17 Aug “Saving the best for last”
I just had the pleasure of guiding Rob on the final peaks of his 6 year quest to climb all of the Fourteeners in the Contiguous United States, via the classic Palisade Traverse from Thunderbolt Peak to Mount Sill. Rob has been a life-long climber, and though we are separated by a couple of climbing generations, the shared connection of climbing partners and ascents of routes in Washington and elsewhere made for an enjoyable partnership for this demanding mountain route. While Rob certainly could have figured out the route on his own, he wanted to have the most fun and success possible, and with around 30 ascents of the Traverse, I had the confidence that I could move us along safely and efficiently.
We decided to do the traverse in the most elegant way I know of, to organize a car shuttle so that you can climb from North to South, entering at Bishop Pass and exiting the North Fork of Big Pine. While this demands some upfront logistics, it means there is no backtracking along the route, a necessity when doing the route from the West side once the Eastern couloir routes become out of condition.
We were not blessed with the most promising weather forecast, and as we dropped a car at Glacier Lodge in Big Pine we were greeted by intense morning showers. Even throwing on packs at South Lake, many hikers were coming back drenched and unhappy, though we managed to hike quickly and avoid the rain showers until we had reached our camp at Thunderbolt Col.
The following morning we woke early to dissipating clouds, and made excellent time up Thunderbolt’s SW Chute to the challenging summit block. It was great to be able to move along the narrow and exposed ridge with Rob, who has excellent technical skills, and shave huge amounts of time off my normal time goals along the summit, especially while carrying an overnight pack with much more gear for weather contingencies. By 11:30am we had reached the high point of the Palisade group, North Palisade. A couple more rappels and a bit of climbing took us past Polemonium Peak and to the quality bivy sites overlooking the Polemonium Glacier. It was only 2pm, but with such a vista and with clouds that seemed to have stopped threatening, it was a nice place to stop and nap and melt snow for water.
The following day the skies were already inky to the south as we woke before dawn to get a head start on the day. We summited Mount Sill, the final real 14er in the list (we are electing not to count Liberty Cap, a subsidiary summit of Mount Rainier, and while it is included in some lists, is being omitted from this one) at 7am, and boogied down towards the Palisade Glacier as the clouds coalesced and brought sheets of hail and rain with them, hastening our hike out.
While my legs are certainly feeling the effects of a 7,000’ descent from Sill down to Glacier Lodge in one fast push, it was a real pleasure sharing this route with Rob, who understood and really valued the benefit of having an experienced and qualified guide to increase his level of enjoyment and success on this route. We certainly threaded the needle and without his speed and strength it likely wouldn’t have been as fun as it was. Congrats Rob!
Author: SMG Guide Ryan Huetter