The California Fourteeners

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. This 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 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 this. 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.


the_high_sierra_peaks_passes_trails   mountaineers_climbing_californias_fourteeners

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.

We highly recommend that you spend at least a night, or ideally more, at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000’) just prior to the trip. There are lodging options in Bishop Creek such as Parchers Resort, Cardinal Village or Bishop Creek Lodge and all are at a higher elevation. There are also several campgrounds in Bishop Creek. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more information.

Return to Summer Mountaineering Programs

Day 1

We will meet in Bishop, then carpool to the South Lake trailhead and head for Bishop Pass. Once we reach the pass, we leave the trail and contour around to reach Thunderbolt Col. This will take most of the day and travel here can be difficult with some large talus to cross. We can camp at the Col or we can drop down to a small tarn a few hundred feet below. (This is the place to be if the weather is unfavorable since the Col, while beautiful, is very exposed to bad weather and wind).

Distance: 7.2 miles, 3300 feet of gain, 750 feet of loss

Days 2 and 3

These days are similar in that they share an early start for any of the attractive objectives in the area, described above. Each day we plan to return to the same basecamp at/near Thunderbolt Col.

Day 4

We pack up and head out, aiming for a mid afternoon arrival back at the vehicles.

Program Prerequisites:

Prior backpacking and hiking experience on and off trail required. This is a physically demanding trip and you should have the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with a multi-day pack. 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. Prior experience at altitudes at or above 12,000 feet is recommended.

Program Inclusions:

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)

  1. Details, Itinerary, and 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:

California Fourteeners Map

Rental Equipment:

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