North Palisade via the U-Notch — Page 3

Palisades - Big Pine Lakes - Second Lake

III. Big Pine Lakes

Evidence of glaciation past and present abounds in the Palisades region, including an impressive system of moraines and lakes above 10,000 feet. Neil and I take a break on a granite berm overlooking Big Pine Lakes.

We eat a quick snack and talk about possible campsites. The trail ahead makes a meandering loop to the north, but a shorter alternative exists in the form of a snow-covered gully beneath Temple Craig and Mount Gayley. Camping higher would place us on the edge of the Palisade Glacier, allowing quick access to North Palisade tomorrow.

Palisades - The North For Trail Palisades - Creek Crossing Palisades - North Fork Drainage

But carrying our fully-loaded packs up another 2000' hardly sounds like fun. Moreover, based on my body's reaction to the day's heat, effort, and our present elevation, I can already tell that sleeping lower will be a far more comfortable option.

That settles it: we agree to camp near Third Lake. We'll make up lost time tomorrow with an invigorating 3:30 a.m. start.

Neil leads the way off-trail and into a thicket of woods. Soon, we come to the first real adventure of the trip: a stream crossing.

Eyeing the loosely-piled logs bridging fast-moving water, I find myself wondering whether this constitutes some sort of climbing fitness challenge orchestrated by my guide:

Fall in here and No Soup for You!

Regardless, Neil and I successfully navigate the shifting log bridge in our heavy packs with only a minor bobble or two.

My boots prove nicely waterproof. Now, on the rocky southern shore of Third Lake, it's time to find a place to camp. Neil scouts ahead; I follow. Though the day remains relatively new, I'm already noticing subtle but significant differences between traveling alone and traveling with a guide. For one thing, I find it especially easy to act like a client.

On my own, I'd naturally be responsible for knowing the route ahead, for maintaining my bearings, for choosing where to camp. In the company of my guide, it is easy—perhaps too easy—to hand off responsibility for these tasks to Neil. And so I trail behind as he wanders the rocky boulder field beside the Lake, waiting for him to declare where we will spend the night.

It seems to me, as I think about it, that this sheepishness might not be such a good thing as we get higher upon the mountain—and especially once the technical climbing begins. Guided or not, I believe it is important to take responsibility for your own safety. I resolve to be on guard in case I develop any tendencies otherwise.

next: Rope 101

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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