Early August Alpine Conditions

In Conditions Reports, From the Range of Light & Fast, High Sierra Alpine Report by Viren Perumal2 Comments

Hey there Sierra Alpine Climbers….I just wanted to do a quick update on some of the conditions that have been encountered so far this season. This has been an unusual season for climbing in the High Sierra. We didn’t have a very large snowpack this past winter but cooler temps in May and June gave us some great early season snow travel conditions.

Entering into August the biggest factors that affected travel in the high alpine was almost a full month of Afternoon thunderstorm activity and periods of hazardous smoke conditions that made air quality and visibility sub-optimal.

Thunderstorm activity and lighting risk was mitigated most of July by extremely early starts and I had a few meeting times with guests for climbs at 2:30 AM just so we could charge and get off the summit prior to noon and the predicted electrical buildup.

This program of early mornings made me feel like I was living in the rockies rather than our ideal and benign mountain range of the Sierra Nevada.

Along with the thunderstorms and obvious electrical/ lightning strike hazard was some flash flooding and landslides/ mudslides that have occurred in July. Many of the summer “gully climbs” in the high Sierra have been effected by these high intensity rain events.

For reference the road to the Lake Sabrina/ North Lake (Hwy 168/ bishop creek drainage) was closed due to a rockslide that was pretty amazing and shows the intensity of some of the storms we had!!

 

***MUDSLIDE ON STATE ROUTE 168***At 2:41 PM, several large mudslides have closed SR-168 approximately 17 miles west of Bishop near the town of Aspendell. Reports of up to 50 people are stuck on the other side of the slides. CHP, Inyo County Sheriffs Department, and Caltrans are assessing the scene and are currently working on plans to evacuate the stranded campers. Currently Lake Sabrina, Sabrina Campground , North Lake, and North Lake Campgrounds are inaccessible due to the slide. Due to the size of the slide, SR-168 is closed indefinitely. The town of Aspendell is still accessible. Check the Caltrans website at http://www.dot.ca.gov/cgi-bin/roads.cgi or call (800) 427-7623 for road conditions. Updates will be posted when they come available.

Posted by CHP – Bishop on Sunday, July 22, 2018

 

I have guided up in the Witney zone, Ritter Range, Coness, and Palisades in the past few weeks and have seen some pretty impressive forces of nature.

 

Edward Abby in his book Desert Solitaire stated “…Geologic time includes now..”

This was apparent in several of the chutes on the west side of the palisades that we encountered.  We climb up and down several of the southwest facing chutes summiting Polonium, Sill, and Thunderbolt.

Thunderbolt peak SW Chute #1 was the one that was most effected by the mudslides and rockfalls from the rain events in July.  We ascended SW Chute # 2 and from the west side this seems like the better path to the summit of T-Bolt.

The R.J. Secor description of this SW Chute #2 did not seem to fit what I found so since this now seems like the sweetest way up to T-bolt from the west I figured I would chime in on his description since my guess is that much has changed since his description 🙂

 

SW Chute #2 (8/4/2018) …easy 5th class

We entered the chute at the 1st headwall and climbed this on the right side.  A quick wiggle behind a small chockstone allows access to a ledge that allows you to climb left and up to looser terrain into the zone below the big obvious chockstone.

We bypassed this chockstone via an easy 5th class crack system that was about 20M long on the far left side that ended on a ledge with a short downtrending ramp back into the gully. (there was a fixed rap station at the right edge of the gulley above this chockstone)

We followed the gully to the base of the next obvious chimmney.  This pitch involved some “real” 5th class climbing with consequential fall potential.  The loose/ sandy rock, and difficult to access spot makes this a “serious mountaineering challenge” and not to be taken lightly by the casual peak bagger…. I chose to stem and climb a crack on the left side of the wall to bypass the chockstone at the top of the chimney and it took mid-sized cams well. (Fixed Rap station at the top of this that could be backed up)

We took the left branch at the tower that splits the Chute and followed fun ramps of clean granite steps mixed in with choss and other loose byproducts of erosion.

We worked our way up to 3rd/4th class steps which took us to the ridge between Thunderbolt and Starlight.  Climb over the ridge to gain the path of least resistance and join the Palisade traverse well trodden path to the summit of T-bolt.

Yes you have to summit Thunderbolt 🙂 its fun and some really cool movement that makes this summit so unique. This summit block can be protected with a toprope with some rope trickery and there are some modern bolts that allow a rappel to feel solid.

Here is a video of the summit block:

 

Lastly be safe out there rocks are loose out there here is a SAR report from Mt. Conness…

… Geologic time includes now…

Conness Glacier Search and RescueOn July 29, 2018, at approximately 1:30 pm, Mono County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) Search…

Posted by Mono County Sheriff's Office on Monday, July 30, 2018

 

Comments

  1. I was thinking about trying the Palisades traverse (thunderbolt to sill) within the next couple of weeks. What would be the best way to access thunderbolt at this time of year? The north or underhill couloir?

    1. Author

      Hi Conor – often this late in the year we are approaching from the west side as the palisade glacier side access gets more deteriorated. The NW ridge is a fine climb if you want to add more length or SW chute #2 could be a good access point. if you don’t want the loose conditions I mentioned

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