August 20-22, 2004
By: Nancy Pallister
We all found each other by 8:00 AM, distributed group gear and shuttled packs and people shuttled to the trailhead for a late 9:30 start! Three groups evolved: the fast (Charles Martin and Craig Connally), the middle (Dave McReynolds, Roger Reid and myself), and the slow (Wit Ashbrook and Garrik Meeker). To be fair, Wit and Garrik lugged up HUGE packs that included provisions for their subsequent North Palisade trip. We planned to meet at the outlet of Finger Lake and continue, weather permitting. We all took slightly different cross-country routes and by the time we all were gathered, it was 4:00 PM, and raining lightly. We decided to stay put at Finger Lake and set up tents just before the sky really let loose. Before dusk, three more parties arrived. It was going to be a popular route the next day so we decided on an early start.
Now, “dawn” must have different meanings to different folks. At 3:45 AM Wit and Garrik were up and about. There went my 4:30 AM wake-up! Roger was feeling the altitude and declined the day’s activities. Six of us picked our way around the south side of Finger Lake by headlamp. The snow was icy-hard so we worked our way up the rocks to the upper small tarns. Garrik, struggling with an ankle not quite healed from an early season accident, headed back to camp. By this time two of the other groups had caught up and passed us. Turned out great – they had to cut the steps to the start of the climb! The five of us remaining were on the actual route by 8:00 AM. A solo climber joined us for a while, gaining comfort from knowing we had a rope. After endless 3rd class scrambling, we reached the summit about 11:00. Our solo friend left and we basked in the sunlight and enjoyed the view. So far there was not a breadth of wind- perfect T-shirt weather at 14,000 feet.
The down-climb was slow with so many parties on the route. We all waited on each other to minimize rock-fall dangers. Slowly clouds began to build and by 3:00 we could see storms in the distance, but were off the mountain in the endless talus. The snow had softened so we could use the few snowfields to ease the descent. Nevertheless, old knees got to us and we hobbled back to camp by 5:00 PM, the last group to get back. Although our average age for our group was well over 50, the young punks only beat us by about half an hour. We reached camp in a light rain, had a quick hot drink, and the skies let loose again – a real hard long rain. Nobody minded – we slept like babies.
Given the unsettled weather and general exhaustion of the previous day, there were no takers for Norman Clyde Peak. We all packed up and went down using the “scrappy little trail” directly to Brainard Lake described in Peter Croft’s book (the definitely better way to go). Garrik and Wit cut-off at the road and headed up to do North Palisade. Craig headed directly home so as not to miss his wife’s birthday. Dave, Roger and I went to Bishop for a late lunch. Roger left and Dave and I did a day hike at Sabrina Lake. The weather turned from rainy to cold and blustery. I stayed and hiked White Mountain bundled up in fleece and a jacket all the way. I picked up Sonora Peak (another county high point) on my way home. I am not sure what the wind speed was on Sonora Peak, but I could literally “hang out” at a 45 degree angle held up by the wind! Thanks all for making this a great trip.