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Thunderbolt + Starlight

Thunderbolt and Starlight peaks have been on the edges of my imagination for a while. While I was climbing down Mt. Shasta in 2017 I remember hearing about some 14ers that were fifth class, unthinkably hard at the time. As Matt and I hiked the Sierra High Route in 2017 we gazed up longingly at the palisades from Potluck Pass and spoke about one day climbing them, but we sheepishly continued on knowing they were way beyond our ability. When I was on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 I climbed Mt. Muir, my first third class peak, and then got another glimpse of the palisades from Split Mountain (also known as South Palisade). After the PCT I went on to hike five more 14ers including Middle Palisade which gave me the best glimpse of the mythical palisades yet.

I didn’t really even consider attempting any of the five peaks in the palisades at all until this year. I always assumed I would do all five at once in one big traverse once I achieved some arbitrary level of climbing, some level that was probably years away. It took moving across the country for the summer and working in upstate New York to get me to  start going to a climbing gym. I went religiously, everyday after work.

By the time I returned to Berkeley I had read into the Palisades more and I decided to do a scouting mission in the range, by climbing Sill and Polemonium. From the jagged summit pinnacle of Polemonium I gazed across the U-notch and saw North Palisade, which Matt and I climbed two weeks later. From atop North Palisade I saw the huge “milkbottle” summit of Starlight Peak, which I would obsess over reading about for the next two weeks.

The difference between Starlight and Thunderbolt and the other 13 14ers I have climbed is that I would be using ropes as protection against a fall, since we did not know enough about ropes or have all the necessary gear, Matt and I enlisted the help of our new friend Halvor to use his trad skills in order to lead the class five parts of each peak.

Finally the details were set and the weekend arrived. Matt Halvor and I piled into my van and drove to Bishop got permits. After wandering around Bishop for some time we headed up to South Lake to prepare for the trip. We did some practice rappelling off some nearby rocks and even got to meet some PCT hikers. After a restless night filled with anticipation, we were finally hiking the next morning at 3 am.

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around 6am walking across Upper Dusy Basin towards Thunderbolt Pass
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Halvor
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Navigating towards Thunderbolt Pass
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Heading up southwest chute#1, full of loose boulders. This chute was very straightforward, just one dryfall to bypass at the bottom on the right.

Near the top of the chute we reached an impasse, we knew the summit was only a fe hundred feet to our right, but we could not find the alleged 3rd or 4th class route. We pulled the rope out of Matt’s backpack and Halvor lead half a pitch of easy class 5 to get us within sight of the summit.

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Looking across the ridge towards Starlight Peak
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Halvor taking a daring lead on Thunderbolt Peak
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Halvor on the Summit

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My turn
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14/15
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Matt’s 10th CA 14er

After a short discussion , we decided the ridge would be much too difficult and that we would try Starlight via

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Rappelling back into southwest chute number 1

We stumbled back into camp in the late afternoon and immediately retreated into the shade. Matt graciously agreed to get water and we fell asleep well before sunset, not long after he returned.

At 6am we awoke and began walking towards the northwest chute of Starlight peak

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Matt climbing up the 4th class bypass almost immediately upon entering the chute. The holds were solid and we did not need ropes.
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High up in the second chute
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Almost to the notch connecting us with Starlight Chute
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Halvor standing on the notch, the catwalk and the waterfall visible behind him.
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Matt negotiating the 4th class waterfall bypass, we stayed far right which may have been a mistake as we climbed quite high above the waterfall.
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Halvor leading the final half pitch
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High above the Sierra, just below the summit
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Matt getting to work on getting the rope around the summit
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Halvor the great!

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15/15
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Matt’s turn
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celebration beneath the summit

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rapelling down the initial 4th class section, it looked much steeper on the way down.
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North Palisade and Mt. Russell

I climbed North Palisade and Mt Russell as back to back dayhikes, #12 and #13 of the California 14ers for me. North Palisade took 13.5 hrs and Mt Russell + Carrillon took 10 hours. Both were beautiful hikes.

