By: David Campbell
PALISADE CREST, A Different Route
One of my most memorable Sierra climbs, out of more than 30 years of active climbing was that of Palisade Crest, 13,520+fl. I recently looked for a trip report of it, but found it was not written up, either for the SPS Echo or for the Yeti Yellis, newsletter of the Vagmarken Mountaineering Club. The latter newsletter mentioned the successful ascent on June 19, 1977 and promised a full report in a future issue, but none was made. So now, using notes on a topo map, my memories, those of other participants, and a tape recording made by Bud Ford, I have written a description of this climb.
David Campbell May 11, 2001
Back in 1977 I was climbing frequently on trips scheduled by the Vagmarken Mountaineering Club. Like the SPS, the Vagmarken had a number of lists of Sierra peaks. In 1976, Dan Levack determined that there were 100 named peaks on the crest of the Sierra Nevada and those peaks soon became the Vagmarken's "Crest List" Available guide books failed to indicate a climbing route for Palisade Crest, but Hervey Voge's guide, the 1965 revision, stated that "John & Ruth Mendenhall climbed the three easternmost pinnacles on July 4, 1954." We did find out that Fred Camphausen had climbed the peak with members of the China Lake Search & Rescue Group. In September of 1976, we attempted Palisade Crest. We climbed Mt. Jepson and continued southeast along the ridge crest, but stopped short of the peak.
On June 18, 1977 our group of seven started in from the Glacier Lodge roadhead on Big Pine Creek. Included were John Otter, Bud Ford, Dan Levack, Pete Ackerman, Herb Laeger, Chuck Kudija and I. We camped that night near a small lake at about 11,000 ft., roughly a half mile SSE of Elinore Lake. On the 19th we left camp at 6:30, following a draw to the south. When we were approximately due east of Palisade Crest, we turned west, crossing a portion of the Norman Clyde Glacier and its bergschrund. Climbing a steep chute, we encountered a lot of loose rock. We roped up and moved cautiously. Bud was leading, followed by myself and then Herb. When Bud gently tested a large boulder it came loose, just missed me, and headed right at Herb. He barely managed to get loose from it as it crashed down. At that point he decided the route was too unstable and headed back down. Chuck went with him.
The rest of us continued under ever more threatening skies. Our steep route led directly to the notch just northwest of the summit. After we crossed an airy chockstone, John led up a steep slab, putting in protection in a couple of places. He belayed the others up to a small ledge at the top of the slab. By now we were getting thunder and lightning very close. From the ledge, we crossed, one or two at a time, up the final 100 ft. or so to the summit register. When I touched it, I could feel and hear it buzzing with electricity. We noted that we were the sixth ascent recorded in the register. As the five of us were preparing to rappel down the slab, lightning actually hit the summit! Then it started to snow, heavily. So, after the rappel, we were downclimbing steep rock, covered by a layer of new, loose snow. Dan led the first several pitches, with me belaying him. Slowly and carefully we descended. We used a couple more rappels, the last taking us across the bergschrund. We got to camp without incident, but it was 10:30 by the time all were back.
Our route had the serious disadvantage of loose rocks. Subsequent climbs, by the SPS and others, approached the notch by heading south along the crest as described in detail by Bob Hartunian in the Echo (Vol. 28, No. 6). That is certainly a preferable approach, but I thought Echo readers might be interested in this "early" climb.
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