Friday, August 17 , 2018, 2:58 pm | Fair 77º

 
 
 
 
Sports: A Noozhawk Partnership with The Lab and American Riviera Bank
The LabAmerican Riviera Bank

A Full Basin in the Eastern Sierra

{mosimage}Rockfall rained down Thunderbolt Peak, football-sized granite chunks hurtling 500 feet down to their resting place in the Palisade Glacier, the largest and only permanent glacier in the Eastern Sierra, as climbers scaled the east face of the mountain.

{mosimage}

Rockfall rained down Thunderbolt Peak, football-sized granite chunks hurtling 500 feet down to their resting place in the Palisade Glacier, the largest and only permanent glacier in the Eastern Sierra. An autumn breeze carried the bite of the impending winter while clinging to gritty frozen granite as I and two others scaled the east face of this ominous mountain, barely grazing fourteener status at 14,003.

The basin that holds the glacier is fortified by six of California’s 15 14,000-foot peaks, along with a slew of other toothy crags and climbing routes that climbers and backpackers flock to each year. Middle Palisade, Mount Sill, Polemonium Peak, North Palisade and Starlight Peak join Thunderbolt Peak south to north, dominating the Palisades region of the Sierra.{mosimage}

Each dawn was utterly breathtaking. Hues of orange and gold highlighted the eastern horizon silhouetting Mount Gayley to the east.

My dome tent, tucked away in a colossal moraine of granite blocks and slabs, served as a fine vantage point to study these behemoths and their potential routes, or to simply admire the Eastern Sierras’ rugged grandeur while listening for consistent rockfall. {mosimage}

Each sunup transformed the tallest peaks into a swath of pinks, then oranges and gold with an intoxicating deep blue sky.

At sunset, Mount Robinson jutted in the northeast, its western arete glowing with the end of each day. From the east end of the moraine, the descent broadened into a scenic valley and a series of turquoise blue lakes, the liquid jewels of the Palisades.

The east face of Thunderbolt folded outward into an open book, cracks and granite fins serving as convenient hand- and footholds on this pitch to a narrow precipice. {mosimage}

On belay, I lost track of the lead guide on the next pitch, just the rope slithering through my hands and belay device kept me abreast of his rapid ascent. A golfball-sized rock pelted me on my helmet, the first of many that made a fairly straightforward climb a tedious one. Soon those reliable holds became moveable objects dislodged from loose dirt and weathered granite.

While meticulously picking my way up a challenging pitch, I forced myself to dwell on a old mule deer buck we spotted between First and Second Lakes four days prior in the valley below. His muzzle was snowy white, his antlers wide and thick as a Louisville Slugger. {mosimage}

I wondered how many hunting seasons that old buck had survived. Its wily seasoning inspired me to the next ledge, my fingers stiff and cold as we neared the summit spire.

Gazing eastward, the White Mountains were ensconced in midday haze. Blue skies hovered overhead, but not visible until we reached the summit was a front sweeping in from the west.

No time to revel in our summit quest before we had to descend rapidly. Wind, snow and cold bearing down on us, we repelled the same way we ascended, setting up anchors and using reliable slings left by climbers before us.

Soon those blue skies vanished, and dark, charcoal gray clouds engulfed the Palisades. Everything appeared so dreary and bleak. Weather in the mountains can either make you smile or frown. {mosimage}

Our moods transformed with the front, but we descended quickly and efficiently, avoiding the loose stuff until we reached a notch at the bottom of the east face. Once off the rope, rockfall followed while skirting the face down to the glacier.

Crampons affixed to our boots, we followed glacier-fed streams set free by the midday sun, the sweetest water in the Sierra. We rock-hopped across the ridge of the moraine, springs in our steps following our successful summit and the impending storm we beat back to our camp. My hands wrapped around a warm mug of soup finished another day in the mountains.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >