The Palisades High Peaks Camp

The Palisades region of the Sierra is home to some of the most highly coveted summits in the range. It is known for its fine mountaineering and as a great training ground for alpine ranges of the world. With five peaks over 14,000’ (Sill, Polemonium, North Palisade, Starlight, and Thunderbolt) accessible from one high camp, the cirque at the head of the North Fork of Big Pine Creek has much to offer the mountaineer.

None of these mountains offer an easy route to the summit from the east side, and Sill has, at the easiest, a third class route from any approach, making these among the most difficult of Sierra peaks. For this program we dwell less upon formal instruction in skills and aim to climb peaks with instruction along the way. Therefore we ask that you have basic climbing and mountaineering skills.

Since the approach to the Palisades is long we have taken to using pack stock or porters for the approach. It may sound like cheating but we have found that groups that hike all the way to the Palisade Glacier in one day are generally too tired to be able to do much the next day. With the pack stock, we can walk with a light daypack, water and snacks to the turnoff to Sam Mack Meadows, a distance of almost 6 miles and elevation gain of nearly 3,000 feet. We hope to get here by midday, leaving us with about 3 miles and 2000 feet to go to camp under Mount Gayley overlooking the Palisade Glacier.

Our primary goals are to climb North Palisade and Mt. Sill via the Swiss Arête. Other options are Starlight or Thunderbolt Peaks. What we wind up doing depends upon climbing conditions and the objectives of participants. Whatever routes we choose, you can be certain that this trip combines the best in snow, ice, and rock routes of the High Sierra, with great climbing and expansive views along the way.

For more information about these climbs and the area, check out our unpublished guide to the Palisades here.

The longer a trip is in the mountains, the more vague the itinerary needs to be. It is quite ambitious to plan on climbing three 14ers in three days. But, in a perfect world, the trip will go like this:

Day 1

We will meet, pack, do an equipment check, get the loads onto the pack stock and hike to the Sam Mack Meadow turnoff. Here we will pick up the heavy loads and head to high camp near the Palisade Glacier (elevation 12,300’). This is a long day but once into camp we have done the hard work and can get down to enjoying the climbing.
Distance to packstock drop off: 5.8 miles, 2900 feet of gain, 100 feet of loss
Packstock drop off to glacier camp: 3 miles, 2100 feet of gain, 300 feet of loss

Day 2

A moderate day, tuning up skills climbing Mt. Gayley (13,510’) or Mt. Winchell (13,781’).

Day 3

An early start (possibly 4:00 am) for either the Swiss Arête or Starr Route on Mt. Sill (14,154’), likely a 10 to 12 hour round trip.

Day 4

Another early start to climb North Palisade (14,249’) via the U-notch or Thunderbolt via one of the Underhill Couloirs.

Day 5

We plan to pack up and head out, arriving at the trailhead by late afternoon.

Program Prerequisites:

Prior rock climbing experience up to an easy fifth class level is required. We will practice snow and ice skills, but prior experience with these is helpful. Prior backpacking and wilderness travel is beneficial. Prior experience hiking and climbing at altitudes above 10,000’ is recommended. You should know how to tie into a rope and be familiar with belaying. If you are not familiar with these then spend an hour or two at a local gym to get up to speed.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits, all necessary group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear and 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 in the program.

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:

Palisades High Peaks Map

Rental Equipment:

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