This is the second in a series of three winter routes in Yosemite National Park (for the first, see Mount Watkins Winter). Glacier Point is one of the great viewpoints in Yosemite and it’s even better in winter for a couple reasons. First (and foremost), peace and solitude can be found. There’s no tourist buses and no tourists. If you’re doing Glacier Point in a day, the folks who spend the night at the hut are on their way back or yet to arrive so there’s a good chance you have the vista all to yourself. Second, a snow-capped Half Dome and surrounding high country seems to add another layer the dramatic vista. It’s been since 2013 since I was at Glacier Point in the winter. That time it was a cross country ski and very cold after a big storm cycle so the winter wonderland was in full effect. Unfortunately the spigot largely turned off the second half of that winter as the multi-year drought commenced. This year the snows are back and California experienced a real winter so it was time to revisit Glacier Point. This time I would bring my snowshoes instead of skiing. It turns out the Glacier Point Road is groomed to the point that snowshoes are usually not necessary in the morning. However, I would make a side trip to Sentinel Dome and for that snowshoes are definitely required as the snow was deep and unconsolidated. Whether it’s worth carrying snowshoes for the short side trip Sentinel Dome is up for debate. If I bring snowshoes again I will likely add on another viewpoint like Taft Point to make better use of the gear. Otherwise, an out-and-back to Glacier Point is largely doable as a run on the hard packed groomed surface with possibly some slip on traction device on the shoes and possibly some hiking instead of running in the afternoon if the snow becomes soft. Compared to the very cold weather four years ago this time it was comparatively balmy so there was no snow on the vegetation but several more feet of snow at Glacier Point and the high country reflecting the big snow pack this year, especially at 7,000 feet and above.
From Badger Pass to Glacier Point is a straightforward 11 mile each way or 22 miles round trip. As would be expected, the road is graded very well with relatively gradual ascents and descents. There’s a short climb at the beginning before a couple miles of gradual descent to Bridalveil Creek. This descent is not noticeable on the way out but more noticeable on the way back when it’s uphill. There’s a rolling section around Bridalveil Creek before a consistent (but gradual) climb begins after the turnoff to Horizon Ridge at mile 4.5. This climb continues for around 3 miles. There’s some more rolling on the ridge before the road begins it’s descent to Glaicer Point at around mile 9. Washburn Point is reached just after mile 10 and Glacier Point at mile 11. If Glacier Point is the destination, I’d definitely plan on reaching it since there aren’t many views along the way – the reward is at the turnaround point. The Clark Range view is at mile 6.25 but it pales in comparison to the views at Washburn Point and Glacier Point. The road largely spends it time traversing through a montane forest, which is very beautiful after a fresh snow but does not offer many views. The destination at Glacier Point is easily the highlight and it’s worth every bit of the effort.
For Sentinel Dome snowshoes are almost always required in the winter. It’s under a mile roundtrip from the road to the dome and back. Sentinel Dome offers a spectacular 360 degree view and a higher perspective on Half Dome across the Valley. I personally think the view from Glacier Point is more dramatic to Half Dome but Sentinel Dome is definitely worth the side trip if you’ve brought snowshoes and includes a wider vista taking in the Clark Range and El Capitan. If I bring snowshoes next time I will also include a visit to Taft Point, but it looks like this point is rarely visited so deep snow and potentially slow going with trail breaking seems like it would be encountered. Overall, the vast majority of visitors go to Dewey Point which is only 4 miles from Badger Pass (8 miles round trip). Dewey is a fantastic vista, particularly for El Capitan, but for Tenaya Canyon and Half Dome Glacier Point takes the win.
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 long and sustained scramble that technically never reaches above third class. The superb views of the surrounding area make up for the chossy loose scrambling in the lower part of the route. I would actually prefer a more technically difficult scramble that is solid but fortunately the rock improves as one ascends. The climb entails about 7,000 feet of vertical gain and 16 miles roundtrip so it packs a punch. The last time I did this route was six years ago and in the interim I have climbed many more peaks and become well acquainted with much of the High Sierra. In 2009 I could only name a few peaks and was more focused on climbing the well known summits. Now in 2015 I’m more focused on finding the hidden gems in the most remote and wild corners of the range. It was fun to return and see all of the peaks and terrain I have covered over the years and name virtually every summit and major feature visible from Middle Palisade. It was also great to take a more leisurely approach to the climb spending a lot of time at the summit and lovely Finger Lake, one of the most scenic spots in the High Sierra. The South Fork Big Pine Trail travels through a fairly arid environment for a couple miles before reaching the headwall of the South Fork Big Pine Creek. A series of switchbacks commences and when one emerges at the top of the headwall it is a new world of pine trees and spectacular views of the Palisades including Middle Palisade, Norman Clyde Peak, Palisade Crest and Mount Sill. The trail descends slightly and traverses through forest near Willow Lake before commencing a new climb up to Brainerd Lake. From Brainerd Lake the usual route is to take a use path up through a talus field to Finger Lake and then ascend slabs and talus to gain the ridge on the west side of the lake. An alternate route is to traverse the shores of Brainer Lake and ascend the stream toward another small lake as if one were ascending to Southfork Pass. From the small lake ascend friendly slabs to the ridge east of Finger Lake and traverse talus and granite benches to the glacial moraine. Both approach routes meet near the base of the scramble at the talus rib separating the two lobes of the Middle Palisade Glacier. The standard route up Middle Palisade begins at the glacier and uses a rock step to gain a chute above. This chute then mergers with a deeper chute that leads to the summit. Glacial recession has caused the access into the “standard” chute to become 4th class or low 5th so the standard route is changing as more climbers opt to take the alternative route which is a reddish white ramp