North Palisade: The U-Notch

This is a May 31, 2010 climb and ski of North Palisade's U-Notch couloir. Originally I had intended to do an extended video of the whole trip, but a few things got in the way of that plan.

First, this was back when I was using a ContourHD action cam. The Contour's picture at best was poor, and in certain conditions (like skiing on snow in bright sunshine) the image fell apart completely. So a lot of the footage I came back with turned out to be unusable.

The other surprise was the top of the U-Notch, which on this particular day featured a very icy headwall. I ended up downclimbing the icy section in skis, because of course I did, which led to a few brief moments of totally out-of-control skittering on ice toward rock at 14,000' solo in the Sierra backcountry.

I thought about just burying the whole trip, but after some soul searching, I decided the segment of me (stupidly!) trying to downclimb on ice was worth sharing, as a cautionary tale, so I released the entire downclimb video, calling it "U-Notch Ice Dancing".

And the rest of the footage, which included some pretty cool approach photography (shot with my old Panasonic TM700), never saw daylight.

I'm happy to finally push it out there (minus the ice dancing, which remains worth viewing, if you haven't seen it) all these years later.

— March 20, 2020

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

gregg March 20, 2020 at 10:55 am

Always liked your u notch ice slide video.
One thing I've always wondered about U notch is that Nate Greenberg's book says you can put in a bootpack on U notch and reuse it for V notch. But when I look at google maps, etc, the terrain between the top of U notch and V notch looks like pretty technical climbing. Any sense of how hard/easy it is to cross the ridge between the two?

Andy March 20, 2020 at 11:05 am

I'm with you. I would think that would be a 4th class traverse in ski boots. But I've never tried it, so maybe there's a 3rd class crack or something?

Ian Bryant March 20, 2020 at 6:51 pm

Im stopping my playback of the video a minute in to comment that those shots of the moon setting just beyond the crest are absolutely stunning. Im right there with you in those moments. Solo at high altitude with that clear and crisp alpine air. Bless you Andy, ill be linking turns in the San Gabriel backcountry tomorrow thinking of you, and how you've not only helped stoked my backcountry flame, but watching your videos and and reading your posts ignited it. Bravo.

Ian Bryant March 20, 2020 at 6:54 pm

Also curious, that you didn't have to navigate the bergschrund?

charles March 21, 2020 at 1:21 pm

Andy thanks for the post resort shutdown reports, and for keeping the conversations going!

Brad Brown March 23, 2020 at 5:55 am

It’s never too late for a bc report, we’re all starving for them as we go into #ski withdrawal (ya heard it first here folks!) during the social distancing phenomenon. Other than the entry , conditions looked awesome on U Notch, or at least you made it look that way. Part of the charm with SD reports is the challenges and the Andy Specials. About wet myself when I first saw “Ice Dancing” . And yeah, saw the “berg” and had the same question about how you gapped that!?!

We’ve all done something like that but hopefully over lower consequences. Mine was at Mt Shasta circa 1973 when the old Green Butte chair (later wiped out by giant avie) hauled you up something like 1,800 ft. depositing you on a treeless expanse of BC white delight with a couple of groomed runs. I was a starving college student then who, along with my poor wife, would sleep in my pick-up’s home built camper in town. In the morning we’d load up on 80 cent pancakes and head up the hill. My first skis were hickory core 210 with cable bindings, already old when I got them and, let’s just say lacked modern performance characteristics. My boots, lace up leather. On one particular run I blew a turn and went on a 150 yard uncontrolled slide that still educates to this day about conditions assessment, aspect, avoiding slick ski pants, gear selection, and general awareness-wisdom coming from experience, and experience coming from bad experience.

So keep ‘me coming Andy, keep ‘me coming. Soon enough the current challenge will pass and we can get back to what (and who, # America needs a hug) we love!

John April 1, 2020 at 9:37 am

That ice dancing video was too stressful to watch this morning. No thank you, and I’m glad you made it out safely. Lesson learned from that adventure.

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