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CA 14ers: Palisades Traverse (Fail #2)

Posted by Active Toby on Jul 8, 2009 2:27:23 PM

The Palisades Traverse is a classic alpine ridge traverse that connects the summits of five of California's fourteen thousand foot peaks. My old climbing partner Gil and I attempted the route in October of 2007 and were snowed out during the night at the base of (what we thought was) Thunderbolt Peak (14,003').


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Alpine bouquet


Over the holiday weekend, me and my friends Jake and Kam were eager to give it a shot. We hit the road on Thursday around 2 p.m. and made the long drive up to Bishop. We tried to leave early enough but ended up hitting the holiday weekend traffic and arriving at South Lake trail head parking lot around 10 p.m. We set up our bivy in the parking lot and were asleep by 11 p.m. and two hours later, the alarm sounded and we were gearing up to hit the trail.


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We were on the trail by 2:30  a.m. on Friday morning for the ~8-mile approach via Bishop Pass trail. We moved quickly through the darkness guided by the light of our headlamps, only making quick stops to shed/add layers and eat snacks. We hit some snow patches above 11,000’ and reached Bishop Pass and topped off our water from a mountain stream in Dusy Basin before the ascent of what we thought was Thunderbolt Peak…


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Jake, kicking steps for us


On the way up, we negotiated some fourth/fifth-class scrambling/climbing while one of our team members started to suffer from the altitude. We reached the first peak behind schedule, only to discover we were on the summit of Mount Agassiz (13,899’), one of the twenty highest peaks of California. From there, we could see across to Thunderbolt Peak, where we were supposed to be.

Yes folks, we climbed the wrong mountain.


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From right to left: Thunderbolt Peak, Starlight Peak, North Palisade, Polemonium Peak, Mt Sill


So behind schedule and off-route, we decided to pull the plug and head back to San Diego. Our down-climb was a blast, as we glissaded a 1000’ patch of snow which boosted our morale while saving time and energy which we really needed. We got back to the car at 6:30 p.m. making for a 16-hour day on our feet and then took on the 6-hour drive home after dinner in Bishop to arrive back in San Diego at 3 a.m. on Saturday. ~36 hours from sea level to 13,899’ and back--what a trip!


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Jake and Kam


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Kam, finishing her glissade


I think its pretty funny that we climbed the wrong mountain and in all honesty, I’m glad we did. When I saw with my own eyes the magnitude of this route, I think it would have taken too much out of me to this close to the Vermont 100, my “A” race for the season. So with that, I had a great time with my friends and got a killer workout at altitude amongst some of the most beautiful scenery my eyes have ever seen. Kam and I are already planning our next attempt for August and this time, we plan to bivy at the base of the real Thunderbolt Peak on Day 1 and then take on the full route and the descent on Day 2. More details on that in late July.


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Next up, the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run on 7/18 – 7/19 I fly out Thursday to celebrate my 26th birthday with family and friends this weekend and then make my way up north to get ready to race. I’ll post updates on the go and a recap here following the event. Thanks again for joining me on all these adventures!

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