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A Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra (1954), edited by Hervey H. Voge

Piute Pass to Kearsarge Pass

The Palisades Region

Hervey Voge and David R. Brower (1939), and Hervey Voge (1953)

ALTHOUGH there are higher peaks in the Sierra Nevada than those found in the Palisade Group, there are none of bolder or more rugged relief, or more beautifully alpine in character. The Palisades divide the watersheds of the Middle Fork of the Kings and the branches of Big Pine Creek; they rise 6,000 feet above LeConte Canyon to the west and nearly two vertical miles above the desert environs of the little town of Big Pine to the east. The Palisades form the second highest group in the Sierra. They are about 40 miles northwest of the higher Muir Crest peaks which culminate in Mount Whitney, and about 70 miles southeast of Yosemite. North Palisade (14,242) is the third highest peak in California. Four other points of the Palisade range exceed 14,000 feet in elevation: the northwest peak of North Palisade (about 14,200), Mount Sill (14,162), Middle Palisade (14,040), and Thunderbolt Peak (about 14,040). Split Mountain (14,058), formerly known as South Palisade, is actually apart from the Palisades, and is not included in this area of the Guide.

Historical Résumé

THE PALISADES were named by the California State Geological Survey in 1864; the heights of North Palisade and Split Mountain were determined at over 14,000 feet in 1875 by the Wheeler Survey. Four years later the late Lil A. Winchell was in the region and named Mount Winchell, after his father’s cousin, geologist Alexander Winchell, and Agassiz Needle, after naturalist Louis Agassiz. It is hardly possible that “Agassiz Needle” could have been intended for the gradual peak which bears the name on the topographic map, and, in order to correct a false impression, the name “Mount Agassiz” has been substituted. Winchell also gave the name “Duly Peak” to North Palisade, but the name did not become established. In 1895 Professor Bolton Coit Brown renamed it “Mount Jordan”; but finally the original “North Palisade,” an admirably descriptive name, was restored, and David Starr Jordan was commemorated by a peak on the Kings-Kern Divide.

Approaching the Palisades from Cartridge Creek in 1903, Joseph N. LeConte, with James S. Hutchinson, James K. Moffitt, and Robert Pike, attempted to climb North Palisade. Stopped in their first attempt, they turned to Mount Sill, and met with success on its easier slopes. The following day, however, July 25, 1903, they discovered a route, and LeConte, Hutchinson, and Moffitt made the first ascent of North Palisade.

Middle Palisade did not fall so soon or so easily. An unsuccessful attempt was made July 20, 1919, when H. H. Bliss, A. L. Jordan and J. M. Davies climbed a peak just south of the true summit, which they named “Peak Disappointment” upon discovering their error. A storm stopped a subsequent attempt upon the correct peak. Two years later, Francis P. Farquhar and Ansel F. Hall, unaware of the earlier attempt, repeated the mistake, but upon discovering their error descended 2,000 feet and then climbed the true summit, thus accomplishing the first ascent, on August 26, 1921.

For the pioneering of new and more difficult routes in the region principal credit must go to Norman Clyde, veteran of at least a thousand Sierran ascents. Because of his residence in Owens Valley, it was natural that his interest in the Palisades should center upon routes from the glaciers. Several fourth class routes were established in 1931, when a party of nine, led by Robert L. M. Underhill, of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and Farquhar and Clyde, of the Sierra Club, introduced the proper use of the rope to the Sierra. Routes of still greater difficulty have evolved from the application of pitoncraft. One should not conclude that all the climbs of moderate difficulty have already been made, although it is likely that quite a few not reported below have been done.

Topography and its Relation to Climbing

Unlike most peaks in the Sierra, the Palisades have few easy approaches. The southwest walls, where one usually expects gradual slopes, are high; while the northeast sides are severely glaciated, with steep-walled amphitheaters and residual glaciers to complicate the climbing routes. The main Palisade Glacier is the largest in the Sierra. The peaks above it are shown in Sketch 17. For details of the topography reference is made to the Bishop and Mt. Goddard quadrangles of the United States Geological Survey, and the new Mt. Goddard and the Big Pine quadrangles.

