August 30, 2013

Alpine Journal Write Up

The American Alpine Journal published a short write-up I put together about our first winter ascent of The Complete Palisade Traverse this winter. If you're an Alpine Club member you get the journal for free. To purchase the journal in a physical or digital copy click here. More information about our climb can be found on Jed's blog here and here. Thanks go to Sterling Rope for the perfect cord for the route. The of the text of the Journal submission is below.

Jediah Porter and I were only acquaintances when, by complete accident, we crossed paths on the Evolution Traverse in August of 2011. We made plans to climb the Evolution Traverse during the winter of 2012. But our climb was foiled by an optimistic disregard for the weather forecast. The successful first winter ascent of that route followed only a few days later by three climbers from the Pullharder collective. Inspired by their accomplishment, we decided that if we failed at our first objective we should probably pick something harder.

We left the Big Pine Creek trailhead at 6 a.m. on February 26 with 30lb packs hoping to send the complete Palisade Traverse in five days. In summer, car-to-car is currently the most stylish way to climb alpine routes here in the Sierra. In that spirit, we decided to forgo a basecamp and begin the route as soon as we arrived there. A seven-mile, 5000’ hike put us at Southfork Pass, the start of the climbing. The next eight miles included 5.9 rock, steep snow and low angle ice without crampons, and loads of classic climbing with incredible exposure. The ridge includes six 14,000’ peaks, many 13,000’ peaks, and scads of shorter peaks and towers.

Though the climbing on the Palisade Crest (a mile-long concentration of twelve peaks in the southern half of the traverse) was not particularly difficult, our pace was the slowest through that section. We bivied four times: on the summit of Middle Palisade, the base of Mount Williams (immediately south of the Palisade Crest), Scimitar Pass, and halfway down the northwest ridge of Thunderbolt Peak. We returned to my truck on the evening of March 2, four days and 16-hours after leaving. 

The main challenges were moving efficiently over the terrain and staying as fit and healthy as possible. Generally, the less the rope is used, the faster a team will travel. Free-soloing the whole route in boots, while possible, was more risk than we wanted to take on. We used the rope sparingly but strategically, and found that some sections were dispatched more quickly with the mental comfort of a belay. We brought a small tent to ensure a good night’s sleep, took a brief water and food break every hour, left our bivouacs in the morning with 1-1.5L of water, and we took a real lunch break daily to melt more water. This allowed our stove to function more efficiently in the warmth of mid-day and gave us time to dry out our boots and sleeping bags in the sun and wind.

Big ridge traverses are a unique feature of the High Sierra. California is full of strong and talented climbers, but few venture into the mountains under anything but the most ideal of conditions. Climbers from other areas don’t see the range for anything but its world class front-country rock climbing. The complete Palisade Traverse (VI 5.9) is probably the longest technical route in the lower-48 and yet has seen fewer than ten complete ascents since the first ascent in 1979. Until the locals start heading for the hills or alpinists from other areas notice the pearls before them, we few will continue to have this amazing alpine playground to ourselves.