Early Summer in the Palisades

Mendenhall Couloir is the thin line visible in the center of Temple Crag.
Michael originally inquired about climbing the U-Notch Couloir on North Palisade (14,242 feet).  But in less than 3 hours we were looking up at the Mendenhall Couloir on Temple Crag (12,999 feet), and the long thin line running up Temple was seductive.  Why slog for two more hours when this is facing us?  So we stopped making tracks and bivied on a rock bench above Second Lake, hiked up a little further to cache our climbing equipment closer to the route.

Saturday night Bivy.
In the morning - Sunday, 30 May, the soft snow had turned hard and we cramponed quickly past the bergschrund to the narrow start of the route.  One pitch of moderate snow led into a narrow, rock framed chute, and I belayed Michael up on our sole two ice screws.  As I left the belay and turned the corner, I was stumped:  a 20-30 foot ice step blocked progress, and I was wearing rental crampons intended for general snow travel, not ice climbing.  Still I tried to continue, finding two vertical cracks to place gear, and slowly made my way to the vertical-feeling finish.  Ice climbers are like fisherman:  the routes are always longer, the climbing is always harder, and the ice is always steeper than reality actually presents for the story.  Suddenly, the sun-warmed upper slopes started to release some snow and ice and I sat through the first slide of spind drift, hoping that nothing big was coming down with it.  The climbing proved to be insecure on the rounded-off front points of my glacier crampons, and as I down-climbed we heard the ricochaying of potential.  "ROCK!!" I screamed down to Michael, as the spind drift overwhelmed me and I started murmering, "Over my head - go over my head - please go over my head - please please please."  Just as suddenly as the sound came, it stopped - no rip-saw sound of a projectile firing by, no deep thunk as it embedded somewhere nearby in the snow.  OK, no Mendenhall Couloir.  Not today.

I finished the downclimb, investigated climbing around the bottle-neck on the rock, but decided that I wasn't satisfied with unprotected 15-20 of climbing off the anchor, and we retreated back to camp.  As I hiked down, my mind rattled with "Plan B" thoughts.   Back in camp, we schemed.  Michael is a strong climber, and game for a big day.  I felt that I owed him a climb, since we were so readily skunked on Mendenhall, all on account that I didn't bring the right equipment (more ice screws, proper ice climbing crampons).  So we headed up to the Gayley Camp on the side of the Palisade Glacier, planning to climb the U-Notch Couloir in the morning and hiking out the same day.

U-Notch and North Palisade.
Late Sunday night the wind suddenly picked up to blow-me-down strength, and our planned alpine start blew away with it.  Instead we planned on taking a walk around the glacier - or so we told ourselves - and finally left camp at 10:00am, crossing the soft snow on the Palisade Glacier "to take a look".  As we approached the U-Notch a skier descended out of the Couloir, stopping by to chat and tell us the conditions.  Hmmm, sounded good.  Soft snow, easy step kicking?  And he had already kicked in a track that we could use too.  Sounded perfect.

Topping out of the couloir.
We started up the skier boot-pack at 11:15am, and I made a mental turn-around note for 1:00pm.  But the route was fast - really fast - and we topped the U-Notch at 1:10pm.  Michael was happy here - we looked up at the Chimney finish and the summit, but turned around and headed down.

Tat and trash from the route.
What Michael hadn't appreciated during the climb was all the tat and slings and abandoned anchors along the route, so we took it upon ourselves to clean unnessary or rotten anchors as we descended.  We cleaned seven anchors during the descent, and I counted seven more that we skipped because they were too far off line and would require too much time to reach:  perhaps another climb.

We got back to our bivy, packed up, and headed out.  We stopped for water at Second Lake, took another foot-rest at the ranger cabin, and made it out to the trailhead at 7:30pm.  Tired legs, sore backs, and happy souls.  Michael was satsfied with the weekend and talking about more plans for the summer.  Alpine ice?