In 1864, members of the California State Geological Survey, seeing the Palisades at a distance, spoke of them as of volcanic origin. This was wrong, however, for the area is largely of granite, very much disintegrated along lines of cleavage, but very sound and excellent for climbing. Nevertheless, the ceaseless testing and care inevitably associated with climbing above timberline are essential. The glaciers, although contributing much to the scenic magnificence of the Palisades, do not figure largely in mountaineering except as convenient avenues of approach. Crevasses are small and do not often impede progress; furthermore, the declivities are not extreme except where ice meets rock walls. In chutes and couloirs steep ice is frequently encountered, and though it may sometimes be avoided, an ice axe is necessary if peaks are approached from the northeast.

Climbers who approach the Palisades from this side should use lug soles or nailed boots, and they will find crampons useful in the couloirs. Snow and ice conditions vary greatly, and the exercise of sound judgment backed by experience is prerequisite to many of the climbs. The steep chutes and couloirs on the north of the Palisade Ridge contain much loose rock, especially when the snow is low, and rockfalls caused by man and nature are perhaps more common here than elsewhere in the Sierra.

Sketch 17. Peaks above the Palisade Glacier from the northeast.
[click to enlarge]
Sketch 17. Peaks above the Palisade Glacier from the northeast.

Approaches and Campsites

From Big Pine. The quickest approach and the most dramatic, because of the sudden transition from barren desert to alpine splendor, is from the east. From El Camino Sierra (U.S. 395) in Big Pine an 11-mile road extends to an elevation of 7,900 feet at Glacier Lodge (accommodations, supplies, packing) and slightly above. A horse trail continues up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek and above Fourth Lake to Glacier Lodge Upper Camp (meals, accommodations) at 10,900 feet, with short laterals to many lakes, fine campsites, and the Palisade glaciers. One of the higher campsites is on the south shore of Sam Mack Lake. From Glacier Lodge there is also a trail into the South Fork basin, and knapsackers will find many campsites beyond the end of the trail, up to 11,400 feet under Temple Crag, and to 11,000 feet beneath Middle Palisade. There are good campsites just south of Contact Pass, by a little meadow.

From Bishop. A road follows Bishop Creek 20 miles to an elevation of 9,750 feet at Parcher’s Camp (accommodations, supplies, packing), from which a horse trail continues over Bishop Pass to fine campsites in Dusy Basin.

From the Muir Trail. The Bishop Pass lateral approaches Dusy Basin campsites. The Muir Trail passes within two miles of Middle Palisade on the way to Mather Pass and the South Fork of Kings River. Fine campsites are to be found in Little Pete, Grouse, and Deer meadows. Palisade Basin is quite desolate, but knapsackers can camp at its lower border (11,200) and also along Glacier Creek or at 10,500 feet on Palisade Creek.

Principal Passes

There are no passes over the Palisades for stock. The following passes are suitable for knapsackers or climbers. The explored passes over the crest are listed from north to south, followed by passes over the eastern and western spurs.

Jigsaw Pass (12,622n). Class 1. This pass offers a convenient route from Fifth Lake to Bishop Pass. East to west: Follow the south shore of Fifth Lake, and ascend talus and slabs south of the creek flowing from Mount Agassiz. It is well to stay about 300 feet above the stream to avoid the bluffs over which it cascades. Follow the north branch of the creek for about one mile and then angle to the left over easy ground that may be covered with snow to the pass. Jigsaw Pass is not the lowest point on the divide, but lies a few hundred yards south, beyond a minor rise. It is marked with a cairn. Peak 13,200+ separates the pass from Mount Agassiz. Descend on the west by a steep but easy chute and cross large talus blocks to the nearest point of the Bishop Pass trail, just north of Bishop Pass. West to east: As with many climbs in the Sierra, the west approach to Jigsaw Pass is a problem in choosing the correct chute. From the trail at Bishop Pass one sees that the ridge north of Mount Agassiz extends one mile to the first important peak of the Inconsolable Range (Peak 13,278n). Jigsaw Pass is just south of the low point of this ridge, and is separated from the low point by an angular but low peak. Proceed up the chute ending at the pass. The climb, over scree, grass, and well-fractured granite, will be found much easier than it had appeared. On the two-mile descent to Fifth Lake all one need remember is to keep south of the inlet stream and to stay well above it for the last 400 yards.