leading to a different chute and does not use the glacier at all. Unfortunately, the reddish white ramp is extremely loose and the lower part of the chute above the reddish white ramp is the fall line (aka bowling alley) for any rock projectiles falling from above. In other words, the alternative chute carries much greater risk of rock fall hazard, particularly in the lower portion. So while the alternative chute has seemingly become the “standard” it is not without its own risks trading more technical scrambling for loose rock hazard. The good news is when the chutes of the standard and alternative routes merge the rock becomes more solid and the scrambling more enjoyable as one makes the final push toward the summit. It would be ideal to do this route solo or in a small group with no additional parties on the route, but lack of people cannot be assumed on such a popular route so it’s better to come prepared with helmets and anticipate some rock fall hazard. It should be noted that any snow on the rocks within the chutes makes the scramble considerably more dicey. An example of the loose rock hazard was on my climb I reached for what I thought was a hold but was instead a large rock that was precariously balanced. It didn’t take much more than touching the rock for it to dislodge onto my shin. It was too heavy for me to hold and it proceeded to careen down the chute and over the cliff to its final resting place atop the heap of many other rock projectiles on the glacier. While usual rock fall hazard on this route is golfball to softball size rocks, large rocks can and do fall as manifested by the disturbingly large pile of debris on the glacier at the exit point of the chute. In other words, there is clear evidence of copious rock fall coming down in the chute. Wearing a helmet is absolutely imperative on this route if you care about you head. It should also be noted that releasing loose rocks on a route like this can happen to the best of climbers no matter how careful one may be so the best policy is to come prepared with a helmet and put your head down when rock is called from above or you can hear or see it approaching. On this route it also helps to stay out of the central part of the chute where rock fall is most prevalent and funneled, instead scrambling along the edges of the chute where more solid rock can be found.
I have been to the Palisades twice before but never via South Lake so I figured this would be a great opportunity to see Bishop Pass and Dusy Basin. I started at around 6:30 am and headed up the nice trail, coming across spectacular reflections in the tarns near Long Lake. I continued up through more lakes and then the final switchbacks up to the pass. From the pass, I headed up the talus slopes to the summit of 13,891 ft Mount Agassiz. The talus was not very loose helping to make relatively fast time up the slope, arriving at the top 2:40 after beginning at South Lake. I spent nearly an hour on the summit snapping photos and chatting with a couple from Bishop who arrived at the summit 30 minutes after me. The views in the morning sunlight were amazing! Check out many more photos here.
Eventually, I got going again and made quick time back to Bishop Pass and then into Dusy Basin. Part of the appeal of climbing Columbine Peak is the traverse across Dusy Basin, famous for its alpine lakes with views of the sheer walls of Mount Winchell, Thunderbolt Peak, and North Palisade towering above. I picked a route across the Basin and took many photographs of the lakes near Isosceles Peak, which is aptly named. I continued on through boulders and slabs to Knapsack Pass where I began the climb up Columbine Peak. I went up the arete directly from Knapsack Pass which proved to be more difficult than the advertised class 2/3 climbing for a sustained period (almost until the summit). I found out on the descent that the easier route is on the south side of the ridge, but some class three climbing is still unavoidable. To get to the easier route, follow a use path around the base of cliffs towards Barrett Lakes/Palisade Basin from Knapsack Pass. At the point where a gully is crossed begin heading up and the easier route is apparent (gravel and talus). Taking this route on the way down saved some time and energy and I was happy to not have to down climb some of the sections I had done on the ascent.
Columbine Peak features the best view of the west side of the Palisades subrange and a great vantage point of other surrounding peaks, Palisade Basin, and Dusy Basin. The return trip through Dusy Basin was just as spectacular and I stopped to take many photos. Once atop Bishop Pass I jogged the remainder of the way back to the trailhead at South Lake, arriving 9:26 after beginning. This is a fantastic area and I hope to return soon for more photography, climbs, and adventure runs.
Many more photos here!
I got a call from my mom in Sammamish, WA this evening and she told me that it was snowing hard with several inches of snow on the ground. Sammamish is my hometown and is located 30 minutes east of Seattle near the Cascade foothills and typically receives more snow than Seattle proper. However, snow anywhere in the Western Washington lowlands is not a common event even in the depths of winter, let alone at the end of March! The culprit for the snow is the infamous Puget Sound Convergence Zone (PSCZ), which creates an area of focused precipitation in the central Puget Sound region as winds wrapping around the Olympic Mountains collide. The unseasonably cool airmass combined with the rapid precipitation rates within the PSCZ dropped snow levels down to sea level near Lake Sammamish and resulted in heavy snow this evening. The PSCZ is especially favorable for accumulating snow fast on the plateau of Sammamish which is between 300-600 feet above sea level and tonight was no exception. The precipitation fell largely as rain further west in the larger cities of Bellevue and Seattle.
Yesterday was the first night of Chanukah and to celebrate here is a hilarious video of NBA stars wishing their Jewish fans a happy festival of lights!
Today was the last day of classes of the Fall semester! It’s unbelievable how fast it flew by. Now I have to study for one final, take it next Tuesday, and then fly home to Sammamish for the winter break!
Such a great clip! Arnold tells it!
I saw American Gangster with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe yesterday. The actors’ performances were great and I thought it was a good movie. Otherwise, it’s basically business as usual around here. I am recovering from the small sickness and I had some good runs this week, but I have some pain in the ball of my foot right below the second toe 😦 From prior experience, foot issues can be quite annoying so I’m going to take this with extreme precaution and give it a few days with no stress on it.
Just because this was so funny!