Middle Palisade

20-Sep-91 (Private Trip)

By: Mark Adrian


This trip had been originally scheduled as a (San Diego) Sierra Club outing for May, but, due to snow, was relocated to Angora Pk. Our (private) group of five drove from San Diego and spent Thursday night at Upper Sage Flat campground. Up early Friday morning, we completed a self-issue permit and began a leisurely hike up to Finger Lake, feasting on a wide variety of wild berries along the trail. We arrived at Finger Lake mid afternoon and had time for Mike to Instruct a rappel/anchor clinic.

Saturday, our group got a crack-of-dawn start from Finger Lake on a crisp, clear day. There was a light dusting of snow on Middle Pal's E face. We were aware of two obvious couloirs on the peak's E face that lead to the summit. The two prominent couloirs meet at a large 'hem' near the base of the mountain just above the N half d the Middle Palisade Glacier. To get to this 'starting point', hike onto and S across the moraine just below the N half of Middle Palisade Glacier. Then, proceed up the 'tongue' between the two glacier 'halves' staying near the N end of the glacier's S half. Watch carefully alongside the abutting wall for a strategically placed duck about 20 or 30 feet up the wall. Depending on the glacial melt, and how the glacier abuts the rock wall, pick your way along Ice and snow (insteps may be helpful here) up to the 'jumping off point. It wasn't more than 100 to 150 feet of walking (slipping?) on the glacier before we saw the duck. Leave the glacier and ascend a moderate class three pitch to class one 'trail' and follow ducks N around to the hem, where you'll have a choice as to which couloir you want/need. We had been advised to use the S-most of the two available couloirs. However, Roper's book somewhat misleads the climber into the N couloir from the conspicuous patch of white rock. Several expletives in the summit register expressed sentiments to Roper regarding this somewhat unfortunate misinterpretation. Since we had been told the N couloir was a sure thing, we opted for this route. We discovered, upon ascent, that while the N couloir eventually gets you to Middle Pal's crest, and not the summit, it's clearly NOT the easiest way to go. It's high class three and may even approach low class four. Once on the summit's crest via the N couloir, we traversed Middle Pal's 'fin' S to the actual summit block The traverse was challenging (cl3) and we had incredible views down Middle Pal's W face. Had we used the S couloir, this would not have been a problem since the S couloir leads directly to the summit via a series of steep, but easy, ledges, ranging from high class two to low class three. However, it wasn't until from the summit, we were able to determine that the S couloir was, from, as far down as we could see, significantly easier than the N couloir. We made the decision to use/try the S couloir as our decent route, figuring it couldn't be any worse than what we had just come up. While tedious, It was much safer. This then led us back to the horn where we rendezvoused with our earlier ascent route. From here, we proceeded around to the class three drop-off back to the glacier. Several people picked their way down and skirted over Ice caves back to a stable platform. Since I'd carried a 9mm rope ALL day. the rest of us decided to do a 30' rappel down to the same platform. From here, we descended back down the incredibly crummy/loose moraine, with great views of the glacier and the S Forks drainage. Back at our Finger Lake camp. eleven hours later, we looked back at Middle Pal's intimidating great eastern Pace with awe, somewhat amazed at where we had been.

Back to Glacier Lodge by noon Sunday, then onto showers and food in Big Pine, and finally, the all-too-familiar trudge/drive back to San Diego. An awesome peak. good leadership (thanks Mike) and participants, perfect weather, and NO bears, made this a euphoric adventure.


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