Agassiz shoulder. Class 2 to 3. As a rugged route from Palisade Glacier to Bishop Pass, Alfred Wilkes has suggested a 13,000 foot pass just north of Mount Agassiz. From the foot of the Palisade Glacier cross the east ridge of Mount Agassiz and follow the contours around to the pass. Descend a small ridge just south of the pass to the top of Bishop Pass.

Agassiz Col (13,200+). Class 2. This pass is higher and more difficult than Jigsaw Pass, but provides knapsackers the opportunity for side-trips to Mount Agassiz or Mount Winchell. East to west: Follow the Palisade Glacier trail south to Sam Mack Lake, turn west from the upper end of the lake, and proceed north of the east spur of Mount Winchell, which cannot be seen until the lake is passed. The route leads past a small lakelet, up through a series of moraines, and across the small glacier north of Winchell. The col is the low point at the head of the cirque, and is best reached by climbing to the top of the right (N) side of the glacier and then continuing diagonally up to the left over broken rock. The descent over scree and talus to Dusy Basin is not nearly as tedious as the climb back. West to east: The correct chute is the largest between Mounts Agassiz and Winchell. Ascend the chute to the col and descend the stream from the Winchell Glacier.

The U Notch (13,900+). Class 3. This spectacular alpine notch separates North Palisade from the Mount Sill massif, and from it both peaks are accessible. It is a climber’s route and is not suggested for knapsackers. For details, see North Palisade, Routes 2 and 3.

Southfork Pass (12,400+). Class 2 to 3. This is the lowest point between Middle Palisade and The Thumb, and provides the best knapsack route between the South Fork of Big Pine Creek and the Muir Trail near Mather Pass. North to south: From the end of the South Fork trail follow the easternmost of the South Fork tributaries, passing east of Brainard Lake. Work up over open granite slopes, through old moraines, and across the small glacier northwest of The Thumb. A steep, narrowing slope, which may be icy, leads to the pass; it makes little difference upon which side one chooses to pass the tiny pinnacle in the pass. A gentle lake basin extends to the south, and the stream which drains it crosses the Muir Trail. South to north: Follow the stream, which enters the upper of the twin lakes at the head of Palisade Creek, east a mile and a half into the amphitheater which it drains. From the first large lake in this basin it is another mile and a half due north to Southfork Pass. Beware of ice on the north side. Descending from the glacier below The Thumb, keep to the right of the stream. The trail will be found about two and one-half miles below on a bench about 200 feet above and south of Willow Lake. The trail down the South Fork is not too easy to follow. In the central part it crosses a high ridge well south of the stream.

Contact Pass (11,640+n). Class 1. This rounded notch just east of Temple Crag affords a good route between the two forks of Big Pine Creek. It receives its name from the contact zone between two different granites, to which it also owes its origin. North to south: From the upper end of Second Lake follow the contact zone to the notch. A few hundred feet below the pass is a small lake that drains into Willow Lake, with the connecting stream about one and a half miles long. Follow the north side of the stream, crossing shortly above Willow Lake, and climb about 200 feet to the trail on the bench south of the lake. South to north: Follow the north inlet of Willow Lake and the north branches of this inlet stream to the little amphitheater and lake at timberline just under Temple Crag, which may be identified by its beautifully castellated summit. From the lake Contact Pass is unmistakable, and the route of descent to Second Lake is likewise obvious. A fisherman’s trail leads from Second Lake to Third and Fourth lakes.

Glacier Notch (13,000+). Class 2. The saddle between Mounts Sill and Gayley, called Glacier Notch, is not difficult on either side, and forms part of a route from the Palisade Glacier to the Sill Glacier. It is probably best to cross the level portion near Mount Sill. On the north side the chute leading to this level portion is easiest to follow on the east side.

