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Backcountry ski and snowboard gear, camping

May 2003 


Day One -- "Tour du Palisades"

From our high perch above Second Lake, the sun accosted us early.  Far too early for my liking, if you must know.  I rolled over, pulled the sleeping bag off of my face, rubbed the sleep granules out of my eyes, looked up and was absolutely floored.  Towering above us was Temple Crag -- a fin of granite so colossal, so sunlit and so perfect it was as if we had woken up on another planet.  OK, we were in Berkeley just a few hours earlier, so this wasn't too far from the truth.

Mesmerized by the crag, we somehow managed to pack up our gear and hit the trail.  We were looking for a sizable group of friends camped at Third Lake, including Fred, John, Nate, Nils, Jenn, Sandra and Jay. We encountered Nils and überdog Soleil near the patchy snowline at the outlet of Third Lake.  Nils reported that the snow up above was unfrozen, unsupportable and basically shit. We hiked another few hundred yards to the camp, where the mood was despondent.  There's nothing more depressing than a group of skiers who have hiked six miles over dirt with full gear and packs lamenting the quality of the snow.  The discussion even turned to not skiing (oh the horror!), and instead hiking the snow-free south-facing slopes above the Big Pine valley. Since our packs were still crammed with gear and firmly positioned on on our aching backs, our group of four decided to keep trudging up the valley to establish a higher camp near the foot of the Palisades Glacier.

We hit consistent snow about 100 feet above Third Lake, at the bottom of the climb to Sam Mack meadow, where we were mercifully permitted to remove the skis and boots from our backs and put them on our feet. Once at Sam Mack meadow, we had a Hobson's choice:  climb the nearly vertical chutes at the end of the meadow to reach the glacier, or gain the ridge to our left which led up to the moraine.  We chose the latter because it looked marginally easier.  But let me tell you, there was absolutely nothing redeeming about the climb up out of Sam Mack meadow. The word "arduous" kept repeating itself in my mind. Chris muttered once or twice that we were teetering precariously on the frontier of what Fred would call "Type 3 Fun".


"The Three Types of Fun" -- by "Sierra" Fred Hochstaedter:

  • Type 1: It’s fun while you’re doing it and fun when you look back on it.
  • Type 2: No fun while you’re doing it but fun when you look back on it.
  • Type 3: No fun while you’re doing it and not fun when you look back on it.

Ultimately, after some borderline Type 3 Fun, we made it out of Sam Mack's private hell and onto the ridge, whereupon it was smooth sailing up towards the moraine.  I hiked about half way up towards the moraine and called for a halt at a nice flat spot on the ridge at 11,500' -- a perfect campsite, with views of the entire Palisades Massif, as well as down the chain of lakes we had just ascended, and out to the Owens Valley and the endless ranges of desert mountains beyond.  Just as we arrived, Fred, Nate and the Third Lake group arrived with their day packs.  Nils and Jenn had bailed for the more promising pastures of Mammoth, but the rest of the crew was ready for a high tour up on the glacier.


Note:  clicking on any photograph will present a full screen version.

Temple Crag.  Sunlight dances off the aptly named "Dark Star" arete on the nose of Temple Crag.  We camped on these slabs high above Second Lake (out of sight in the middle foreground below).  Our friends' camp at Third Lake is in the flat spot above Second Lake, at the base of Temple Crag.

Want to climb Temple Crag?  Click here.

Above Sam Mack's Hell.  Chris Gallardo guides his splitboard up the ridge between Sam Mack Meadow and Third Lake.  In the background is the North Fork of Big Pine Creek, with First Lake visible.  Owens Valley and the Inyo Mountain range in the distant background.

Camp, at last.  After hauling our full packs up to 11,500', I thought it was time to establish a camp.  We had a sweet view of the Palisades wall (behind me), as well as all the way back down the valley to Big Pine  (photo:  Fred Hochstaedter)

Gayley and Sill.  The view of Mt. Gayley and Mt. Sill from camp.  The col between the two is Glacier Notch, which leads to the "L-shaped couloir" (just visible over the notch).  The famous Swiss Arete is on the left skyline of Mt. Sill.


Fourteener City.  Four "14ers" are visible in this photo -- Polemonium Peak (at far left), North Pal, Starlight and T-bolt.



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