Middle Palisade
July 4, 2020
12.7 miles, +6,400’
This was our second weekend in Mammoth Lakes, a holiday weekend too, and we had to head home the next day, so we decided to use our acclimatization and fitness to do a dayhike one of California’s 14ers: Middle Palisade via the Northeast Face.
We knew this was a long outing, something like 16 miles with 7,000’ of gain, so we got an early-ish start, leaving the trailhead at 6:45AM, strolling through the sagebrush and trying to negotiate the network of trails at one of the more confusing trailheads in the Eastern Sierra.
The sun was already up, and we could see our objective from just a mile or so up the trail.
Middle Palisade and Normal Clyde Peak, with a nice view of the glacier (?) that sits below the peak.
Before long we were almost at Brainerd Lake and set off through the brush and talus as the approach is described on the SummitPost page. We saw one party heading down. They seemed to have found a slightly more used social trail to our east, so we headed up sand towards Finger Lake.
Finger Lake is a lovely glacially-tinted lake set in between cliffs beneath the Palisade ridge. There were a couple of groups camped at this beautiful spot.
Above Finger Lake, we climbed slabs and occasional talus on the rib between tarns. We were treated to nice views of the Thumb to our south.
Before long, we had to start cutting across towards the moraine below the glacier. The going was a little slow, as the terrain was a bit tough through here. Fortunately the impressive views of the peaks above us kept us entertained.
Almost at the rib dividing the two lobes of the glacier. From here, you can see directly up the route we would climb, from the red band across climber’s right to the chute, and then all the way up to the summit. It always looks steepest from below!
Shannon climbing an occasional use trail through talus to the base of the route. We stopped for a short break at the base of the red band to eat a snack and don our helmets.
The red band from below.
Shannon climbing the red band. It was pretty steep, but the hand and footholds were good enough and it had cleaned up nicely so there wasn’t a lot of loose rock.
After climbing out of the red band, we found a series of large cracks in the chute that made the climbing easy, though it was impressively steep. After a couple of hundred feet, a good-sized rock, maybe the size of a baseball, came whizzing by us, dislodged with no warning by climbers at least five hundred feet above. This was pretty terrifying, and we scrambled off to the side of the chute and took a break for a while to see if they knocked anything else down. Of the three climbers above us, two descended the Secor variation and were soon out of the way, the third continued down towards us. We soon worked up the courage to continue climbing, though we stuck to the sides of the chute while the remaining climber was above us.
When we passed the sole climber coming down the main chute, he provided some helpful advice to traverse hard climber’s left about fifty feet below the crest, otherwise the route to the summit would be quite difficult.
Shannon high up in the chute on the Northeast Face.
We climbed steadily up the sustained class 3 in the chute. I cut over to climber’s left a few times onto steeper terrain, but was forced back right when the going got too steep. After a couple of hours climbing the chute, we reached the crest, and then downclimbed back to the cutoff the climber had mentioned. From here, we crossed a wide, but very airy slab, and made a couple of easy class 3 moves to the summit.
The view north from the summit of Middle Palisade.
The Palisade Basins and Black Divide.
North again.
Southwest over Palisade Lakes and the Monarch Divide.
The summit register was a very sturdy steel box, sealed with a bolt and wingnut.
Shannon posing on the summit.
One more view north before heading down.
Climbing down the cutoff back into the main chute.
Shannon downclimbing near the top of the chute. We tried a couple of times to descend facing forwards, but ended up downclimbing almost the entire way because it was easier.
More downclimbing.
Once we got back onto the talus, there was a nice view of Mount Sill and Mount Gayley to the north.
Shannon at the base of the climb.
A good view up the lower part of the chute from below.
Finger Lake at sunset. We were starting to get pretty tired of the talus on our way down, so we were happy to make it to some relatively easier terrain. We stopped and chatted for a minute with a couple who were camping and planning to make an ascent the next morning.