Knapsack Pass (11,673n). Class 1. Although stock has been taken from Dusy Basin to Palisade Basin over the pass south of Columbine Peak (Knapsack Pass), it is recommended only for knapsackers or hikers. The divide between the two basins may also be crossed just northeast of Columbine Peak (12,000+n), or where the divide joins the Palisade wall (12,360+n). The route across Knapsack Pass is an interesting way for knapsackers to proceed from Bishop Pass to Mather Pass, and it will therefore be described in a little more detail. Leave the Bishop Pass trail in Dusy Basin where the trail swings close to the lower lakes, and head southeast across easy open country to Knapsack Pass, which is the obvious gap just south of Columbine Peak. The route from the top of the pass goes to the left, where a well-defined trail leads below the cliffs of Columbine Peak, eventually dropping into Palisade Basin. A fairly well ducked route can then be followed to the dike west of the largest and highest lake in Palisade Basin (Barrett Lakes). Travelers should be warned that there is no wood at this lake, or, in { fact, anywhere in the Basin above about 11,200 feet. It is probably best to skirt the lake around its north and east banks, staying right at the edge of the lake. A stream flows into the southeastern corner of the lake. A ducked route can be followed, starting up the south bank of the stream, and leading up the ridge and across gentle country to Potluck Pass (12,120n), which marks the division between Palisade Basin and Glacier Creek Basin. The east side of Potluck Pass is quite steep; bear to the right while descending and work off the sloping ledges to a slope of scree, and then descend to the north shore of the large lake, from which Mount Sill can readily be climbed (see Mount Sill, Route 1). One can camp a little ways down the steep canyon of Glacier Creek below the lake. To continue on the route, cross Glacier Creek at the outlet of the lake and ascend the cliff. A ducked route starts at the base of the cliff somewhat to the right of the pass (Cirque Pass, 12,040+n), and zigzags up a series of ledges to the top. From this pass a route is picked down to the west side of a small lake at 11,100+ (11,400+n) in the mouth of the cirque. Continue southeast and work down a cliff to a small stream which may be followed to the Muir Trail just below the Palisade Lakes.

Other passes. There are doubtless many routes, not described here, which can be traversed by climbers or knapsackers. One, known as Chimney Pass, crosses the southwest spur of Palisade Crest at 12,500+ (12,600+n). The gap between Palisade Crest and Peak 13,336 (13,390n) is easily approached from Glacier Creek, but has a cliff on the northeast. The col southeast of Mount Winchell involves a 100 foot rappel from east to west, and is therefore not practical for knapsackers.

Peaks of the Crest (North to South)

Mount Agassiz (13,882; 13,891n)

Ascended August 30, 1925, by Norman Clyde.

Route 1. West slope. Class 1. This is the easiest of the major peaks of the Palisades. A good view of the North Palisade and the basin of the Big Pine Lakes is obtained from the summit. The ascent is made via the spur of the peak that extends to Bishop Pass. This slope might almost be described as nivated; the route has been used for a moonlight ascent.

Route 2. Southeast face and south ridge. Class 2. See Agassiz Col, under passes, for the approach. From the terminal moraine of the Winchell Glacier work up the debris-filled chute that empties just north of the moraine, follow the chute to the ridge north of Agassiz Col, and follow the ridge to the summit. It is also possible to follow the east side of the south ridge all the way from the Col, and this route may be preferred since it avoids the scree of the chute.

Route 3. Northeast face. Class 4. First ascent by Norman Clyde. Approach by the canyon leading directly from Fifth Lake to Mount Agassiz. From the snowfield proceed to the foot of the Y-shaped couloir that heads on the north arête, ascend half-way up to the “Y,” then climb left (S) to the rocks. Continue diagonally upward and half-way to the summit over the moderately difficult face, and then it will be possible to traverse right (N) to the little arête dividing the lower portion of the route from the south branch of the “Y.” Follow this arête a short distance, and then either continue along the east face to the top or cross the ridge to the less exposed northwest face and climb it to the top.

