Trip Report
Middle Palisade Unroped
Sunday July 21, 2013 2:09pm
Sky Pilot on the East Face of Middle Palisade
Sky Pilot on the East Face of Middle Palisade
Credit: GDavis

In the spirit of adventure I'd like to share a story of another adventure in the mortal realm of shadow, rock and Spot devices.


It all started when I was born. Much later I went to climb Middle Palisade.

I spent the previous evening in Bishop, out in the Buttermilks. I love desert camping in summer, if the temperatures are reasonable. The sky is just a bit prettier, and I had a chance to try my new pastels. I had thought about learning to draw, or paint, or sketch or whatever. Sitting in my camp chair with thirteen dollars worth of art supllies, trying to figure out how the f*#k to draw a bush... not really what I had in mind. I think I understood why so many people just smear things around and infer objects, because pastels have the feeling of drawing with crayons while drunk.

I completely slept through my alarm. That's the problem of having a habit of not only using your phone as a morning wake-up but also a stereo to lull you to sleep. Somewhere in the middle of The Lord of the Rings soundtrack my battery died, thus leaving any quick morning plans up to local birds (and how annoying they are). Unfortunately for me, the CHIRP-CHIRP-CHIRP didn't arrive 'til almost dawn.

Well, who needs an early start? This was a speed(ish) ascent!

You see, I've been a runner long before I've been a climber, and though I dedicate myself to climbing much like the sky is dedicated to being blue I can't help but know I have this other thing that I do. This other sport that is kinda sorta nothing like the other but I have to keep doing it, or I won't be able to do it well and get frustrated. It's a weird relationship - just like climbing, there are ups and downs with running big trails. The middle chunk is always so fun - the crux pitch, the smooth and flat meadow you hit at 10k.... but it's the parts on either end that you kinda sorta push out of your memory.

There's a great bit Mitch Hedberg used to do about eating an apple and being left the core to deal with. Well, whatever, I learned to just deal. Whether it was High School cross country practice or hauling a heavy pig up some grainy slab that somehow constitutes as a trail, we have to pay a price somewhere to find our little perches.

Climbing is f*#king hard. Go to any major sport climbing crag and throw a rock and you'll find someone that can out-climb me. Same with running, as I am still a long ways away from my high school mile time. Of course, 5 days a week of training pulling muscles isn't the most conducive to a good foot turnover, but I digress. I am not that great at either sport for a guy who does little else.

Lucky for me, the venn-diagram of runner-c#m-climber is just a thin little slice. Put the two together and I can do some pretty cool stuff. As someone who was fairly recently 200+lbs, it's hard to describe how awesome it is to prance along a slabby buttress in the evening light. Even more so when, only a handful of years ago, that same buttress was an all-day epic ending in headlamps and promises to never return. Regardless of what I'm sorta built for, I think because I just enjoy the hell out of moving fast through easy terrain. It just doesn't get any better sometimes (well, home baked cookies...).

So anyway, back to the mountain of many souls, or whatever.

A few days before I had climbed the West Ridge of Conness with mama. We backpacked in to young lakes before climbing the 12,000+ foot peak, so combined with a week camping in Tuolumne I figured my acclimitization to be pretty good. It's hard to look at a topo and try to get a scale for how fast you should, or could, move through the terrain. Some gnarly drainages might contain beautiful and gradual switchbacks, and just as likely a flat field could in turn become a swamp.

The best bet to plan your day is always to go by elevation gain, not mileage. ESPECIALLY on the East side of the sierra, where a few puny miles can get you on top of fourteen thousand foot ridgelines. So let's see, 6k feet elevation gain,
7+miles out, ummm.... shitload of energy bars and aqua mura drops.

The snowball effect exists in big walls, but in big runs too. Go a bit faster, finish a bit sooner, take a lighter shell and less food. That last part I rarely skimp on, as being caught way out calorie deprived feels demonstrably shittier than carrying an extra thousand calories. Let's not forget, too, I used to be a fatty. Any excuse to pack on the snickers is fine by me!

Quick and sweaty selfie!

I hit the trail head at a less-than-ideal 5:45AM. The nice thing about my start time was watching the sunrise light up the sage and wildflowers low on the approach was pretty stellar. Days are so long, especially in summer, but you just can't beat the beauty of that early morning sunrise. I had a Patagonia Piton Hybrid Pullover on over a Mountain Hardwear Elmoro shirt, which was a layering system I liked using in situations where I might not want to stop to pull off layers. That's one thing I always notice about moving fast, it has to do more with efficiency sometimes than that extra mile in training. Putting on sunscreen while hiking uphill and changing music while you pee... THAT'S the way!

