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The Palisades: Awesomely Gnarly

Climbing is unsafe and no rationalizations can change that. It’s a game of survival. Dying, or even getting hurt means you lost. All action and technique spring from mindfulness… Although climbers die in high places, we who remain go there to live life. What’s up there? Virtue and competence, self-knowledge and suffering. Overcoming and watching others overcome. I go into the mountains intending to survive, which I define as a success. A new route or the summit is a bonus.
- Mark F. Twight

Over these last few months the above quote has been floating around my noggin. A noggin which I am lucky to have after a football size rock bounced off my helmet, but it has never really applied to any of my trips until now. The one thing I did notice on this trip, with absolute vividness, is that the possibility of a swift and graphic death is pretty much everywhere up there. Most people don’t get to be intimate with that “life threatening” feeling very much, if at all in there life. Paul and I spent the better portion of 48 hours in the Palisades very close to that feeling and we both can’t wait to go back. I am grateful for the experience, lessons learned and trying conditions that these mountains provided. It wasn’t just the terrain that was truly challenging. It was more a culmination of events while on our attempt at conquering the traverse that tested our mental strength. Physically, Paul and I were both on top of our game but worrying about one’s mortality while moving all day above 13,000 feet is wearying enough. Our goal was to get seven 14er’s in four days and we only got two. Though not every peak was reached it still was a successful trip because we survived the mountains, haha! So, now I guess we just have to go back and get the others. Darn another trip….

Enjoy this short video and hopefully you get a little taste of our challenging journey. Below the video is our trip itinerary and gear list.

The intended five day schedule:
DAY 1: Drive up and acclimate
DAY 2: Hike/climb Thunderbolt, Starlight Peak, North Palisade, Polemonium and Mount Sill. Bivy at a lake below Mount Sill.
DAY 3: Climb Middle Palisade and hike back to the trailhead
DAY 4: Rest Day
DAY 5: Hike up to the last 14er on our list, Split Mountain, and drive home

An ambitious itinerary I know, but without the weather complications totally achievable.

How things actually went down:
DAY 1: Drive up and acclimate
DAY 2: Hike/climb Thunderbolt peak. Paul’s backpack goes for a 600 foot ride down a couloir between Thunderbolt and Starlight Peak. Lost his climbing shoes and broke his water bladder. A storm rolls in and we spend from 2:30pm to 7pm in a cave waiting out the storm. After the storm passes we hike back up to 13,500ft and bivy on a FLAT spot near the top of the couloir.
DAY 3: Climb Starlight Peak. Come within 100 feet or so of summiting North Palisade. With no really safe or obvious route to the top and a storm coming hot we decide to bail down the closest couloir back to the Palisade glacier.
DAY 4: Drive home
DAY 5: Spend Fathers Day with the pops

Paul’s Pack: Sleeping boot, sleeping pad, helmet, 60m rope, harness/belay device/daisy chain, climbing shoes (for a while at least), rain jacket, puffy, wool tights, wool LS shirt, wool SS shirt, balclava, shorts, crampons, ice axe, headlamp, 3 liter hydration bladder, iodine, compass, maps Food: 10 Natural Valley bars, trail mix, & 2 pb&j.

Matt’s Pack: Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, helmet, harness/belay device/daisy chain, climbing shoes, 2 shoulder length slings, 1 8ft cordelette, 1 rack of nuts size 4-12, crampons, ice axe, rain jacket, puffy, thermal bottoms, thermal top, LS shirt, beanie, balclava, shorts, headlamp, 3 liter hydration bladder, emergency kit, canon camera, GoPro Hero2 Food: 10 Natural Valley bars, trail mix, & 2 pb&j.

One of the tougher peaks I have ever summited. Paul frothing to be on top.

On top of Starlight Peak, also known at the milk bottle.

Bivy at a nice flat spot somewhere around 13,500 feet. A new personal highest camp spot. YEW! The stars where huge that night.

The bergstrom is a crevasse where the Palisade glacier separates from the mountains. Beautiful to see up close and personal.

After we rappel the rope knocks loose some rocks and a softball size rock connects with my left eye. Luckily my SPY rivet sunglasses took most of the damage and exploded in order to save my eye. Every time I get back home and I survey the damage, I always think the same thing: Damn, I gotta get back in the mountains!


  1. Woah.

    This could be the first true mountaineering piece on the site. Amazing work up there my friends! Glad you two are safe and excited to get back. Estes is hot and busy. See you in August.


  2. sweet trip-glad you guys rocked it. (also glad i did not come with)

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