Mount Winchell (13,749; 13,768n)

The ascent of Mount Winchell is not difficult, but it is quite satisfying as the peak is rugged and the view down the sculptured western face is impressive. The first ascent was made June 10, 1923, by H. C. Mansfield, J. N. Newell, and W. B. Putnam by Route 1 (SCB, 1924, 90).

Route 1. East arête. Class 3. From near Sam Mack Lake walk up south of the east arête to within about 500 yards of the col southeast of Winchell. Climb the south face to the east arête and follow the arête westward until it becomes a knife-edge. From here an exposed route leads a short distance to the left into a steep chute which leads to the spectacular summit. A variation of this route, ascended in September, 1953, by George and Kay Bloom and Glenn Cushman, is also class 3. Go to the north of the large buttress at the end of the east arête and climb up a broken face to the top of the arête. Then follow the arête to join the usual Route 1.

Route 2. West face. Class 4. First ascent July 29, 1930, by Jules Eichorn, Glen Dawson, and John Olmstead. From upper Dusy Basin climb a chute to the left (NW) of the summit and work up through a series of tricky chimneys.

Route 3. Southwest chute. Class 4. First ascent August If, 1938, by W. K. Davis and Jack Riegelhuth. Start in the largest chute on the west face of Winchell that has a large buttress on the north side. From the top of the chute traverse left into a notch east of the buttress. Then climb to the top. There are many possible routes on the west face, most of them class 4. The most northerly chutes lead to the north arête, which involves class 5 or class 6 climbing.

Route 4. Southeast face. Possibly class 5-6. A descent was made August 11, 1938, by W. K. Davis and Jack Riegelhuth. Follow the skyline of Winchell as seen from Dusy Basin. The overhanging southerly buttress was turned to the east, but a rope-down was still necessary.

Winter ascent. January 10, 1938, by Norman Clyde, Morgan Harris, and David R. Brower (SCB, 1938, 44), by Route 1.

Thunderbolt Peak (13,900+; 14,040n, about)

The name of this peak was inspired by a thunderstorm which harried the first ascent party and hurried them off the ridge after a bolt had struck very close to one of the climbers (SCB, 1932, 124). First ascent by Route 1 on August 13, 1931, by Norman Clyde, R. L. M. Underhill, Bestor Robinson, F. P. Farquhar, Glen Dawson, Lewis Clark, and Jules Eichorn.

Route 1. East couloir. Class 4. From Palisade Glacier twin couloirs lead to the notch between Thunderbolt Peak and the northwest peak of North Palisade. The right (NW) one is the so-called Underhill Couloir. Climbing in these couloirs depends greatly on snow conditions, and sometimes one may be preferred over the other (see SCB, 1950, 127). Ice may be met in either. To reach the notch the left (SE) couloir may be climbed about half way up and then the arête between the two may be followed the rest of the way. However this left couloir contains much dangerous loose rock if the snow is low, and then the right one is better. About two-thirds of the way up, the floor of the right couloir is blocked by a large chockstone, which may be passed on the right up a rock wall with good holds. From the notch climb slabs leading to the north, and then work upward along the southwest side of the ridge, finally climbing to the crest and following it to the summit block. The smooth summit block. may be climbed with the aid of a shoulder stand or with protection from a rope thrown over the top.

Route 2. Southwest chute, No. 1. Class 4. First ascent August 3, 1933, by Norman Clyde, John Poindexter, Philip Von Lubkin. Climb the large chute southeast of the divide between Palisade and Dusy basins to the deep notch southeast of Thunderbolt, and proceed to the summit as in Route 1.

Route 3. Northwest ridge. Class 5. First ascent August 11, 1938, by W. K. Davis and Jack Riegelhuth. They followed the ridge from the col southeast of Mount Winchell. The first third of the route was class 3, while the rest was class 4 and 5. The first ascent was made as part of a climb from Dusy Basin to the summit of Winchell and then along the ridge to North Palisade; the total time was 13 hours.

