Loc: San Carlos, CA
Trip: Middle Palisade - Northeast Face
Trip Report: The Northeast Face of Middle Palisade is a classic scramble of a 14er within the rugged Palisades subgroup of peaks. The route takes you past stunning Finger Lake, with its turquoise glacial water and towering granite slabs. The route itself is a fun third class scramble with superb views of the surrounding area. The climb entails about 7,000 feet of vertical gain and 16 miles roundtrip. I completed the route in 7:46 roundtrip, starting at 5:45 am and finishing just after 1:30 pm.
I was exhausted after completing the Stanford Loop the prior evening and thought I was done. However, after a good dinner and rehydration, I decided to drive up to the Big Pine Trailhead and see how I would feel the next morning. Despite little sleep, my legs felt better by the morning so I decided to give it a go. In addition, the long drive from the Bay Area gave me more incentive to go for it. I had travelled in the North Fork of Big Pine Creek for the climb of Mount Sill in July, but I had never been to the South Fork of Big Pine Creek. The lower part of the South Fork is a dry environment with even some cactus sprinkled in. Once the trail switchbacks up to the top of a large headwall, you enter into a different world of granite, large pine trees, and lushness. My hike was timed perfectly so that I was watching alpenglow over Mount Sill, Norman Clyde Peak, and Middle Palisade right as I crested the headwall but before I entered the pine forest. I continued on to near Brainerd Lake and left the trail for Finger Lake, climbing slabs and talus. The slabs and talus continued all the way from Finger Lake to the Middle Palisade Glacier moraine and the start of the route.
On the way up, I took the standard route which entails a short walk on the glacier. Sometimes, the glacier can be icy necessitating crampons and ice axe, but this time the sun cups were so big that no gear was necessary. I ascended up to the access point for the ramp heading into the scrambling chute and found that the bergschrund had opened a bit since prior reports. It is still passable, but slipping would not be a good thing here. Once on the Northeast face, the sustained third class scrambling is fun. There is some looseness, but it is never too exposed. The most difficult moves are right up near the summit blocks where there is a large boulder to climb over. Views from the summit are spectacular and enjoyed the calm and warm conditions. Heading down, I decided to check out the alternate route which avoids the glacier all together. The most difficult part of this route is the final reddish/white gully that is loose and crumbly. The best policy here is to use handholds on the more solid rock walls alongside the gully. My conclusion is that both of these routes work – the standard route involves the glacier which can be icy and the alternate route is a bit more loose - you can chose either or do both!
Continuing down I spent a half an hour at gorgeous Finger Lake which had excellent lighting for photography. I have posted many of my shots from Finger Lake below. After the photoshoot it was a quick 75 minutes back to the trailhead. I imagine that without the fatigue from the Stanford Loop and knowledge of the route, Middle Palisade can be done in around 6 hours.
Location (Elevation): Time Elapsed / Split / Real Time Big Pine Creek TH (7,677 ft) : 0 / 0 / 05:45 Finger Lake (10,800 ft) : 1:45:38 / 1:45:39 / 07:30 Arrive Summit (14,040 ft) : 3:50:45 / 2:05:06 / 09:35 Depart Summit (14,040 ft) : 4:08:21 / 0:17:36 / 09:53 Finger Lake (10,800 ft) : 6:03:45 / 1:55:23 / 11:48 Big Pine Creek TH (7,677 ft) : 7:46:15 / 1:42:30 / 13:31
Alpenglow on Middle Palisade (left) and Norman Clyde Peak (right)
Alpenglow on Mount Sill
Sunrise over Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde Peak
Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde
Route up the Northeast Face of Middle Palisade. Red line is the standard route via the Glacier and the Blue line is the alternate route that avoids the glacier.
View to Norman Clyde Peak, Mount Sill, and North Palisade
View down LeConte Canyon
Looking down the South Fork Big Pine Creek drainage
View to Owens Valley
Looking up the Northeast Face of Middle Palisade
The white/red streaks indicate the loose third class gully that is used to start the alternate route.
Finger Lake from above
Finger Lake outlet
View of Middle Palisade towering above Finger Lake
Brainerd Lake Shoreline
A look back at Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde Peak
Gear Notes: La Sportiva Fireblades, Helmet for the scramble in case there are other climbers on the route.
Approach Notes: South Fork Big Pine Trail in good shape. You can either take the use path from Brainerd Lake to Finger Lake or take a more direct line to Finger Lake by leaving the trail before Brainerd Lake. All things considered, I think both take about the same time and energy.