Summer Alpine Climbing on Middle Palisade

Sometimes the best trips (or experiences or relationships or parties or… well, whatever) come out of changed plans.  This past trip to Middle Palisade was one such trip.  Chad  and John came with a long-dreamed itinerary.  John is ticking through the California 14ers (and might pursue those wimpy Colorado ones when he’s old and decrepit).  Chad is the consummate High Sierra history buff.  John and Chad have known each other for a long time now, it seems.  14er hunters love Middle Palisade, history lovers hunt down Norman Clyde’s tracks.  Where else to align these passions than in the South Fork of Big Pine Creek? 

The plan was to hike in one day, summit Middle Palisade the next, Norman Clyde Peak the third, and hike out the 4th. 

Early fall weather the weekend prior left the mountains dusted with snow up high, and scrubbed clean of dust and mosquitos down low.  We enjoyed the first hint of autumn on the valley floors, and reflected on the possibility of snow affecting our scrambling up high.

Checking things out at Finger Lake.  Chad B. photo.

Days 1 and 2 went as planned:  A wonderful hike in and a smooth ascent of Middle Palisade’s classic East Face (big and tall, class 3-4).  We did encounter some snow near the top, but it was engaging rather than an obstacle.

Just a couple of Sconnies keeping it real
John and Chad up high on Middle Pal.  Chad B. Photo

As we rested in camp in the afternoon of day 2, we got a visit from a pair of returning Norman Clyde Peak aspirants.  Incidentally, one of these guys had taken an SMG avalanche course this past winter.  SMG folks are all over the mountains.  These two guys delivered a less-than-rosy description of the snow covering Clyde’s North-Northeast route.  Our own misgivings, plus this report, prompted a change in plans. 

That’s when the trip really got good, believe it or not.  There is a very real satisfaction in taking marginal conditions, and making a killer experience out of it.  Chad and John had that spirit.  “Things aren’t as we had hoped.  How can we make things even better?”  John suggested hiking out the morning of day 3 and doing Crystal Crag (in the Mammoth Lakes Basin.  Ca. 1000 ft, 5.7.)  on Day 4.  Chad’s fascination with Pine Creek rock climbing inspired a visit to “Racing Lizards” (5.7, 3 pitches) on the afternoon of day 3. 

We shifted gears, pigged out on the leftover camp supplies, and executed the new plan.  At the end of day 4 John mentioned that this was his “best trip to the mountains” and Chad mentioned that, while we (Jed and SMG) had a big reputation to live up to, we more than exceeded that.  All I did was “roll with it.”  These guys had the flexible attitude that takes climbers and adventurers of all kinds to more than they ever expected.  Speaking of expectations, Chad has shared that his “ticklist” of High Sierra routes has “doubled or tripled” as a result of the rock climbing skills and demystification we covered this weekend.  As the seasons (and perhaps the climate of the High Sierra… I mean, what’s up with this weather?) change, this flexibility and openness and willingness to grow will reap great rewards for Chad and John, Sierra Mountain Guides, and all mountain travelers!

Some well-traveled adventurers race lizards on their first rock climb.  Chad B. Photo.
The “Crystal Pitch”

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