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 Middle Palisade

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.

Pictures on Flicker

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. There 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 garden. Deb 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.

 Deborah Steinberg

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