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North America, United States, Sierra Nevadas, The North Palisade—First Ascent of Second Highest Peak

The North Palisade—First Ascent of Second Highest Peak

To the lover of mountain scenery or the scaler of mountain peaks, the North Palisade is one of the most intriguing eminences of the Sierra Nevada. Rising in almost sheer walls to the north and the south, it is surmounted by several great pinnacles, the loftiest 14,254 ft. in elevation, the second highest approximately 14,000 ft.

While making a number of ascents of the first, I frequently gazed toward its somewhat lower neighborhood several hundred yards to the northwest, wondering whether it, too, might not be scaled. I he actual summit is a tapering monolith upwards of thirty feet in height which promised to demand arduous gymnasticsto surmount it. Last summer, however, I suddenly decided to make the attempt.

Leaving camp at the Big Pine Lakes (about 11,000 ft.) one morning in early July, I descended to a meadow gay with a profusion of flowering bryanthus, cyclamen, arnica, asters, wild hellebore and other flowers common to such locations. Passing this I followed a trail leading southward to the North Palisade glacier somewhat over two miles distant. Continuing across the latter, perhaps a mile in width, I headed for a steep wall to the west of two snow-filled couloirs about midway along the face of the mountain.

At the bergschrund some difficulty was experienced, as it was open along the base of the wall. But I managed to cross it at the right of the more westerly of the two couloirs. Above for some five hundred feet the rocks are very precipitous, but as I had already surmounted them in scaling the highest peak,1 I knew that they would offer little trouble.

At the top of a wide, shallow couloir, I clambered out onto the buttress to the left. After going directly to the southwest for perhaps two hundred feet, I zigzagged back and forth up the face along a series of rounded shelves. Above these I veered to the west in the direction of the second peak. Although a couloir led from the northeast toward its summit, direct access to the former was prevented by a sheer drop of considerable height. It seemed possible, however, that the wall to the right of it could be scaled and the chute entered above the drop. Upon arriving at its base, I began to climb it, finding it negotiable, but feeling that a few more holds distributed here and there would be very convenient. When about thirty feet up the face, after testing a rock, I commenced to pull myself up, but the rock moved with my weight. Not relishing a fall to the bottom of the cliff with the stone on top of me, I let go and slid down the face, the rock springing back into place as soon as relieved of the strain. Fortunately my slide was arrested within a few feet by a shelf. After scrambling up to the rock again, I shoved it down, thereby making a much desired hold.

After scaling the wall for some distance, I came to a narrow, steep chimney up which I squirmed to the crest of a knife-edge. After a few rods of this I continued along shelves on the right wall of the couloir with interesting but only moderately difficult rock- work. Having arrived at the head of the chute, I clambered out of it to find the summit-monolith only a few rods distant. But I was not so pleased to note that a thunder-cloud was bearing down upon the mountain from the west. Haste was imperative if I was to conquer the slender spire before it became a lightning rod.

After changing from nailed to rubber-soled shoes, I began to scramble up the granite pinnacle, carrying a hundred-foot rope. Sheer on three sides, on the fourth a steep slope led about half way up. Here I walked with little difficulty until my head was only a few feet from the summit, but then a weather-polished bulge directly in front stopped me. Failing to hoist myself over the protuberance, I attempted futilely to lasso the top. At length I managed to loop the rope around the uppermost portion of the rock and to tie it to my waist so as to prevent a fall of more than a few feet, should I happen to slip. The protruding bulge and the smooth surface rendered the short scramble a strenuous one, but eventually I pulled myself to the top, a mere wedge several feet in length and one in width. Being in fact the slender culmination of a great pinnacle falling away precipitously on every side, it was an extremely airy perch.

By now, however, the thunder cloud was only a few minutes away so I hastily dropped down to the base of the monolith. Here I snapped a photograph, pulled down the rope, built a small cairn, picked up my nailed shoes and without waiting to put them on, began to desecnd the couloir up which I had come. Presently I was involved in whirling snow and a violent wind, but the electrical accompaniment did not prove as severe as had been anticipated.

Continuing along the side of the chute and over the arête. I came to the head of the chimney. In it and on the wall below it 1 used the rope continually. At the foot of the latter I crept into a niche which afforded partial shelter from the wind and driving snow, and ate a hasty luncheon, instead of descending the lower wall with its wet slippery holds, I swung to the right and entered the couloir. Except for the cutting of steps for some distance in steep ice, and some maneuvering in getting across the schrund at the base of the couloir, this was accomplished without incident.

With the bergschrund safely crossed, I made a swift glissade down the snow-fan below. Soon the sky was clear again and the westerning sun shone upon the craggy summits of the Palisades, and a few lingering cumulus clouds. With some elation I gazed upward at the topmost spire of the second highest crag of the North Palisade, attained for the first time by human effort.

Norman Clyde.

1 See A.A.J,, No. 2, p. 186, and views. Route in present paper follows same couloir on right side and then directly up face of right-hand peak, which is the second highest.—Ed.