Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Da Palisades

Simply put, the Palisades are the most mountainous mountains in the Sierra Nevada.  
--Peter Croft, The Good, the Great and the Awesome

   With these words as inspiration, Jeb and I packed our rucksacks and hiked up the north fork of Big Pine Creek.  Our objective was to traverse the ridge separating the north and south forks of the Big Pine drainage, reaching the summits of Temple Crag, Mt. Gayley, and finally Mt. Sill on the Sierra crest.  The climb was exhausting, beautiful, and looooong.  The fact that this is one of the shortest ridge traverses in the Sierra is humbling, but it means there are many more adventures to be had and learning to be done!

Jeb contemplating life, love, and Temple Crag.  Our first climb the next morning would take us up the Moon Goddess ArĂȘte, the prominent ridge rising above Jeb's head.

By the time the sun cast its alpenglow on the creatively named 1st, 2nd and 3rd lakes, we were already high on Temple Crag.

Jeb climbing as we moved up past the first tower of Moon Goddess.

On the summit of Temple Crag at 11am, we were full of energy and confidence.  

The long, winding ridge to Mt. Gayley stretches out to the north from Temple Crag, and it was obvious we had a lot of work to do.  The hulking mass of Mt. Sill on the horizon provided a constant reminder of where we were headed.

Hours of climbing on the Gayley ridge, crossing from one side to the other to avoid dead ends, ate away at our motivation and confidence.  GU packets were deployed, water was guzzled, and we continued on.

Finally, at 4pm we crested yet another spire and saw that there were none left, we were on the summit of Mt. Gayley!  With no time to waste, Jeb took off towards the saddle with Mt. Sill while I lingered on the summit snapping photos and enjoying the view of the jagged crest behind us.

Our last thousand feet of climbing up the Swiss ArĂȘte to the left of the snowfield would take us to the summit of Mt. Sill.

Just before 7pm, we pulled onto the summit and were treated to our first view of the western slope of the Palisades, and seemingly endless Sierra peaks beyond.  The sun was low in the sky, but we lingered on the summit soaking in magic of the Sierra. 

As we descended the snowfield of Mt. Sill, the sun slipped below the horizon.  Headlamp batteries are cheap though, and we just happy to be on our way back to camp and the burritos waiting there to get in our bellies!

Final stats for the day: 14 hours of climbing, 20 hours on the move.  3 peaks, ~4000' of climbing ranging from 3rd class to 5.9.

The next morning, we hiked out to our car and Jeb headed home to his job(?!).  I stuck around Glacier Lodge for a day resting my legs, then set out to climb the Middle Palisade.

This was my first time up the south fork of Big Pine creek, and I was struck by how much more wide open it was.  And the ridge crest to the west, wow!  Almost continuous knife edge for miles, from Mt. Sill down to Southfork Pass.  Above, the Middle Palisade rears its beautiful head above a still half-frozen glacial lake.

Follow the orange brick road!  The red scar low on the face marks the gully that I used to access the easier scrambling on the face above.

Second time on the Palisade crest in three days, this is the good life!  

Descending down past Finger Lake, my stomach cried out for dinner but I had to stop to take photos!  What a fantastic couple of days, I can't wait to come in the winter with skis!

More photos here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

words of wisdom from the elders

The quest of the mountaineer, in simplest terms, is for the freedom of the hills, to be fully at home in the high wilderness with no barriers he cannot pass, no dangers he cannot avoid.  A fine, fair country it is to call home, but the life is not always calm and easy; even the wisest and most skillful citizen suffers rough and dirty times, violent and miserable.
   This is the first paragraph of the first edition of The Freedom of the Hills, published in 1960.  I was lucky enough to come across a copy in the Sierra Club cabin at horse camp on Mt. Shasta.  It was tons of fun thumbing through a piece of mountaineering history, and often chuckling at the old-fashioned techniques which were cutting edge back in the 60s.  But the poetry of the first paragraph struck me so much that I copied it into my notebook and am sharing it here.
   Now in its 8th edition, Freedom of the Hills has been the standard mountaineering reference since its initial publication.  Lots has changed since the first publication and the 7th edition on my bookshelf that I've read through so many times.  I'm sure a bit more in the new, 8th edition.  It was a total blast reading the chapters about cutting steps (in case it's too steep for crampons!  high end climbers now scale vertical ice and overhanging rock in crampons . . . ), using mineral oil as sunscreen, and choosing the appropriate wood for an alpenstock shaft.  Also in the Sierra Club hut library are original versions of 50 Classic Climbs of North America and many other awesome, historic books.  Definitely worth checking out if you're in northern California!

Cover of the 1st ed.  Image courtesy of
   I found the following link while searching for the cover image above, lots of old books worth reading. Mountaineering history is so cool!