The first few miles of the South Fork of Middle Palisade are gentle bumps along a creek amid that high desert chaparral that covers the entryways into the Eastern high sierra, some of my favorite terrain to run in. You can tell because of how many wonderful pictures I took (hint - there are none from this section).

As the trail flattened, I could kick hard and move fast, and in the slight uphills I would alternate fast hiking with a bit of jogging. I had pegged my day as possibly up to 11 hours total, based on the mileage and gain, so knew I had to chill out a bit and go easy because I had a long day ahead of me. Of course I didn't listen to my brain, but my brain isn't so smart sometimes anyway. What does he know?

The trail is absolutely stunning up to Finger Lake, heading up improbable looking gullys and drainages and along gorgeous and flower carpeted creeks. In a bit less than 2 hours I arrived at Finger Lake, and the start of my decision that this 'speed ascent' was grossly miscalculated. I move pretty good through talus, and on a dare might even race some quick people. However it is a game of attrition. At some point I mentally check out and go autopilot, foot-foot-foot on blocks regardless of their stability or size. A bit of a bad habit, and a bit slower going, but I'd rather put on headphones and drone along sometimes then try to focus on a game of hyperactive hopscotch.

Unfortunately for me, this game of try-not-to-snap-an-ankle would be the overwhelming majority of my day. Passing the awesome fjord that finger lake is I started to pick through gullys and up along ridges. Avoiding snow was not a bad idea, though my Five Ten Guide Tennies were waxed to all hell. Mostly I wanted to avoid the looser scree and sticky rubber allowed me to climb fourth and low fifth whenever possible.

Eventually I popped up to the last water source as noted in Croft's book. The views behind as I sat and waited for my aquamira droplets were stunning.

I was always a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings movies. In fact, I remember being rather irked when people complained about the ending of the third one. If you didn't know the story, the movie would keep tricking you into thinking it was over. Just as some friends were reunited or a lull was hit, the screen would go black and play softer music only to then re-open onto yet another scene wrapping up some loose end. This continued for probably 45 minutes in the film, until the fake LotR fans could finally see the credits at the end of the tunnel. THAT's how the moraine before the snowfield felt to me. I didn't know what was ahead, and every bump I would think "oh, is THIS where I get to stop sliding all over the f*#king place? Nope. Nope another 10 minutes. Ok NOW???? DAMMIT!" To those who didn't fully enjoy the ending to the Middle Earth saga, I sympathized before but now I empathize.

The combination of the slog, my quick elevation gain and probable insufficient hydration smacked me in the face right about the time I started to get to the glacier at the toe of the NE chutes. I've been prone to AMS, even getting it in the Tuolumne meadows campground, so I'm used to dealing. What was a speed ascent, turned into an ascent, and now a hobbled ascent. Well, that ain't half bad I guess, besides look how pretty!!!

A dude at Wilson's Eastside told me about the start of the route, and to look for a left-to-right ramp above some steep rock. I found it easily enough, so big thanks! That section was, I'd heard, the crux. However like many high sierra routes, the most difficult moves you do that day and the crux are two different things. There was some loose rock and an eerily deep 'schrund, but class 3 would be the highest I'd give it.

Moving right past cairns got me onto the East Face proper. It's so improbable, that this huge gully is so featured and ledge-y. To add to the enjoyment, the better rock is off to the left along a spine in between the east face and the face above the glacier. Having a good sized headache and feeling a mite bit shitty I opted to take it easy and slow right on the ridge. To make it even more awesome-sauce there were little bouquets of Sky Pilot every 5 or so yards to come across nose-first.

That's the thing about mountains. If you poop out on a long road run, you are stuck with oil smells and drivers clipping your elbow. Up here I could just become a rock climber, or a photographer, or a tourist and just enjoy the scenery!

The route flabbergasted me with it's length. Yes, that's my new favorite word. It kept going... and going... and going. By staying Left I'd avoided the looser stuff, but every now and again I'd end at a section a bit blanker, or steeper, than I'd like and have to weave around it. But before too long I found the other side of the sierra, and felt wayyyyy too shitty to take a picture of it. I plodded up to the summit blocks, and too lazy to hike around and look for the 'easy way' I just jammed my hands in the first crack I saw that led to the summit, then turned and sat in the little saddle seat on the block itself.

