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Thunderbolt Peak
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Thunderbolt to Sill Traverse 

YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a Easy Snow

   
Type:  Trad, Snow, Alpine, 5280', Grade IV
Consensus:  YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a [details]
FA: John Ohrenschall & John Mathias - 1958
Season: Summer
Page Views: 10,630
Submitted By: Cory on Aug 11, 2009

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Dave, leading the "Milk Bottle" on Starlight.

Description 

Another posting of the Thunderbolt to Sill Traverse (but misnamed the Palisade Traverse) is posted here.

This super classic route takes you on a tour of five 14,000ft summits. Start by climbing Thunderbolt Peak. Many options exist; we climbed Southwest Chute #1, which went at 4th class. This deposits you at the base of the summit block. Gaining the top of the summit block involves a few exposed moves of 5.9, and is the crux of the entire route. There are ample places to build an anchor for your belayer, but there is no pro until you get to the top (only about 15 feet). A fall would either be factor 2, or (more likely) you would land you in a pile of boulders before the rope came taught. Either way it wouldn't be good. Belay from bolts on top.

From Thunderbolt, downclimb and then follow the ridge to a small tower. Pass the tower by downclimbing to the left, cutting right eventually to gain some slabs (some exposed class 4), and then climb up to the summit of Starlight. The summit block of Starlight was the only other place where we belayed (although many may feel a belay is justified at other places along the traverse). The summit block is called the "Milk Bottle" for obvious reasons, and goes at 5.4. Great photo opportunity here.

From Starlight, some more exposed downclimbing leads to a small gap in the ridge. We rappelled into the gap and then pendulumed across to the ledge on the other side. After this follow exposed ledges out right, which supposedly lead to a class 4 climb to the summit of North Palisade. We didn't find the class 4 route, and ended up on terrain that felt 5.5 or 5.6 and very exposed.

From North Palisade a short scramble leads to the top of the chimney above the U-Notch. One double rope, or two single rope rappels lead to the top of the U-Notch. Cross the U-Notch, and once again follow exposed ledges (class 4) out right, and then some exciting class 4 straight up to the summit of Polemonium.

From Polemonium, a class 4 downclimb leads to the boulder field on the back side of Sill. Follow the boulders to a notch in the ridge a couple hundred feet below Sill's summit. Drop your packs here and scramble up to tag Sill's summit. Don't forget to admire the view while you're there, it's quite impressive.

Head back to your packs, and head down the last class 4 downclimb of the day. At the bottom of the downclimb, head right on ledges to Apex Notch. From the notch head down the L-shaped Couloir to the Palisade Glacier, then through Galey camp to the Sam Mack Meadow Trail. It's all trail and mostly downhill from here all the way back to Glacier Lodge.

Finally, at Glacier Lodge exchange high fives and have yourself a victory beer, you just summited one-third of California's fourteeners in a day!

A couple of thoughts:
-We shuttled by dropping a car at glacier lodge and then driving to South Lake to start the hike.

-After reaching the summit block of Thunderbolt it took us 9 hours to reach the summit of Sill. Granted we had 6 people so belaying at the two technical summit blocks, and the rappels, took awhile. I'm sure this can be climbed much faster by a competent party of two.

-The last for-sure place to fill up water is at a lake just after Bishop Pass. The next place to get water was Sam Mack Meadow, which we reached about 14 hours later. So bring plenty of containers to fill up at Bishop Pass!

-Locating the trail from Gayley camp to Sam Mack Meadow can be tricky, especially in the dark. Make every effort to be on the good trail before sundown.


Location 

Park one car at Glacier Lodge, outside of Big Pine. Then Drive to South Lake, outside of Bishop ~55 miles. Start early and hike up the good trail to Bishop Pass. From Bishop Pass cross country to Thunderbolt Pass. From here, Southwest Chute #1 starts just around the corner to the left.

After you reach Sam Mack Meadow, follow the good trail for about 8 miles past 3rd, 2nd and 1st lakes down to Glacier Lodge where your car will be waiting.

Protection 

A few nuts and cams to build anchors at Thunderbolt and Starlight. A light rope. Ice axe and/or crampons for the L-shaped Couloir. Approach shoes, and rock shoes for whoever gets to lead the summit block of Thunderbolt. A few slings in case you need to beef up rappel anchors.


