North Palisade (14,242 feet), via U-Notch Couloir and Chimney Variation

Where: Palisades, Sierra Nevada, California
When: June 2006
Partners: Rick Kent
Route: U-Notch Couloir & Chimney Variation (5.4 & Steep Snow)
Mileage/Gain: 18/6,200

Rick and CP

On a beautiful June morning in 2006, Rick Kent and I load up our heavy packs and headed up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek for a go at North Palisade via its most classic route, the U-Notch Couloir (and Chimney Variation). We'd be doing the trip as an overnighter, as we also hoping to bag Polemonium Peak.
Aaaah, Temple Crag

As I've always found the trail, its scenery is reasonable until you approach Second Lake. There, the high, craggy mountains explode out of the earth, wild flowers are in bloom beyond belief, and the lakes become more frequent and more beautiful.
Third Lake, and the gully leading up to Gayley Camp

Near Third Lake, we left the trail and worked over to Big Pine Creek. As one might imagine in early summer, we found it flowing hard. The crossing would be interesting, particularly considering our massive packs.
Crossing Big Pine Creek

With a delicate crossing of the creek, we gained the large snowfield that would take us alongside Temple Crag and up to Gayley Camp at the edge of the Palisade Glacier.
Heading up to Gayley Camp

After what seemed like a longer slog than it should have been, we eventually arrived in camp. There, we got a grand view of our objective. Our route, the U-Notch Couloir, was plainly visible to the left of the uber-impressive North Palisade.
The Palisades from Gayley Camp

Rising early the next morning in anticipation of a long day, we donned our snow gear and started across the glacier. With only very minor crevasses to step across, we soon reached the bergschrund at the toe of the U-Notch.
CP at the Palisade Glacier bergschrund

Working right toward a snowbridge that would give us access to the steep slopes of the couloir, I stepped into a hidden crevasse and plunged to my upper torso. Yikes! Even benign glaciers can sometimes hold hidden surprises!
CP popped into a crevasse!

Climbing out of the crack like a dope, we climbed across the steep snowbridge and gained the couloir. And with light beginning to show in the morning sky, we began to climb.
Heading up the U-Notch Couloir

Reaching the top of the couloir without incident, we got our first look at the 5.4 chimney that would be the next part of our route. Looked pretty good, actually. Two pitches of easy technical rock that would yield to scrambling terrain all the way to the summit.
The Chimney Variation (5.4, 2 pitches)

Pulling out the rope, Rick volunteered to lead. Sure thing. So I followed.
Following the first pitch

At the top of the second pitch, we ditched the rope and looked around to figure out the rest of the route. It appeared a bit of wandering over and around boulders and then a short traverse would be us in the bouldery and semi-convoluted terrain that comprised the highest rocks.
Above the Chimney Variation, a scramble to the summit

Dispatching that without trouble, Rick and I were delighted to find the final scramble amongst the summit routes to be rather interesting. Before long, we were on the summit of this classic and hard-earned Sierra Nevada peak!
On the summit of North Palisade

Looking south to Polemonium Peak and Mount Sill, then north to Starlight Peak, its summit block ("the Milkbottle"), and over to Thunderbolt Peak's awesome summit block, one we'd scaled only the summer before, we were blown away by the ruggedness of the aesthetic topography.
The Sierra Crest toward Starlight Peak

In keeping with my long-standing tradition, I pulled out the summit register and signed the bogus name of Warren Buffett. Then after a lunch, it was time to move on...!
CP (aka 'Warren Buffett')


*Photos courtesy of Rick Kent