10:35AM, 4:50 after leaving the car. I was pretty happy about that, all told, though I felt that maybe pushing myself so quickly on the first ~3/4 bit me in the ass. There's a weird ennui with summits I sometimes get, where you are so happy to be 'done with the up' and enjoying the vistas, but soon have to deal with some more bullshit - in this case descending thousands and thousands of feet through moraine, talus and blistering trail. Wee...

At some point I willed myself to leave the summit and downclimb. I spent a good 10 seconds looking for other options before deciding to head down the handcrack I came up on. Sometimes face-in, sometimes walking, I absoutely went the easiest way possible. Looking down onto the terrain instead of up at it, I think I might have scoped out a 2nd class option on the route. Go a few dozen feet, stop, dry heave, repeat....

"one more pitch to the summit!"
"after this rappel, we just downclimb the ridge!"
"the ridge is almost over, we just have talus back to the trail!"
"This talus is going to end soon right..."

I started to play that game, where the day gets slightly easier but you get demonstrably more crapped out. By the time I finished picking my way down talus and bullshit moraines, it was a foot-in-front-of-the-other shuffle affair. The symptons have turned into full-on nausua and headache. I was hung over next to awesome lakes. Really, not too bad.

It's like, now I'm just hiking. I just have to hike. It's so easy it's stupid, but it f*#king sucks. The sun is blasting on me, I can't keep down fluids and I'm shuffling down on switchbacks I'd just earlier ran up. Arg. Well that's why we have those zen places to go to, to think about the best quiche ever or listen to some dance music and remember that one girl at the party the other day. Something. Something other than dusty walking.

Some time later, days eons who knows, I came back to the flat sage covered trail. Very little elevation loss left, and only a handful of miles. Tried to run, head said NOPE. So... more walking. Suddenly the symptoms dropped. After going from 14k to 8k, I was back in business - even hydrated. Alright, let's do this! So, I ran and ran and ran... for about 7 minutes. Then I saw my car.

Well, at least I could drive home feeling decent.

So, I got my ass kicked. But it was fun. Weird.

Total time 10 hours on the dot. It took me 20 minutes longer to descend than to climb the peak. One of those days....

Relaxing by First Lake last June

  Trip Report Views: 5,671
About the Author
Greg Davis is a climber not allowed within 300 yards of any pinkberry locations.

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Nor Cal
  Jul 21, 2013 - 02:18pm PT
nice, always a beautiful place

Social climber
Lida Junction
  Jul 21, 2013 - 02:27pm PT
Middle Pal was one of my favorite climbs.

Trad climber
Bay Area
  Jul 21, 2013 - 02:31pm PT
10 hours round trip is WAY above my pay grade. Nice report, thanks for the pics. Well done.

Social climber
Author's Reply  Jul 21, 2013 - 02:33pm PT
I kept looking for mountain-climbers with a repel rope to get me down...

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
  Jul 21, 2013 - 02:36pm PT
Some serious aerobic scrambling! Well done!

And a significant upgrade to the XXXX Unroped genre.

Big Wall climber
Typewriters and Ledges
  Jul 21, 2013 - 04:12pm PT
It all started when I was born. Much later I went to climb Middle Palisade.

Brevity at its best.

Trad climber
dancin on the tip of god's middle finger
  Jul 21, 2013 - 04:28pm PT
you mountain freak.
what are doing up there by yourself,
amongst the marmots and alpine streams?

don't you have something better,
more productive to do?

like author a wallmart reciept,
all your own?

  Jul 21, 2013 - 04:39pm PT
So, I ran and ran and ran... for about 7 minutes. Then I saw my car.


Boulder climber
San Diego
  Jul 21, 2013 - 05:01pm PT
Nice TR love it!

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Jul 21, 2013 - 05:37pm PT
meh, I cudda slept in way better than that. ;)

If you really want to be a power lounger, you got to focus. You can't be distracted by stunning mountains, and summits that are far away.

That last pic is promising.

when you're ready to buckle down and get serious. You know who to talk to you. :)

Boulder climber
The high prairie of southern Colorado
  Jul 21, 2013 - 05:40pm PT
Very nice.

Looks like Dr. Roots has started a trend. My own TR along these lines would be my solo scramble up the east face of longs peak in August of 1954, 17 yrs old and a long way from the deep south, with virtually no climbing experience. But I did take a 50' length of manila rope with me!
craig mo

Trad climber
L.A. Ca.
  Jul 21, 2013 - 06:02pm PT
Thanks for the report. 10 hours nice!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jul 21, 2013 - 06:57pm PT
A solid and I introspective write up , thanks!!!!
baba long

Trad climber
Joshua Tree, CA
  Jul 21, 2013 - 07:49pm PT
Nice trip report. I love this style of climbing. Traveling long distances and scaling technical rock in a short amount of time is a great freedom. Lots of beauty and love the cardio work. Be safe!!
dee ee

Mountain climber
Of THIS World (Planet Earth)
  Jul 21, 2013 - 08:00pm PT
Cool, you climbed it and unroped at that! Wowza!

Next, the Grand Teton.

...oh...I hear the Half Dome goes unroped as well, good luck.
dee ee

Mountain climber
Of THIS World (Planet Earth)
  Jul 21, 2013 - 08:01pm PT
Just kidding, I love Middle Pal!

Trad climber
washington indiana
  Jul 21, 2013 - 08:09pm PT
Wonderful trip report. Thanks, I really enjoyed it. I was only in the Sierras twice and do not expect it will happen again but you made me feel the beauty of it again.

  Jul 21, 2013 - 11:45pm PT
Nice one, can't help but think that some jeans & nickelback would have shaved a few hrs off ur time.

Also curious why you are acting so modest about a ropeless ascent of a 14'er, it is likely that you are better than anyone else who may have been out there & I just don't understand why you wouldn't bother pointing that out(edit-in a ropeless tr of course)??!?!

Look forward to doing this route someday & have never seen a TR on it before so thanks for the pics & beta.

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
  Jul 21, 2013 - 10:54pm PT

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
  Jul 21, 2013 - 11:25pm PT
10 hours! Wowsa. Love you get to be liberal with the for me!

Thanks, beautiful pictures!

Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Jul 21, 2013 - 11:29pm PT
Nice! E Face of Middle Pal has a special place in my heart as one of my first Sierra peaks...
Camster (Rhymes with Hamster)

Social climber
  Jul 21, 2013 - 11:44pm PT

Trad climber
Starlite, California
  Jul 22, 2013 - 12:35am PT
Nicely composed narrative about one of the Sierra's great classics; Middle Pal completely dominates the skyline when viewed from the crest of the Whites.

One of the advantages of living and working up around 8,000 feet is that acclimatization is rarely an issue, particularly when you can get off the talus and onto some decent rock. I stayed far climber's right of the chute, and the heads-up pace encouraged by these slabs really made the peak proper feel like a walk in the park. (all wilderness hiking/climbing are “Walks in the Park” around here.

Since, though, I haven't been able to enjoy my morning run in the “Milks any more, it took me 16 hrs, c2c...

Over the course of 3 days :p

I was harried at the summit by an intense electrical storm, which had moved in from the south, and so was hidden by the route I was on. The electrical build up leading to a discharge announced itself with an eerie and dangerous sounding oscillating humming and buzzing, and it was if being at the bottom of an electrical lake whose base was just a few feet below the summit rocks. The viscosity of this electrical pool was so deep and well defined that it certainly felt as if an adventurous type citizen might end up as a ground for the discharge, if he but reached a bit up, from a seated posture, and made himself into a human contact by simply touching any of the summit blocks above a very well defined ceiling/floor electrical boundary.

For want of any nearby volunteers for this scientific experiment, nor witnesses to the Flash Bang which was sure to follow any experimentation, I declined to volunteer myself in the name of Science.

Truth be known, I was too terrified to even stand up, and take in the southward prospect. Under black skies, it wasn't likely I'd see too much, anyway. Instead, I got hosed on the descent, as did my bivi site at Finger Lake.

I'd neglected to pitch my Divine Light, 11 oz, bivi tent, making the prospect of a sodden sleeping bag a very real anxiety. But God looks out after fools – the bag's stuff sack is waterproof, for it was a dark and stormy might.

Simply finding ramp above the glacier was my crux, especiially because the photo topo in Secor's Guide shows the Line as ascending the next chute to the NW (which cliffs out on loosly cemented kitty litter down at the base of that chute (:= X

  Jul 22, 2013 - 12:54am PT
Thanks for the interesting TR.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Jul 22, 2013 - 01:17am PT
Bravo Mate. Stoked you got a nice summy and fought hard for it. Those sky pilot shots were rad. You should have braided some into an elvish crown for your descent.
Lets bag a peak together sometime man. The TR would be epic.


Boulder climber
Institute of Better Bouldering-DirtbagDad Division
  Jul 22, 2013 - 01:32am PT
Good on ya! As a fellow long time runner, then climber I can relate.

You tell a good, heartfelt tale. Thanks!


  Jul 22, 2013 - 07:27am PT
Very enjoyable TR. That is one of my favorite parts of the Sierra. Hope to head that way in September. Thanks for the motivation.


Mountain climber
Alamo, CA
  Jul 22, 2013 - 10:33am PT
Headed there next month! T/R helps - thx

Social climber
  Jul 22, 2013 - 03:30pm PT
Good on you man. Great photo of the sky pilot; when I nicked the summit a few years back in June, it was before the bloom, but I got buzzed by a glider a couple of times.
Bob Harrington

Bishop, California
  Jul 23, 2013 - 12:53am PT
Smokin' time, goofy selfies, nice sky pilot! Thanks for the report.

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Jul 23, 2013 - 01:11am PT
I don't know what the elapsed time means, except that I couldn't do it. But,

It took me 20 minutes longer to descend than to climb the peak.

now that strikes home.

thanks for the story.


Trad climber
Las Vegas
  Jul 23, 2013 - 01:29am PT

Thanks for the post G
Fun read. Thank you for the effort in the writing and photo editing,links etc..

Pretty good time on that ascent as well, good job.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
  Jul 23, 2013 - 12:00pm PT
Stuck on the coast, you cheered my wakeup.

Middle is one of those archetypal climbs, kinda like Cathedral Peak and the Conness you bagged on the way. They shine under your fingertips and then they shine on brightly in memory and then you go back. And then there's the scree that your Golden Sieve kinda skipped over to get to the good part. This one's on the list for this summer, so...


Sport climber
Almost to Hollywood, Baby!
  Jul 23, 2013 - 12:44pm PT
Nice use of sympathize vs empathize!

Mountain climber
Bishop, CA
  Jul 23, 2013 - 02:45pm PT
Good stuff Grgg! I'll be scratching up that thing next week. :) Congrats!

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Jul 23, 2013 - 04:47pm PT
10 hours round trip is WAY above my pay grade.

Hear, hear! Thanks for the excellent TR and pictures.


Oakland, CA
  Jul 23, 2013 - 05:43pm PT
Loved this. Agree with the peanut gallery - you are a solid writer who comes from the heart.

I get wicked alt sickness, too. Usually Nutjob is there to give me hugs and carry all of the heavy stuff while I puke and moan.

Once after a day on Conness I started with the voms on the way down. Got to the car and still wasn't feeling better. In the meadows, just after the JMT trailhead, I felt the nausea kicking up and so pulled over and stomped into the woods.

Must have passed out for who knows how long, woke up next to my own puke in the dirt, made it back to the car which was only halfway pulled off of the road, sort of blocking traffic, driver's door still open... Man, shameful what happens to me at altitude w/o my man Nutjob.

Mountain climber
  Jul 23, 2013 - 08:29pm PT
How many people have actually used a rope of this route?

Social climber
Author's Reply  Jul 23, 2013 - 08:31pm PT
How many people have actually used a rope of this route?

Many souls.

Mountain climber
Folsom, CA
  Sep 19, 2013 - 04:38pm PT
I did this classic climb the old school way and been wanting to do this the ultra-running-snickers-on-way. Great TR report

Mountain climber
San Diego
  Jan 13, 2015 - 05:14pm PT
Thanks for the hilarious story! I have wanted to do this peak for ever. Now I must.

Escondido, CA
  Jan 13, 2015 - 08:11pm PT
How did I miss the TR when you wrote it?

Oh yeah, I was climbing Middle Pal. (I remember seeing your name in the book only a few ascents ahead of mine.)

Solo ropeless and still here to tell the tale.

Looking north east from the summit of Middle Pal.
Looking north east from the summit of Middle Pal.
Credit: bajaandy

Summit of Middle Palisade
Summit of Middle Palisade
Credit: bajaandy
dee ee

Mountain climber
Of THIS World (Planet Earth)
  Jan 14, 2015 - 07:50pm PT
Thanks for taking me back.

Social climber
chica de chico, I don't claim to be a daisy.
  Jan 14, 2015 - 08:10pm PT
That hammock shot is perfect. Oops. not on my phone, Andy here Timid T, but maybe she would express the same sentiment. Actually she would tell you how much she loves sky pilots.
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