Thunderbolt Peak (14,003 feet)

Where: Palisades, Sierra Nevada, California
When: July 2005
Partners: Rick Kent
Route: SW Chute #1 (Class 3 & 5.9)
Mileage/Gain: 18/5,500

Heading up Southwest Chute #1

Thunderbolt Peak is the most technically challenging 14er in the lower 49 states (via its easiest route). Primarily a hike (with a touch of climbing near the very top), the summit block goes 5.8 on its west side. Its slightly harder east side, though, goes 5.9 without the same exposure.

Starting out from camp in Dusy Basin one morning before dawn, Rick Kent and I reached the notch just below the final pitch leading to the summit block. There, we found a guided group ahead of us. They'd made the shorter approach from a camp at Thunderbolt Pass.
The notch at the top of the chute

Studying the prospective route for a few minutes, we left the guided group to climb the wall above the notch directly, while we headed around the corner via an exposed but easy traverse and then scrambled up the backside. It went like a breeze.
Andrew Dufresne, the protagonist of 'Rita Hayworth & Shawshank Redemption'

Once at the base of the intimidating summit block, Rick and I waited for the guided group to do their thing. Having both clients achieve the summit, I flailed my way to the summit, followed by Rick, who did it more gracefully than I. Not a disappointing summit!

Here's the final sequence I went with:

*Photos courtesy of Rick Kent