass or any mention of this gully and ridge. We found a rap anchor and made another single 60M rope rappel into the second gully. Maybe we were supposed to stay closer to the ridge crest?

Class 3 down-climbing to reach rappel anchor on Thunderbolt.
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Class 3 ramps to gain Thunderbolt-Starlight saddle.
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Class 3 slabs to the Thunderbolt-Starlight saddle (Photo by Gerod)
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From the bottom of the rappel, we traversed across the gully and started climbing up class 4/low 5th class dihedral towards the summit pillar of Starlight, "The Milk Bottle." As we were climbing up the dihedral, Gerod dislodged a loaf of bread sized rock down the dihedral. My heart sank as the rock hit Sara in the shoulder. Fortunately, Sara was braced well in the dihedral and her backpack took the brunt of the falling rock.

Dihedral before rockfall.
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Class 3 to gain Starlight.
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Just a little bit of a sore shoulder, we continued upwards to the base of the Milk Bottle. Gerod took the 5.4 lead up the Milk Bottle where we summited Starlight around 11:45 AM and spent at least a half hour enjoying the summit. North Palisade was dauntingly close at less than 500 feet as the crow flies. Yet, we didn't know it at the time, we had the hardest part of the traverse still to complete.

North Palisade from the summit area of Starlight.
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Summit of Starlight.
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North Palisade.
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Rappel off Starlight. (Photo by Gerod)
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Passing between some large boulders near the summit, we continued towards North Palisade. We quickly found our rappel anchors and made two single 60M rope rappels off Starlight. From the bottom of the rappels, exposed class 4 scrambling up blocks, including a few beached whale moves, guided us toward the "creative rappel."

Traversing from Starlight.
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Beached whale
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The creative rappel involved rappelling down a deep notch and swinging out of the notch to a pedestal on the other side of a deep chasm - it wasn't difficult, just interesting. Exposed traversing across slabs led to the 5.5 dihedral which took us to the summit of North Palisade. The 5.5 dihedral started with a face traverse which can be traversed horizontally to the dihedral but I opted for the off-width that angled up to intersect the dihedral higher. Just above the belay, the summit North Palisade abruptly arrived at 2:40 PM.

The creative rappel. (Photo by Gerod)
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Class 4 on North Palisade.
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Exposed slab traverse after the creative rappel. (Photo by Sara)
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Final 5.5 climb up North Palisade.
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Gaining the top of North Palisade after the 5.5. (Photo by Sara)
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From the summit of North Palisade, we opted for a rappel to reach the lower portion of North Palisade's southeast ridge. Minor route finding was required to find the rappel stations down to the U-Notch and two single 60M rope rappels later we reached the bottom of the U-Notch.

Descending off North Palisade.
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Descending off North Palisade.
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Class 3 off North Palisade. (Photo by Gerod)
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Polemonium from the top of the rappels at the U-Notch
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The start of the climbing up to Polemonium looked more difficult than we had expected. Sara was deciding if she should skip Polemonium and descend back to camp but decided to join us. Stout 4th class/5.0 scrambling out of the U-Notch was required; I gladly used a belay which then turned into a simul-climb to the the crux. The crack used to gain Polemonium's southwest ridge is rated 5.2. It felt quite a bit harder than 5.2 - more like 5.4-5.5. Once on the ridge, more 4th class climbing led us to the summit where we arrived at 4:00 PM.

Climbing out of the U-Notch on Polemonium.
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The 5.2 crux on Polemonium.
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The 5.2 crack on Polemonium.(Photo by Gerod)
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Traditionally, the Palisade Traverse continues on towards Mt. Sill but I knew I wanted to return for Mt. Gayley and climb the Swiss Arete on Sill. Since I'm obsessed with 13ers, we decided to continue towards "Barrett Peak" instead of climbing Sill. Our traverse would still accomplish completing all of the technical terrain required for the "full" Palisade traverse.

We said our farewells to Sara who returned to the U-Notch and then descend southwest back to her camp. Exposed class 4 scrambling from the summit of Polemonium led Gerod and I to the "V-Notch." We set a quick rappel and descended into the V-Notch. Since we were starting to get a little tired, we decided to keep a belay out of the notch.

Class 2 terrain after the V-Notch guided us down to the Polemonium-"Barrett" saddle. Gerod decided to sit "Barrett" out so he could conserve energy for the very long hike out. I tried to make quick work up "Barrett" and arrived on the summit at 6:15 PM. Returning back to the saddle, Gerod and I started our descent down the Polemonium snowfield where we were glad we carried our crampons and axes; the snowfield was extremely icy.

Mt Sill from Barrett.
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Descending the Polemonium snow field.
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As we made our way around to the east side of Potluck Pass, the hiking involved nothing but obnoxious talus. Some class 3-4 climbing up slabs and ledges was required get up and over Potluck Pass. Gerod wasn't happy to see over 1.5 miles more of obnoxious talus just to reach Thunderbolt Pass.

Endless talus to Potluck Pass.(Photo by Gerod)
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Sun is setting before Potluck Pass.
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Battling, we made our way from Potluck Pass to Thunderbolt Pass. I was hoping to reach Thunderbolt Pass before dark but the talus was more slow going than we had anticipated. Once we hit Thunderbolt Pass, we knew we only had 0.3 mile of talus before we reached grassy alpine tundra. Even though it was grassy tundra back to Bishop Pass, we knew that there was lots of small granite scarps we had to scale and meander around.

Sunset!
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Sunset over the Palisades. (Photo by Gerod)
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At last, we reached Bishop Pass where autopilot trail led us back to the car where we arrived at 1:15 AM making for a 22 hour day. I think Gerod was about ready to strangle me as it was by far the longest day he has completed to date. Now, that we climbed some of the hardest California 14ers, I can't wait to go back. Maybe, just maybe, Gerod will come too.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
AlexeyD
User
wow.
08/17/2016 10:46
Thanks for sharing! Really makes me miss the Sierra...


Monster5
User
Nice
08/17/2016 11:19
Super complicated terrain. Great pics. Yeah, describing the beta is pretty tough given the amount of route-finding. I wonder which route is faster - via the N TH or the E. Difficult to compare direction and 3 p vs 2 and Swiss vs Tbolt.

I think the "Full" traverse goes from Tbolt to Middle Pal along the ridge, and the short traverse, the more famous part, involves Tbolt to Sill. Good call on the Swiss. I think it was better than Ellingwood arete, but still no RMNP or other classic climb.


SherpaSara
User
Nice TR!
08/17/2016 12:32
Nice TR, Furthermore!

Monster 5, the full Palisade traverse is from Southfork Pass (a couple of peaks south of Middle Pal) to Bishop Pass (including Mount Winchell and Mount Agassiz which are north of T-bolt).


FireOnTheMountain
User
awesome
08/18/2016 08:54
nice fellas! I was wondering how that "creative rap" would be between Starlight and N Pal. We did the traverse the opposite direction of you guys so missed out on that but luckily, didn't miss out on the death march out after a long day like you haha.

Oh, and when we climbing?!


blazintoes
User
Someday
08/19/2016 10:48
I'll get to go explore California and see what real rock climbing is about because bigger is better.
Soon!



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