We offer these climbs as a custom program. The scheduled version of this is our Palisades High Peaks Camp and we often find that it is worth adding in another climb and maximize the climbing to hiking ratio. These are the two most well known gully climbs in the Sierra. Mainly snow climbs in early season, they turn to ice as summer progresses and offer great challenges. U-Notch averages about 45 to 50 degrees in steepness, and V-Notch is a little steeper at 50-55 degrees, especially near the top. On both routes the crux can often be crossing the large crevasse at the start of the routes that in some years can cut off access totally. V-Notch leads to the top of Polemonium Peak and from the top of U-Notch there are two short, steep pitches of climbing and a long traverse to the top of North Palisade, the high point of the region at 14,242 feet.
Guidebooks include Secor’s “The High Sierra; Peaks, Passes and Trails”, and “Sierra Classics” by Moynier and Fiddler. The best of course is “Eastern Sierra Ice” by SP Parker. Also check out our unpublished guide to the Palisades here.
Get it from Maximus Press.
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 would do the trick or better yet, camped at an even higher trailhead, such as the South Lake/Bishop Pass trailhead for a night just before the trip. Cardinal Village Resort in Bishop Creek near North Lake is also a good lodging option. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.
Return to Classic Alpine Ice Climbs
Day One: Our goal will be to camp on the edge of the Palisade Glacier. This is a climb from about 7800 at Glacier Lodge to 12,400 so it is beneficial arrive to the climb well acclimatized.
Day Two: Climb our notch of choice, depending on conditions and how the group is feeling.
Day Three: Head out, arriving at the trailhead by late afternoon.
The bergschrund is often the biggest obstacle and in some years can be very overhanging, sometimes requiring aid late in the season. But we usually cross easily on the right. We emerge into the main gully and move up this along the right side, generally belaying on rock. The gully widens and divides and we often do a couple of ice screw belays before the gully again narrows and we are back to rock belays Once we reach the top of the chute there is a chimney/dihedral on the right, rated 5.4. We take the chimney to the summit ridge, dropping into a small bowl and up boulders to the summit of North Palisade. The crux is a gap to cross just before the summit. The traverse to the summit can be tricky especially in early season if there is snow around, and it is surprisingly longer than most expect. Our descent is the exact reverse of our ascent but this time with rappels.
Again the bergschrund is thought to be the crux of the climb and mostly we take it slightly left of center but be prepared to
climb a short section of near vertical neve or ice. We follow the left side of the couloir for the first 4 pitches, then cross to right side heading to the top. There are around 8 pitches in total. Once at the top we can scramble along the ridge to the summit of Polemonium Peak. If we want to continue we can traverse towards Mt. Sill and gain the Starr Route. We descend the ridge some and then turn east onto the shadowed North Face. Some downclimbing and a rappel or lower takes us to the sub peak of Mt. Sill, known as Apex Peak. This is the peak that projects from Mt. Sill to the north, just under 14,000’ in height. A ledge system quickly brings us to the top of the L-shaped Snowfield. The L-shaped snowfield has melted out over the years and is often more properly names the I-shaped snowfield. We continue back over Glacier Notch to camp.
Elevations and Distances
Trailhead to camp: 8.6 miles, 4800’ of gain, 220’ of descent
Camp to U or V Notch to camp: 1.0 miles, 1950’ of gain, 80’ of descent
Camp to trailhead: 8.6 miles, 220’ of gain, 4800’ of descent
You should be in good physical condition, have some backpacking experience and have the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with a moderate pack. Prior experience at altitudes above 10,000’ is recommended. You should have basic snow and ice climbing skills and be able to climb moderate angle ice since we will not be instructing basic skills along the way, but we will be refining them.
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.
★ Please Read before you go ★
We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)
- Details, itinerary, and equipment list for your trip
- SMC Cancellation Policy
- Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
- Tips on physical training for your trip
- LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.
U and V Notch map
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