Middle Palisade (14,012 feet)

The South Fork of Big Pine Creek drainage

In July 2004, I had an adventure of the most frightening variety. Me, John Hayes and another John from Vegas, a man with whom I'd done a handful of class 3 scrambling routes already, set out to do an overnight climb of the classic northeast face of Middle Palisade. The route was said to be one of the finest class 3 routes in the Sierra Nevada, a route that "defines 3rd class."
Brainerd Lake

Hiking into Finger Lake via the South Fork of Big Pine Creek one afternoon, we set camp, ate some food, pumped some water, and sucked in the views around us. Giant Middle Palisade towered above, beckoning us to come closer.
Finger Lake, a beautiful place to camp

Rising early the next morning, we left camp and crossed the moraine that would lead us to the scrawny Middle Palisade Glacier. A quick crossing of a moat at the edge of the glacier put us at the base of the mountain's northeast face.
The Middle Palisade Glacier

From there, we headed up. The going was steep but easy. The class 3 was just what 3rd class is supposed to be.
Looking down the Northeast Face

Before long, the three of us found ourselves on the tiny summit, a quality vantage point from which to view the long and narrow spine that is the Palisades.
West along the Palisade crest from just below the summit

Descending, John Hayes and I made awesome time back down to the glacier. Crossing the easy glacier, we gained the moraine and looked back for the other John. He was still halfway up the face, though making progress. We picked a couple of boulders to sit on and waited until he'd made it down to the glacier. All's well, so we moved on...

When Hayes and I had returned to camp, we had a bite to eat and began collecting our things while we waited for John, who'd continued making slow progress but assured us he was fine.

Several hours later, John had still not returned to camp. We climbed up onto nearby boulders and yelled for him...no response. We discussed going to look for him. But where to start? The route to and across the moraine was somewhat convoluted, with plenty of spots where he might had tripped, bumped his head and lost consciousness...places we might walk right past without seeing him lying there between huge boulders. So we continued yelling until our voices were hoarse.

More hours passed, and still no John. We made the decision to hike out and call for help. As sickening as it felt, we left, hiked out and called SAR. They wouldn’t respond right then, and so we left John for dead...left him for dead.

Midway through the next morning, I received a phone call from the Inyo County Sheriff's Office. John was okay. He'd returned to the trailhead some seven hours after us, tired and a bit confused, but coherent enough to find a place amongst the brush to bed down for a cold night without a bag.

I drove back to get John. He was fine, he said. Not particularly tired, but enjoying the photography.

*Photos courtesy of Rick Kent