The Palisades Peaks Traverse

Feeling strong? Had some good solid alpine experience and wanting to do one of the great Sierra traverses? Want to spend a couple of days above 13,000 feet and climb technical terrain with a multi-day pack?

If you can say yes to all of these questions then this traverse will be a great one for you. Along the way you will have the opportunity to tag the summits of five of California’s fourteen thousand foot peaks without having to descend down off the main Sierra Crest.


The best guidebook is Peter Croft’s “The Good, The Great, and the Awesome”. Get it from Maximus Press. (GGA photo and link to )

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 one of the campgrounds in Big Pine Creek for a night just before the trip. Glacier Lodge is also a good lodging option. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info

Return to Classic Alpine Rock Climbs

The longer a trip is in the mountains, the more vague the itinerary need be. We have built some slack into the program to accommodate changes in weather, etc. It is possible to complete the climb in a shorter time but in the mountains it is always better to have more time than less.

Day One:
We will meet at the SMC office in Bishop, pack, do an equipment check and head to the trailhead. We start at the Bishop Pass trailhead and climb past alpine lakes to the pass. From here we head off the trail. Our goal will be to camp high below the Thunderbolt Couloir on the west side or if there is snow for meltwater, higher up on the crest of the Sierra.

Day Two:
We start climbing from the north end of the traverse, ascending Thunderbolt. The summit block on T’bolt (14,003’) is the hardest rock climbing on the whole traverse but we do not need to carry packs up and over this so it will not be too bad.
Then it is down the ridge to the top of the Underhill Couloirs. If the weather turns this also gives us a good point to get off the ridge. (No, we do not want to be here if there is any chance of an electrical storm). The ridge continues up to Starlight Peak with a few sections of 5th class climbing, but primarily 4th class. The summit “milkbottle” of Starlight (14,200’) is also a little tricky to gain, but we know the tricks here. The summit of North Palisade looks not far off and it is not. But unfortunately we have to drop several hundred feet over technical terrain and then reascend to get there. What, on flat ground, would be a short stroll will take us a couple of hours. North Palisade’s summit (14,242’) is no problem at all and then we traverse, downclimb and spend the night in the west bowl of the peak where there often is water.

Day Three:
We climb back up to the col at the head of U-notch. We will be here early so the plan is to drop packs and head off over Polemonium to Sill with just day packs. There is some 5.6 climbing right out of the notch and then we can drop packs and scramble to the exposed summit of Polemonium (14,100’). Once again easy ground is ‘just over there” but we have to put in a lot of work to get “over there” by retracing our steps rappelling into a gully and re-ascending. The remaining terrain is easy. We traverse above the top of V-notch and over to the top of Mt. Sill’s North Couloir. We can drop packs again (since we will be back soon) and head up to the top of Mt. Sill (14,153’). This peak has perhaps the best view of anywhere in the Sierra and we can see north to the Mammoth area and south to Whitney. But too soon it is time to go down so we pick up packs and head back to our overnight gear at the top of U-Notch. Then it is down a gully and either camp wherever we like, or return to our first camp near Thunderbolt Col.

Day Four:
Head out back over Thunderbolt Col, arriving at the trailhead around midday.

Elevations and Distances
Trailhead to low camp: 7.1 miles, 3300’ of gain, 800’ of descent
Low camp to bivvy along crest: 0.9 miles, 2250’ of gain, 500’ of descent
Bivvy to low camp: 2.2 miles, 1050’ of gain, 2750’ of descent
Low camp to trailhead: 7.1 miles, 800’ of gain, 3300’ of descent


Program Prerequisites:

You should be in good physical condition, have prior backpacking experience and the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with an overnight pack. Prior experience at altitudes above 12,000’ is recommended. You need to be able to follow at the 5.6 level and have experience on multi pitch routes. Previous experience with travel on snow and talus is highly recommended, including the use of crampons and ice axe.

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 for your trip
  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:

Palisade Traverse map

Rental Equipment:

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