Beneath The Palisades

Sometimes there is a tour we discover and do time and time again, sharing a little known wonder with others. The Palisades tour is one of these.

This tour is not well known, except by locals, and in some years no one ventures into this part of the Sierra during the winter and spring. The crossings of the passes are short, steep, and high linking together two of the most beautiful areas in the Sierra – Dusy and Palisade Basins. Staying on the west side of the divide for most of the tour, the jagged crest of the Palisades is never more than a mile away as we hug the slopes of some of the Sierra’s highest peaks. Days are not too long and we try to find time to ski some of the fantastic slopes along the way.


We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000 feet) just prior to the trip. Spending a night or two in Mammoth or camped at the trailhead campground would do the trick.

SMC does not rent ski equipment, but we work with Mammoth Mountaineering (760-934-4191) to get you set up on the correct equipment. MMS has a very wide range of rental equipment that is probably the best you will find anywhere in California. All gear is current state of the art, well tuned and rental fees are deductible if you buy a set up from them. (We highly recommend renting before you buy so as to find what suits you best, since a full setup is pretty pricey). We can coordinate the rental and suggest that if you can you arrive Mammoth the night before and get fully set up since boot fitting can take some time.

Return to Backcountry Spring Tours

We enter via the South Fork of Bishop Creek and cross the gentle slopes of Bishop Pass. To the south lies the first of our major crossings, Thunderbolt Col, which accesses Palisade Basin and Barrett Lakes. Next comes Potluck Pass before we drop to a camp next to an unnamed lake at the head of Glacier Creek. If time and weather allows there is the opportunity to ascend the 14,153 foot Mt. Sill which offers one of the best viewpoints in this part of the Sierra.

From here we cross Cirque Pass and drop to Palisade Lakes via a wonderful descent.

Beyond this rises the steepest pass climb, Mather Pass.

The north side is a steady, but not too steep, ascent. The south side can be somewhat corniced and steep for the first few hundred feet so a short hike down is often the best option. Once past this the valley opens up into the gentle slopes and perfect cruising of Upper Basin. A long steady downhill towards the south fork of the Kings River takes us to the final pass of the trip: Taboose Pass. We say goodbye to the west side of the Sierra at the pass as we take in the expansive views to the west down the glacial canyon of the Kings and start the descent down into the warmth of the brown desert just out of Big Pine. This is a tour for anyone who enjoys wilderness and solitude.

Program Prerequisites:

You need SMC Intermediate Ski Skills or better for this tour. You should be able to ski intermediate ski area runs confidently and be proficient at kick turns, traversing on 30 degree slopes, side slipping and Christie turns all while carrying a pack of about 35 pounds. Prior winter camping and mountaineering skills are advised. You will be traveling up to seven miles a day and gaining up to 3000 feet a day so a very good level of aerobic fitness is required.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, van shuttle, permits, all necessary group gear, avalanche beacons, tents, kitchen gear and dinners, lunches and breakfasts (you bring snack items).

We do not include accommodation in the pricing but can make local suggestions for you.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details and itinerary
    Equipment list
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

Palisades tour map

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.