Route 4. Northeast buttress. Class 4. First ascent by Norman Clyde on an unknown date. There is a large, ice-filled couloir west of the great northeast buttress of Thunderbolt. Cross the bergschrund about 20 feet to the right of the eastern margin of the lower end of the couloir, and cut steps up to accessible ledges, all the while being protected from falling rocks by an outward bulge in the wall of the couloir above. After a short distance on the ledges, climb upward and eastward to the crest of the buttress, and follow this to the main ridge, where an upward traverse to the right leads to a notch of the main ridge. From this traverse to the left around a shoulder and into a couloir which leads to the summit block.

Route 5. West face. Class 4. First ascent September 3, 1949, by Oscar Cook, Sylvia Kershaw, Mildred Jentsch, and Hunter and Isabella Morrison (SCB, 1950, 123). They ascended the first feasible chute on the Dusy Basin (N) side of the Palisade-Dusy basins divide. They followed the right (SE) branch of the chute until it ended in an ice-filled chimney, and then worked to the right to an arête which was left higher up by a vein of rotten quartz that led to next chute to the southeast. A chockstone in this chute was passed on the left by a class 4 pitch. The chute led to a spur which was followed to the main ridge west of Thunderbolt, and from there they followed the ridge southeast to the small notch between the twin summits of Thunderbolt. The highest is the southwest peak, and a class 4 pitch from the notch takes one to the east side of this.

Route 6. Southwest chute, No. 2. Class 4. From the Palisade Basin side of the Palisade-Dusy basin divide, take the first chute east of the divide. This chute heads between the twin summits of Thunderbolt. First descent September 3, 1949, by the party of Route 5. This is probably the easiest route of ascent of Thunderbolt yet found. About one-third of the way up the chute there is a narrow chimney choked with stones. The chimney can be passed on the right side (looking up) by traversing out on a three-foot, scree-covered ledge. Above the chockstones the chute divides several times. Wherever it divides, always take the right-hand chute, looking up. Ascend the chute to the notch between the twin summits. At the notch the highest peals is to the right (SW). There is one class 4 pitch directly up from the notch which leads around to the left of the peak to the flat ridge on the east side, and then a large crack leads to the south side of the summit block.

North Palisade (14,254; 14,242n)

First ascended July 25, 1903, by J. N. LeConte, J. K. Moffitt, and J. S. Hutchinson, by Route 1 (SCB, 1904, 1; 1921, 204; 1934, 24).

Route 1. Southwest chute (LeConte route). Class 3. See Sketch 18. Enter the chute which leads to the U Notch (this is the deep notch southeast of North Palisade) from the southwest. This chute may be identified from the upper end of the highest and largest of the lakes in Palisade Basin, where one sees at the base of the southwest wall of North Palisade three white cliffs, resembling inverted shields, and marking the entrances to two chutes. The right (SE) chute is ascended, and would lead to the U Notch if followed to the crest. About half-way up, at the upper end of a bare granite bottom area in the chute, where it

Sketch 18. North Palisade from the west, and Route 1.
[click to enlarge]
Sketch 18. North Palisade from the west, and Route 1.
widens out somewhat, is a narrow ledge running to the left (NW). Follow the ledge, which is only a few feet wide at one point, around to the next chute. Climb this second chute until progress is stopped, and then cross to the right to a third chute, which usually has snow in it and which is not visible from below, and ascend to the crest of the ridge. Then proceed northwest over large blocks to the summit.

Route 2. Southwest chute to U Notch. First ascent July 19, 1921, by Hermann Ulrichs. Enter the first chute described under Route 1 and climb to the U Notch. A steep, open, class 4 chimney leads up the west wall of the U Notch. From the top of the chimney an easy ridge leads to the summit. Clyde’s variation: Leave the chute about 100 feet or so down on the southwest side of the U Notch, climb the left (W) wall, work to the left around a shoulder, and then climb up to the right to the crest and follow it to the summit.

