The South Fork of Big Pine Creek is far less used than the North Fork, which gives access to North Palisade, Starlight and Thunderbolt peaks. But the approach up the south fork is shorter, has fewer people and great climbing.
So SP and Robert Miller from Albuquerque spent six days there climbing peaks.
First up was Middle Palisade at just over 14,000 feet. The route here is mainly 3rd class, but it is continuous climbing. There are none of the usual areas of talus and scree often found on this type of route and while easy it is not somewhere to make a mistake. The glacier is already showing exposed old ice and the already big suncups are a problem. But the climbing went well and this was about an 11-hour day return to camp.
Next day we went on up to Norman Clyde peak. This is a great peak and a step up in difficulty from Middle Pal. The route finding is tricky and many people get lost here. But not us though! The route is referred to as the NNW face, but it tends more to parallel the Firebird Ridge wandering across ledges and zigzagging back and forth seeking the easiest way. There are a lot of options and there are multiple cairns making what a lot of people consider to be the best route. It is better to trust one’s instinct and seek what looks to be best. The climbing is continuous 4th class and there is enough loose rock not to want to be there with others. There was another group on the Twilight Pillar so we hurried down the descent to avoid getting below them. It did not matter in the end since they were hours behind and straggled thorough our Finger Lake camp at about 9.00pm.
A day off to recover and then it was over to the Thumb. The RJ Secor description of this is pretty minimal – but reality is different. Southfork Pass has melted back a lot and there is bare ice in parts. We took the more westerly pass on the way up and then ascended up gullies and along the ridge to the southern slopes of the Thumb. We made this harder than it should have been tricky with some short 5th class steps and plenty of simply bad rock. The black dikes hare have eroded out creating tottering piles of rubble. But we were in too deep and kept going, finally getting to easy ground. This day was a lot windier than the previous so we did not delay heading home.
On the return we too the eastern pass down. The other would have been better since the lower section is dirt on top of hundreds of years old hard black ice. Not much fun. But we survived and headed back to the glories of Big Pine on day six.
All in all a great trip. We saw 6 other people in the high country and had perfect weather. A fair number of bugs but those will be getting better soon. A great trip for anyone wanting to do little-climbed peaks in a wonderful area.