Sept 10th – 14, 2008
Success on Middle Palisade but never got near Split!
Those present: Deborah Steinberg, Adrian Crane, Ray Kablanow, Christopher
Crane and, as camera guy, Rick Baraff.
For this trip our strategy was to climb Middle Palisade and
then move our base camp 5 miles down the Sierra Crest to attempt Split. Things
never work that smoothly.....
Little did we know when we packed up our hiking boots,
crampons, ice ax, harness, and Oreos that this would be our most difficult climb
to date. Middle Palisade Peak lies within the infamous Palisade range near
Bishop surrounded by glacial moraine and nasty rocky talus. The terrain is so
rough and rocky that once we began hiking off-trail towards the mountain we
didn’t see a patch of grass for two whole days.
On our previous climb up Mt.
Sill the blisters on Deborah’s feet looked like something from a horror movie,
so on this trip she was armed with trail shoes, new boots, socks, insoles, Elasticon tape, hydrocolloid Blister bandages, tincture of Benzoin,
Vaseline, and 10 pages from the “Preventing Blisters” section of Fixing Your
Feet reduced on a copy machine to 4pt font.
We left Modesto Wednesday evening so we could sleep by the
side of the road at 7,000 ft and start to acclimatize to the altitude. We noticed right
away that the temperature would be noticeably cooler than our last trip 4 weeks
ago, which was unfortunate for Deborah who brought her daughter’s lightweight
sleeping bag instead of her winter down bag. This trip was also different in
that we brought along Rick Baraff to film our adventure. Rick is a professional
videographer and adventure racer who was sent along by the “Cancer Report”
people to document our trip. You would think a 20 lb camera would slow him down
a bit, but his exercise regimen includes standing on a balance ball, so hopping from loose
rock to shaky boulder was not a problem for him.
11:30 am Thursday morning we left out of Big Pine Creek
Trailhead. Our strategy was to head up the South fork of Big Pine Creek to a
high camp Thursday evening, climb Middle Pal Friday, then move camp 5 miles on
Saturday to climb Split Mountain on Saturday or Sunday. Hiking along the trail
we pass by Birch Mountain where Deborah takes a photo-op, since on the last trip
we decided that since she is not a princess, she must be a ‘birch’. After
reaching Brainerd Lake we found we no longer had trail, and by 4:15 pm Thursday
we had reached the fabulous clear green water of Finger Lake.
At 6:45 we made camp among
the gravel just below Middle Palisade Glacier. Deb is happy, because
at least to this point she has avoided any blisters.
Although we awoke at 5:15 am it was 7:10 before we had
finished breaking camp and started climbing to the moraine of Middle Pal Glacier
where we dropped off all but our summit packs and climbing gear. At this
point we were well above 12,000ft and the conversation got pretty colorful. Rick
tells Deborah about a dream he had and Deborah interprets the dream to mean Rick
has unresolved issues about his life as a single guy; although the actual
phrasing of Deborah's diagnosis made it much clearer what Rick's real problem
was! Although we
had a guide book with photos, we
spent a whole hour trying to find the Class 3 route at the base of the Middle
Palisade cliffs. Deborah declares she is taking a nap, and will not move until
we find our route, which we better find “or else.” Eventually we decide that the
snow level is lower than what is shown in the photo, which is what has confused
our efforts, and Ray finds our route. We send Christopher up 20 ft of
treacherous climbing belayed from below, so he can belay the rest of us from
above to safety. We climb mostly without ropes for 2 hours dodging small rocks
until we reach 2 spires which look like they may be our summit. We have to
decide which spire is the actual summit, and which is a false impersonator.
Finally, Rick picks what he thinks is the actual summit, which requires rope to
ascend. We are relieved to find a summit canister! The last log was only 2
days prior. Adrian signs the summit log and Deborah places her mementos in the
canister: a photo of her mother-in-law Nawatha Redding, who passed away from
Lymphoma in 1998, and a Hebrew prayer scroll from her friend Andra Greenwald who
just finished treatments for thyroid cancer this year. Andra also gave Deborah
an extra scroll to climb with for the rest of our trips, since the prayer
contains the “Shma”, thought to be a prayer of protection. Counting on her
“Shma” for security, Deborah rapells off the summit 50 ft, then slowly descends
on foot, frequently dislodging rocks downhill. A dislodged rock
bounces downhill and strikes Adrian’s pack, breaking his polycarbonate
water bottle, and then ricochets onto Deborah’s neck. We finish the climb
by rappelling off the
last step to the glacier. A short but slow descent over the moraine returns us
to the gear we had left earlier. Now with full backpacks, we set off toward our
intended camp 5 miles away through gruesome talus and two mountain passes on our
quest for Split Mountain. By 6 pm we are exhausted and have made it up to “Hole
in the Wall” pass where we rest and look ahead to “South Fork Pass” which to
our dismay is a 1000’ ft of steep, loose scree above a glacial moraine. We look
at each other in unison and after several unprintable comments regarding our
enthusiasm at climbing that pass with 60 pound backpacks agree that the public
comment will be “no way”. We descend talus into the midst of
the glacial moraine and as dusk falls find ourselves with no choice but to camp on
the rubble and rock of the glacier.
is nothing flat. It is quite possibly the worst campsite we
have ever put our tents down on. We decide to name this “Thumbs Up Camp”
as Christopher and Adrian are sure they can hack a tent platform from the rock
is grateful that even though our camp is primitive, to say the least, she has
still avoided blisters. We send Christopher down to retrieve water from the
glacial lake that is surrounded by ice walls. While trying to sleep on our
rocks, we hear the loud crash of ice calving and rock fall during the night.
Ray's place in his designated corner of the tent consists of a rock in the
middle with a hole at his head and feet which he fills with gear to make a
semblance fo flatness. The next morning our strategy is to return to the trailhead, recover, and think
about climbing Split on Sunday. Because of our detour on Friday to the Hole in
the Wall, we meander down through granite ledges and talus with several dead
ends involved. Thoughts of mutiny start to trickle into all but the hardiest
souls. Deborah starts cursing as she struggles to maintain composure after
falling for the umpteenth time on all the loose rocks and boulders. Ray, ever
the calm one, distracts her with a story that keeps her from strangling Adrian.
Finally at 1:30 we regain the main trail. Deborah realizes that although
everything else on her hurts, her feet feel fine. About 2 miles from the
trailhead, Deborah forgets her trekking poles AGAIN, which fortunately for her
is immediately discovered by Adrian and Christopher, who give her a
good-natured, well deserved berating. We finally reach our vehicle and realize
in order to summit Split Peak the next day we will have to climb 7000 vertical
feet up and then down in one day from another trail head. Adrian is all for it.
Finally it is decided that in order to preserve our friendship and achieve our
goal of summiting all the California 14ers we need to plan on attempting only
one summit per trip, and our plans for Split Peak are aborted. We eat a
fabulous dinner in Bishop, and reminisce what a great trip it was. Deborah
decides the 5 of us are hardy souls.
"Thank you for allowing us to know our climb is making a difference. Your
contribution to STOP
CANCER will support important research to help find a
cure for cancer and motivate us to make each summit!