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For more information about these climbs and the area, check out our unpublished guide to the Palisades here.