|By the hammer of Thor that ridgeline looks delicious|
Every time I’ve been on the Temple Crag summit in the Sierra, one look to the south reveals an unmistakable ridgeline leading up to Norman Clyde Peak. Information is available describing the firebird ridge, but that is more to do with the final technical section leading up to the summit of Clyde’s namesake, and not much else I could find searching the tubes and the smattering of other beta I have on the range could say anything more about the ridge itself. The Firebird is a 5.9 Becky route, and the three other notable means of attaining Clyde’s summit are via the NE Ridge, Twilight Pillar and the true Palisade traverse.
|Good morning, Palisades, I'm glad we're together again|
Needless to say, the ridge looks great from afar – almost casual – until you get to the base of the peak proper – then the mountain juts nearly vertical to its 13389’ cap. With Andre and Leah making the trek from the south and aimed at the Palisades region, I shared with them my desire to take on the route, and because we’d be a party of three and wanting to move swiftly, they agreed to complete Norman Clyde via its NE Ridge and scope out this lower ridgeline that looks so tasty. The prerequisite for the day [besides the standard safety objectives] was to finish car-to-car activity in 14 hours – our previous outing together being a 21-hour push on the northerly section of the Palisades – making for a long but not uncomfortably long day in the Sierra.
|On the ridge...liking what we're seeing, so far|
The final part of the chosen route was described as ‘4th class’ or ‘5.1R,’ and given our collective experience, we decided to make Norman Clyde the objective, and for full value add on the lower ridgeline.
|The views on the way up weren't so bad|
Because they were making the push from So Cal, we decided to keep things civil and meet at the trailhead, ready to move on by 0600. To keep things light and fast, we decided to leave all but the essentials at the car. We dispatched the rope and helmets as frivolities, leaving only food, water, caffeine, another layer and cameras occupying the volume in our minimalist packs. We were on the South Fork, Bishop Creek trail by 0615.
|Yes that chute is skiable in the winter, and yes, that face of NC looks burl from here|
The great part of the south fork trail is you have your objectives in your vision for almost the entire approach. Unlike its neighbor – the north fork – you only lose sight of the gorgeous Palisade skyline for a couple of sections of switchbacks as you head westward and gain elevation. We left the trail to begin our ridgeline approach a little over an hour after we started, and after some more tallus and boulder scrambling, and some 4th/5th class moves, we found ourselves on top of the ridge, headed for Norman Clyde…the long way.
|"Quick Andre, look regal"|
Note: a proud line would be to start at the very base of the ridge, but from my estimate that would involve multiple pitches of 5th class, and once the true beginning of the ridge is gained, much up and down requiring roped climbing and belays. Seeing all that, and the start of the ridgeline having difficulty outside of our gear and time allowance, we headed for the first highpoint.
|Looking northward was pretty nice|
From Temple, the ridge looked casual. Up close and personal, it was not. There was much more 4th and 5th class moves involved than we had anticipated, making the time move slowly, the savior being once the true ridge is accessed, the rock quality stays high. There was one cruxy down-climb I would pin at 5.7, but beyond that, the ridge goes at 4th/low 5th. We reached the base of Norman Clyde a little after noon – much later than we expected, and collectively, we decided it would be wise to set a turn-around time as we got onto the NE face route: 1430.
|"Eat a sandwich, and chill the f* out"|
A poignant part of the day was the constant question of ‘will it go?’ Retrospectively, it was very unwise of me to attempt something new with nearly no beta, and without at least some forms of protection: Even a rope, harness, belay device, helmet and rap tat would have provided some psychological security on the day when getting into questionable terrain. With the NE face of Clyde in the shade for the entire morning, it certainly looked menacing, and coupled with the unexpected difficulties of the approaching ridge, the question of completing objectives in our allotted time did not have a certain answer. Sometimes, such uncertainty is a good thing, sometimes, it is not.
|After a snack and some decompression, smiles were visible again|
The beta directed us to continue along the ridge until it got steep, then to duck onto the face for more 4th class and the aforementioned ‘5.1R’ bits. We started to spot Cairns that led us in the right direction, and after stringing them together, the going got steep. Copious markings throughout the face indicated lots of rock fall occurred over the summer, but our experience on the route was tame and safe, but we remained vigilant. We did stray from the main ascent route – the crux of the day being the route-finding on the face - that meant pulling some harder moves in very exposed terrain to reach the summit ridge. I can faithfully say this is again where having at least some means of safety is necessary: it was a bit psychologically taxing to be en garde for the remainder of the route with only our sticky rubber as defense against a rather untimely fall.
|Summit royalty: Mr. Croft has been up here a few times|
A quick scramble across the summit ridge had us signing the register, snacking and snapping pics at our designated turn-around time. Particularly noteworthy is the lack of visitors to this summit: it is not a trivial ascent, and in just 20 pages, one can step back in time over 20 years to see some impressive names and feats. It was refreshing to sit, breath, take in the vista and decompress after the faulty route-finding on the upper sections, and get our wits in order for our return to the car – we were only halfway done.
|Selfportraitography on the descent|
Upon returning to the face for the descent, Andre astutely pointed out a more suitable descent path, and after much 3rd class scrambling, some 4th and low 5th moves, we were passing the Cairns and working our way back along the lower firebird and down toward finger lake. The descent was to be much more civil than the ascent…phew. After a couple of last glimpses of the mighty Palisade skyline as the sun set, it was head lamps on and express descending to the trailhead. Much to my dismay, my first ever trailhead robbery of chilling celebratory beers in the creek was experienced 14.5 hours after our departure: I’ll ascribe it to my 30 min tardiness penalty for not meeting the day’s duration prerequisite.
|Twilight, I'll come back for you...someday|
In all, I would recommend the route to anyone. Bringing in what I’m calling the lower firebird gives the Norman Clyde ascent a true sentiment of full value. After staring at it all morning, it’d be a great to link the ridge with the twilight pillar: it would be a long day, but befitting for a summit bearing the name of a true Sierra legend. Such a day will have to wait for another time, however, as the high mountains are inching closer to the winter season.
|Steal one last glimpse before heading to the car|