Just clearing the 14,000’ bar at 14,040’, Middle Palisade is a lot less well known than many of the other peaks in the Big Pine, California area. However this is certainly one of the more tricky peaks to summit. The climbing is not too hard, but it is consistent with 1500 feet of third class with the odd fourth-class move thrown in. So it was no wonder that the peak was not climbed until 1921, 17 years after the first ascent of North Palisade.
While we will climb up gradually with several nights at about 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 would do the trick or better yet, camped at an even higher trailhead, such as one of the campgrounds in Big Pine Creek for a night just before the trip. Glacier Lodge is also a good lodging option. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.
Guidebooks include Secor’s “The High Sierra; Peaks, Passes and Trails,” “Sierra Classics” by Moynier and Fiddler, “Climbing California’s Fourteeners” by Porcella and Burns, and Peter Croft’s “The Good, The Great, and the Awesome.” Get the latter from Maximus Press.
Return to Classic Alpine Rock Climbs
The approach to camp is shorter than the trail up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek and is not accessible to pack stock, which gives it a very different feel with a bit less traffic.
We will meet at the Glacier Lodge trailhead, pack, do an equipment check and head up the South Fork Trail. Our packs are gong to be trimmed to the bare minimum and we should be able to head up the trail fairly easily. Our goal will be to camp at Finger Lake or even above. This camp will be above 10,000’, making for a solid first day of travel.
We travel around Finger Lake and head up towards the Middle Palisade Glacier, perhaps using crampons. If there is snow covering the moraines it actually makes travel a lot easier. We leave the crampons and ice axe where we step onto the rock. The route traverses into the central gully and we take this to the top, zigzagging up ledges and terraces. We descend the same way and return back to camp.
We wake up and have breakfast, then pack up our gear and begin hiking out. We plan to arrive at the trailhead around midday.
If you’re interested in climbing Norman Clyde Peak as well, talk to us about adding another day. Norman Clyde is one of the great unknown Sierra peaks and is a step up in difficulty and while rated “4th class” it does not feel like it. But after a warm up on Middle it makes a great add on.
Elevations and Distances
Trailhead to camp: 4.75 miles, 3400’ of gain, 390’ of descent
Camp to summit to camp: 2.9 miles, 3460’ of gain, 3460’ of descent
Camp tp trailhead: 4.75 miles, 390’ of gain, 3400’ of descent
You should be in good physical condition, have prior backpacking experience and the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with an overnight pack. Prior experience at altitudes above 10,000’ is recommended. You should feel comfortable traveling in 3rd and 4th class terrain. Previous experience with travel on snow and talus is highly recommended, including the use of crampons and ice axe.
Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.
Local accommodation is not included.
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Middle Palisade map
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