Temple Crag (N#241, T#168), Mount Gayley (N#242, T#169), Mount Sill (N#243, T#170), North Palisade (N#244, T#171), Thunderbolt Peak (N#245, T#172), Mount Winchell (N#246, T#173), Mount Agassiz (N#247, T#174)
Nathan Day 139
Note: you can also find the same set of pictures set to Travis' story.
The last day of my SPS project was a big one: 7 summits, 2 classic rock routes, and 2 excellent ridge traverses while traveling around the Palisade Glacier Basin.
I was filled with a mix of emotions as Travis and I travelled quickly up the trail: eager anticipation, excitement, and gratitude, but also a touch of trepidation and concern.
We started the day with Venusian Blind, a wonderfully long and airy ridge up the steep, jagged north face of Temple Crag.
The climbing was secure and the rock solid, and the turquoise lakes below quickly dropped away as we danced our way up the spine.
Pitch after pitch of stellar climbing slid by as we emerged into the morning sunlight.
From the summit, we surveyed the rest of our route for the day: an immense horseshoe of steep, rugged ridges, traversing around the entire basin below.
A distant clatter of rockfall echoed through the still air. Presently, we had a decision to make: the ridge traverse from Temple Crag to Gayley was purportedly sustained, technical, and loose. Alternatively, we could drop down to a talus-strewn bench below, which would be less technical but more circuitous, and a much less proud line. Riding the high from an excellent climb, we launched into the ridge.
After a couple cruxy downclimbs, it proved to be an excellent and enjoyable route, weaving between precarious towers and along exposed knife edges.
We made short work of it, and arrived on the summit of Gayley feeling stoked and ready for the climbing ahead.
Next up was the Swiss Arete on Mt. Sill, our first 14,000 foot peak of the day. After a bit of talus hopping and snow slogging, we crested onto the blunt ridge, sprinting up the steep steps of pristine alpine granite, buoyed up by stoke and the magnetic pull of the summit.
Pitch after pitch flew by, and in no time we were up and over summit number three and on our way towards North Palisade.
This section of the traverse gets climbed frequently, and so we knew what to expect: solid rock and moderate climbing, with a bit of tricky route finding. A wave of psych propelled us onward, and we felt invincible as we navigated the steep pillars of rock.
We traversed over Polemonium Peak…
Stemmed our way up the infamous Chimney Pitch…
Romped a final section of ridge…
And emerged onto the summit of North Pal.
Around us, the High Sierra stretched off to the horizon in both directions. I was elated to finally be here, on this dark, imposing precipice that I had seen off in the distance from every possible angle, lying in wait for me. 3 peaks left. As we traversed to Thunderbolt, fatigue finally began to set in. We had been moving fast for 12 hours straight, and the train of momentum was losing steam.
The “milk bottle” summit pinnacle of Starlight offered a brief and entertaining distraction, then it was back to slogging. With heavy legs, I crawled up the final ascent.
At the top, we were met with the infamous summit block, a large boulder perched on the top of the mountain. At 5.9, it is the most difficult mandatory piece of climbing on the SPS list. It is common to use various rope tricks to aid up the block, but we were hoping to free the moves. Travis tried first, then I did, but we were both stymied by the insecure and committing moves. Next, we tried to “lasso” the summit block, a common technique, but were unable to snag the target.
As the minutes dragged on, our frustration grew. The 10 foot block seemed like a formality – I could easily stand on the next one over, and my head and shoulders would be higher than the summit. However, we were determined.
Finally, Travis came up with a solution – a stick clip! Ironic that he had the thought first, as I’ve stick clipped hundreds of bolts and he never had. We taped two trekking poles together, secured a carabiner clipped to the rope to the end, and carefully stretched it up and slotted it into place. With a sigh of relief, I hauled myself up the line and tagged the high point.
Travis did the same, cleaned the rope, and we took off down our descent chute. We had lost nearly an hour of precious daylight to climb those final 10 feet. I did my best to relax and put it behind me, determined to enjoy the last two peaks.
We picked our way down the steep, loose gully, then traversed a boulder field under the scorching afternoon sun. Ahead lay the final technical difficulty: the Southwest Chute of Winchell. Information on the route is sparse, all we knew was the general location, and that it was “low 5th class.”
We set off, picking our way up the steep wall, until we were met with a vertical impasse stacked with precarious detached boulders. Gingerly, we climbed skyward, willing each block to stay attached to the wall.
I was scared. It was the scariest moment of the entire project. Move by move, I pulled myself upwards, wondering if each careful movement would result in the sudden, gut wrenching sound of grating rock, a block finally pulling, sending me tumbling down the steep gully below, ricocheting for thousands of excruciating feet. I willed each block to hold, and each one did. After what felt like hours, we finally reached safer ground.
Later, on the summit, my emotions began to spill through. It was a rash and dangerous climb. I had let myself become distracted by the finish line and took a risk that was beyond my tolerance. Throughout the entire project, I had been determined to never let my judgment be clouded by the overall goal, and I had failed in the eleventh hour. I was frustrated, disappointed, and exhausted.
Travis and I talked through the experience, and surveyed the spectacular sunset.
Its beauty was nearly lost on me. Ahead loomed the dark figure of Aggasiz.
Suddenly, a tiny dot of a figure appeared on the summit. A distant shout drifted through the dusk. We responded in kind. It must be Jason!
The hope of seeing a friendly face lifted our spirits and pulled us through the darkening mountains, over endless piles of shifting boulders, and up the final climb.
Travis and I chose slightly different lines, and I found myself alone in the night, grinding uphill, reflecting on the months of mountains that had brought me here. Skiing Mt. Rose on February 20th felt like a lifetime ago. The countless miles of rugged terrain had shaped my view of the mountains, filled my soul, and offered a wonderful challenge. It was a culmination of my planning abilities, technical skills, and athletic potential. I felt a wave of gratitude for the opportunity to move myself through amazing terrain and beautiful mountains. I pushed hard up the final steps of the climb, unleashing a shout of victory and relief into the darkness.
At the summit, I was met by a whole group of friends. They offered food, congratulations, and, best of all, company. Together, our headlamp train wound down the talus to Bishop pass. On the trail, Jason and I picked up the pace, gliding through the night to the trailhead and the finish line. Finishing was, as expected, anticlimactic. The best part was the pizza Ashly had waiting for me. And just like that, it was done: 138 days of skiing, hiking, climbing, and crawling my way up and down 247 peaks. The adventure of a lifetime, but just a stepping stone to so much more!
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
View the activity here.