Ever since I hiked the Sierra High Route in 2017 I have been thinking of North Palisade. There are two clusters of 14,000+ foot peaks in California’s Sierra Nevada, and North Palisade looms over the rest other six 14ers in the palisades. Every time I stood at the base of this magnificent peak it looked impossible to climb, however there is a fairly straightforward class 3/4 route to the top. Last Saturday after doing lots of research on the route, Matt and I had the pleasure of climbing this beautiful peak. At the top we were greeted with panoramic views of the Sierra including the other peaks in the palisades, the high route, the PCT, Leconte canyon and much more.

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The view from Thunderbolt Pass
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The Leconte Ledges
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Looking south from just before the summit
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North Palisade
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Looking North at Starlight Peak

Mt. Russell has similarly been on my mind during all five climbs of Mt. Whitney, it was a joy to finally climb it and I felt it was harder then North Palisade technically. The ridge was spectacularly exposed, but had good hand holds.

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Ari climbing up Mt. Russell
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Mt. Russell and Mt. Whitney from Carrillon
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Matt Climbing up Mt. Russell
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Matt’s turn around point
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Summit of Mt. Russell my 13th of 15 14ers
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Sill + Polemonium

In early September my friends Adam Noe and I drove to Bishop to attempt to climb Mt. Sill and Polemonium. To approach we took Bishop Pass and then instead of going over Thunderbolt pass, we took the more circuitous Knapsack Pass. From Knapsack we cut across the Palisade Basin to Potluck pass and began climbing. We mistakenly started climbing Sill Peak instead of Mt. Sill. At this point Noe was not feeling well enough to continue, and Adam graciously agreed to walk him down. I descended and then climbed an easy class 2-3 chute to Mt. Sill which had a beautiful summit. At this point I was quite tired, but the views drove me along the ridge line to Polemonium peak. The ridge was good class 2-3 scrambling but the last 100 feet of the peak were very exposed class four. I considered turning around but instead put on my climbing shoes and climbed up to the top. It was a long descent down, but the views from the top of both peaks made the whole trip well worth it. 11/15 CA 14ers.

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Adam climbing Bishop Pass, Mt. Agassiz in the background
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Looking North from Knapsack Pass
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North Palisade 
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Noe’s turn around point
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Polemonium Peak from the summit of Mt. Sill
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Looking back on Mt. Sill
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Polemonium Peak, with North Palisade and Starlight in the background
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Summer 2019

Summer 2019 was my by some measures my least adventurous summer over the last few years, however I learned a lot and it was a crucial stepping stone to build up to 2020.

  1. Drove across the country to New York visiting two new states (Nebraska and Iowa)
  2.  Worked for 12 weeks in the water treatment department at GlobalFoundries
  3.  Visited the High Peaks in the Adirondacks.
  4. Climbed the state high points in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and Vermont.
  5. Went backpacking in the Catskills with my friend Arman
  6. Got to go to my cousin Zach’s graduation
  7. Built an electrical system in my van
  8. Got to visit New York City and Montreal
  9. Got to see family in New Jersey
  10. Did trail magic on all three triple crown trails and the long trail.
  11. Climbed almost everyday after work and built up to 5.10 and v5 indoor, also got to climb outdoors
  12. Drove back across the country, picking up six hitchhikers and visiting three new states (Kentucky, Missouri and Kansas), as well as filling in 20 miles on the PCT.   Here are some pictures from the summer:DSC01034.jpgDSC00997.jpgDSC09970.jpgDSC00958.jpg
  13. DSC01145.jpgDSC01049.jpgOnly one semester left of college!
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Mt. Hood

A quick two day trip to summit Mt. Hood in the middle of a school week, when the weather is right the weather is right. The sunset was well worth all of the driving.

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