Photos of Thunderbolt to Sill Traverse Slideshow Add Photo
t-bolt summit block
BETA PHOTO: t-bolt summit block
suncups on the L-shaped couloir
suncups on the L-shaped couloir
Cory on some very exposed "4th" class on North Palisade . . .
Cory on some very exposed "4th" class on North Pal...
Cory leading the summit block on Thunderbolt Peak
Cory leading the summit block on Thunderbolt Peak
Working our way up underhill, great snow for our set up of one tool and one crampon each, at the chock stone go far right
Working our way up underhill, great snow for our s...
traverse to sill
BETA PHOTO: traverse to sill
deer skeleton below sill
deer skeleton below sill
Above Sam Mack meadow, approaching T-Bolt and the Palisade Glacier, June 2011
Above Sam Mack meadow, approaching T-Bolt and the ...
Sam Mack meadow, we went up the left snow field to gain the moraine
Sam Mack meadow, we went up the left snow field to...
Our bivy on the toe of the moraine right below underhill
Our bivy on the toe of the moraine right below und...
Approaching underhill across the glacier at 530 am, it took us a hour to get from our bivy to the base of the underhill
Approaching underhill across the glacier at 530 am...
Palisade Glacier and my approach/descent routes
BETA PHOTO: Palisade Glacier and my approach/descent routes
traverse to Polemonium
traverse to Polemonium
n pal chimney downclimb
BETA PHOTO: n pal chimney downclimb
(right to left) North Palisade, Polemonium, and Mt Sill from the North
BETA PHOTO: (right to left) North Palisade, Polemonium, and Mt...
traverse to pol
traverse to pol
exposed fun on the way to Polemonium
exposed fun on the way to Polemonium
downclimb to N Pal
downclimb to N Pal
view to the NW
view to the NW
approaching the summit of starlight
approaching the summit of starlight
jascha on the starlight downclimb
BETA PHOTO: jascha on the starlight downclimb
traverse from the approach to Sill
BETA PHOTO: traverse from the approach to Sill
Dusy Basin below
Dusy Basin below
jascha en route to starlight
jascha en route to starlight

Show All 36 Photos

Only the first 24 are shown above.

Comments on Thunderbolt to Sill Traverse Add Comment
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By fossana
From: Bishop, CA
May 3, 2010

I have a summitpost page with additional beta on the traverse here.
By fossana
From: Bishop, CA
Sep 29, 2010

I soloed the route in reverse this past Sunday (skipped T-bolt due to get off the moraine before dark) as a car-to-car from Glacier Lodge. Have also done this as a car-to-car from S Lake. I'm up in the air as to which one is better.

The approach to the Swiss Arete is long, but the route itself goes quickly. The chimney on N Pal is easy locate and uneventful. You can access the notch between N Pal and Starlight by dropping into the short chimney then downclimbing a lieback crack. It's easy climbing back up to the ridge on the right side. After Starlight I descended Underhill Couloir, which is silty and loose Secor "class 4". Use caution if there are other people around. It's a direct route to the glacier.

As mentioned in the route description it's easy to lose the trail back to Sam Mack once darkness falls. I ended up bushwhacking my way down to the inlet of Third Lake, listening for the running water. In the end it wasn't too bad.
By Cory
From: Boise, ID
Oct 1, 2010

Wow nice additional info and photos Michelle! Doing it in reverse looks fun, especially since you get to climb the Swiss Arete on Sill if you go that way!
By fossana
From: Bishop, CA
Jan 11, 2011

Sorry, Cory. Just saw this post. Thanks! The Swiss Arete is definitely more entertaining than the SW chute on T-bolt.
By J. Hickok
Mar 5, 2012
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a Easy Snow

This was one of my most memorable days of climbing. By yourself is pretty magical and easier to move quickly, but a partner would be welcomed and great to share the experience with!
By harihari
From: VANCOUVER
Aug 13, 2012

We did this as a party of 3 in about 5 hours from Winchell (sp?) col to Sill. We did two 30m raps and belayed for one 25m pitch. We soloed the rest of it. We did not tag Sill as our ice tools were buzzing in the storm. The best climbing is almost always right on the arÍte, where most of the towers that lOok scary bcome easily downclimbable.

I would bring a superlight rope, Camalots from .4 to #1, and a few nuts. If you are not OK soloing 5.6 or so, don't do this route-- you will literally spend 3 days on it. If you can solo 5.8 then ditch the gear and just bring a rope...or ditch the rope and downclimb the raps (maybe 5.5 or so).

A great route and the OP's beta is good.

I
By Schlife
From: Flagstaff, Arizona
Jun 24, 2013

Did this route as a party of two on Saturday June 22, 2013. Friday we hiked in and camped on the moraine as close to Underhill couloir as we could get. We climbed Underhill couloir and did the entire traverse from Thunderbolt to Sill on Saturday. We soloed most of the route, rapped 5 or 6 times, and only belayed one pitch on North Pal. Descended the north couloir on Sill and hiked over the glacier to back to base camp. Hiked out Sunday. Great!

Bershrunds are big. U notch and V notch look icy.
By suuntout
Jun 27, 2013
rating: 5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a Easy Snow R

Adding to schilfes comment, we completed the route camp to camp in 13 hours, perfect weather, route finding did not end up being overly difficult, we found underhill to starlight to take a lot longer than we expected, about an hour and a half.
We used steph abegg's beta on the route and found it very helpful
stephabegg.com/home/tripreport...