Route 3. Via U Notch from the glacier. Class 4. First ascent in June, 1928, by Norman Clyde (SCB, 1929, 58; 86). Follow the trail to the main Palisade Glacier and cross the glacier to the broad, steep couloir leading to the U Notch. Neither the couloir nor the notch can be mistaken; the notch is the most prominent one between North Palisade and Mount Sill. Late in the season the bergschrund may be a serious obstacle; it is usually best crossed at the northwest side of the couloir. Ice is always present in the couloir, and any snow surface should be carefully probed before it is trusted. Late in the season bare ice will be met. It is well to work up along the northwest edge of the couloir, out of range of rock or snow sliding down the couloir. About half-way up a peninsula of rotten granite is reached, and this can be followed without difficulty to the notch. From there proceed as in Route 2. An ice axe is a must for this climb. There is a real danger of rockfalls in this, as in other couloirs on the northeast side of the Palisades, especially in late afternoon, during storms, or late in the season of a low snow year. Some remarks by Norman Clyde on this subject are of interest (SCB, 1950, 127). Clyde says: “More ricocheting rocks and rockslides come down the Palisade than was the case when there was more snow. These [rockfalls] are rather numerous in the latter half of July and are still numerous in August. They are most common also in the afternoon, but may occur at any time—even early morning.”

Route 4. North face. Class 4. First ascent in July, 1929, by Norman Clyde. This climb starts up the steep and rather narrow couloir west of the couloir leading to the U Notch. This couloir splits the north face of North Palisade, and heads at a high notch between the summit and the northwest peak. Sometimes the bergschrund below this couloir is nearly impassable. Climb the west wall of the couloir to the notch and follow the ridge, mostly on the southwest side, to the summit. This is said to be one of the finest climbs in the area. It is also possible, when about half-way up the couloir, to cross over to the left to the north face of the main peak and to climb this face directly to the summit.

Route 5. West chute. Class 4. First ascent July 13, 1933, by James Wright. From the extreme north portion of Palisade Basin climb up the “second large cleft which narrows in the ascent; thence up a steep snow tongue into a wide chute. At the head of this chute cross to next chute to the southeast, then climb to the pinnacle northwest of the summit. Cross to the east side of the ridge, carefully cross a notch, and proceed to the summit” (SCB, 1934, 95).

Route 6. Northwest ridge. Class 4. First ascent June 29, 1934, by Norman Clyde, David R. Brower, and Hervey Voge. From the notch between Thunderbolt Peak and North Palisade (see Thunderbolt Peak, Route 1) work upward along ledges on the southwest side of the ridge. When progress becomes difficult, climb by an intricate route behind some large blocks to the crest and follow it to the northwest peak of North Palisade. From there the best route follows the crest rather closely, crossing from side to side several times, and, in particular, crossing to the north at a prominent gendarme in order to pass a difficult gap. Variation: Cross to the northeast (glacier) side of the ridge when progress on the southwest side becomes difficult, and proceed along ledges and snow until directly beneath the main summit; then climb to the top.

Route 7. West face. Class 5. First ascent in August, 1936, by Richard M. Jones and Mary Jane Edwards. Start to the left of a black streak on the base of the mountain, cross to the right above this mark by going under a large, fallen slab on the slanting shelf, continue up a fairly wide chute to a point where it becomes very narrow, cross to the right into the next chute on a horizontal white vein, passing slightly above a large block. Then proceed more or less directly to the summit.

Winter ascent. North Palisade was climbed March 17, 1940, by David R. Brower and Fred Kelley, by Route 3.

Northwest peak of North Palisade (about 14,200). This peak may be reached by the northeast face, by a variation of Route 4 for North Palisade, either directly up the face or by returning from the notch separating it from North Palisade. It can also be climbed by North Palisade Route 6, either from the summit of North Palisade, or from the notch southeast of Thunderbolt. The first ascent was made July 9, 1930, by Norman Clyde. The summit is a large block somewhat resembling a milk bottle; this block can be climbed without artificial aid.

Mount Sill (14,100+; 14,162n)

Route 1. Southwest slope. