U Notch Couloir III AI 2 5.2

 
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North Palisade


High Sierra, California USA


Trip Report
U-Notch to North Palisade (almost)
Wednesday June 27, 2012 1:54am
I've wanted to climb the U-Notch to North Palisade for a long time, but most of my friends and partners had already done it. This year I thought seriously of soloing it, but chickened out and found a partner: Rob (yes, yet another one :) hadn't been to the area before and was psyched to check it out.

We started hiking up the North Fork Big Pine trail last week in the late afternoon and stopped at First Lake (~10000') for the night. Neither of us is particularly good at acclimatizing to altitude, so we went for the liesurely approach. It being a low snow year there were reports of early ice in the couloir, so we also schlepped ice tools, steel crampons and some ice screws in addition to a spartan rock rack and skinny rope.

Middle Palisade (left) and Norman Clyde Peak (right) on the approach
Middle Palisade (left) and Norman Clyde Peak (right) on the approach
Credit: rhyang

Next morning we started before 8am, headed up past Temple Crag to Sam Mack meadow (~11000') and finally stumbled up the slabs to Gayley Camp (~12300'). We were pretty beat, and after taking some pictures decided to basically nap until dinnertime.

Looking down at Third, Second, and First Lakes from the Glacier trail ...
Looking down at Third, Second, and First Lakes from the Glacier trail (11500'-ish)
Credit: rhyang

U-Notch in late June: bergschrund crossable on right side, some ice vi...
U-Notch in late June: bergschrund crossable on right side, some ice visible
Credit: rhyang

As we worked on our sumptious meal, a couple of guys returned to their campsite and related their experience in the notch: eminently soloable, with a nice but short pitch of blue ice at the top, a little steeper than 40 degrees. Hmm, maybe we didn't bring all this gear for nothing after all.

I've always found Gayley Camp to be a little breezy, but our summit day forecast called for wind. We got a lot of it overnight, glad to have guyed out the tent and brought earplugs :)

Rob kicked me awake at 4:15am, and we scurried about our morning rituals. The wind was cold and ominous clouds had gathered over the crest. Another party had arrived late the previous day, intent on doing the north face of Mt. Sill, and they got an earlier start.

Wind and clouds !  Not a good sign.. the clouds dissipated, but the wi...
Wind and clouds ! Not a good sign.. the clouds dissipated, but the wind did not.
Credit: rhyang

We dragged ourselves out onto the moraine, and marched up the Palisade Glacier. The low snow year made small crevasses more apparent.

Tromping up the Palisade Glacier to the U-Notch
Tromping up the Palisade Glacier to the U-Notch
Credit: rhyang

Small crevasses on the Palisade Glacier
Small crevasses on the Palisade Glacier
Credit: rhyang

We happened to notice the V-Notch still looking mostly snowy. Might be good later in the season, hmm..

V-Notch
V-Notch
Credit: rhyang

We stopped at a sunny spot near the base of the U-Notch and got out our screws, rock gear and ice tools, then headed up the right side of the bergschrund without incident. The snow had some nice steps kicked. Soon we encountered ice: aerated gray stuff, featured and easy to climb. The angle was pretty relaxed, making for a fun cruise up the couloir.

In the U-Notch, near the beginning of the ice (gray and aerated here)
In the U-Notch, near the beginning of the ice (gray and aerated here)
Credit: rhyang

Rob cruising up the U-Notch
Rob cruising up the U-Notch
Credit: rhyang

The main route up the couloir jogs left around a large rib of rock, which offers an escape from the ice, should one desire it. Instead, we headed up to the last 60' of blue ice, and belayed on screws. We'd brought 'em; might as well use 'em.

Narrow spot in the U-Notch, near the top.  Looked to be in the process...
Narrow spot in the U-Notch, near the top. Looked to be in the process of melting out. Note large amounts of loose rock ..
Credit: rhyang

Last 50' or so: 45-50 degree blue ice.  Whee !
Last 50' or so: 45-50 degree blue ice. Whee !
Credit: rhyang

I took the lead, mainly because I was getting cold and wanted to keep moving :)

Rob topping out
Rob topping out
Credit: rhyang

In the notch we were somewhat sheltered from the SW wind. We could hear it blasting like the sound of a jet engine. While planning the trip I'd thought about maybe tagging Polemonium while we were at the notch, but the idea of heading out into that wind lost its attraction for some reason :) We stowed the ice gear, and looked up at the chimney. We'd brought rock shoes, but it was still pretty cold so we just climbed the thing in boots.

Rob leading the chimney
Rob leading the chimney
Credit: rhyang

Rob headed up past the two-piton belay mentioned in Porcella & Burns and belayed on gear about 180' up. I think my lead was ~30' from there, ending at some more ancient pitons and a rap station on the ridge, where we left our rope for the return.

Two-piton belay mentioned in some guidebooks
Two-piton belay mentioned in some guidebooks
Credit: rhyang

Looking across the U-Notch in the direction of Polemonium Peak
Looking across the U-Notch in the direction of Polemonium Peak
Credit: rhyang

We were back in the sun, but as we made our way along the ridge, the SW wind blasted us. At times the gusts knocked me off balance, and despite wearing a balaclava I was getting cold.

Rob scrambling along the ridge towards North Palisade
Rob scrambling along the ridge towards North Palisade
Credit: rhyang

We probably should have dropped down further into the SW bowl below North Pal and then traversed around, rather than staying as high as we did. We were maybe within 100 vertical feet of the summit, but getting cold and tired. The wind did not let up. At one point I stopped to snack on a chocolate bar and realized my chewing muscles were almost too cold to function. It was an easy choice to bail, and we made our way back along the ridge.

Two raps took us down the chimney (which had now gone into the shade) and back to the notch. We descended loose class 3-4 rock back to the gray ice, where I downclimbed to the 'schrund and the glacier. Rob elected to rappel the couloir instead, and it seemed to work out well for him.

Back in the sun on the glacier around 5pm-ish, we snacked and marveled at this amazing place. The large talus on the moraine always tires me out at the end of the day, but it was worth it. We slept in the next morning and hiked back to the car by noonish.

Temple Crag, as viewed from Third Lake
Temple Crag, as viewed from Third Lake
Credit: rhyang

Driving back over Tioga Pass I noticed how windy it was .. should have stopped off at the resort for some pie :)

Gear notes:

 8.1mm x 60m rope
 4 ice screws (22cm, 19cm, 2x 16cm)
 6 alpine draws
 2 cordelettes
 one double-length sling
 WC zeroes #5 & 6, green/yellow link cams, WC tech friend 3.5
 WC rocks #1-8
 v-thread tool

We saw a couple v-threads on the ice in the upper part of the couloir, but didn't use them. I packed out one that had mostly melted out.

  Trip Report Views: 2,264
rhyang
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Comments
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phylp

Trad climber
Millbrae, CA
  Jun 27, 2012 - 11:38am PT
Wind! It's the worst thing isn't it? Cold makes me cold, but wind and cold makes me stupid.
Good job staying warm enough to function safely.
mooser

Trad climber
seattle
  Jun 27, 2012 - 11:55am PT
Really nice TR, Rhyang! I love it up there!
10b4me

climber
  Jun 27, 2012 - 12:12pm PT
Nice try. It will be there for a long time..
thetennisguy

Mountain climber
Yuba City, CA
  Jun 27, 2012 - 12:19pm PT
Thanks for posting this great TR!
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
  Jun 27, 2012 - 01:19pm PT
aaahhh. This trip report makes me really need to be on a Sierra Peak right now (but no snow for me). Thanks for posting!
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Jun 27, 2012 - 01:30pm PT
Nice TR and great pictures. Next time, for sure!

John
HighTraverse

Trad climber
Bay Area
  Jun 27, 2012 - 07:16pm PT
The snow cover in the U-Notch looks REALLY sparse. Wonder how many years before it becomes a rock climb in summer?

EDIT:
"It is many tens of feet thick at the Bergshcrund....."

right, my comment was ambiguous. I meant at that kink to the right near the top.
rwedgee

Ice climber
canyon country,CA
  Jun 27, 2012 - 01:49pm PT
Way to go boys !!!
KeKe_the_Don

Boulder climber
H-Town
  Jun 27, 2012 - 02:18pm PT
the shot of the sunrise and clouds is trill! rad.
uhhuh

Social climber
nevada
  Jun 27, 2012 - 03:12pm PT
While there is rock at the top of the route nearer the ice is recent rockfall over ice. It will be some years before the U-Notch it melts out. The last two years added to the ice some. It is many tens of feet thick at the Bergshcrund.....

V-notch looks like it will be a few weeks too...
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jun 29, 2012 - 09:49pm PT
Nice, thanks!
Cragman

Trad climber
June Lake, California....via the Damascus Road
  Jun 29, 2012 - 09:52pm PT
Very nice, Rob and Rob!!!!
Binks

climber
Uranus
  Jun 29, 2012 - 09:52pm PT
I did the route long ago, thanks for posting brings back the memories.
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North Palisade - U Notch Couloir III AI 2 5.2 - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
U Notch in Yellow (V Notch in Red)
Photo: Ryan Crochiere