There are fifteen peaks in California that exceed fourteen thousand feet in height. We won’t try to climb them all in the course of these four days, but we will certainly ascend a couple of the most technically difficult of them, namely those along the Palisade Crest.
We start from the South Fork of Bishop Creek, cross Bishop Pass, and set up camp high above beautiful Palisade and Dusy Basins at Thunderbolt Col. From here we will choose between Thunderbolt, Sill, Starlight, North Palisade, or Polemonium peaks and ascend two or three of these over the next two days. This is a fairly busy schedule and while not technically difficult it does require stamina and fitness.
The technical crux of several of these mountains is the tiny summit block, but with a pair of rock shoes you will be standing on the very top of the Sierra’s most spectacular peaks. For North Palisade we generally choose the Le Conte route, first ascended by Joseph Le Conte in 1903, and which involves a spectacular and exciting traverse across a steep slab. From North Palisade we can traverse to Polemonium, which from the top of the U-Notch offers low fifth class climbing for two hundred feet to the summit and a rappel descent.
The climb of Thunderbolt starts directly from camp at Thunderbolt Col and ascends a steep snow gully to the crest before tackling the summit block via a well-protected and safe fifth class face. Starlight is perhaps the most involved with a devious climb of the west chute to the “Milkbottle” summit and the various rope shenanigans necessary to reach the summit. From camp Mount Sill is perhaps the easiest peak to climb in the technical sense, but involves a long approach around the head of Palisade Basin to the low angle class two slopes of the west side, making for a very long day.
This is our video description of what it is like to climb Thunderbolt from the west side with SMC.
Other than the summit blocks none of these peaks are extremely difficult but they all require roped travel and possibly the use of crampons and ice axes.
Guidebooks include Secor’s “The High Sierra; Peaks, Passes and Trails” and “Climbing California’s Fourteeners” by Porcella and Burns.
This trip requires spending most of four days above 12,000 feet so we highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000′) just prior to the trip. Spending a night in Mammoth or camped at the trailhead campground would do the trick. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.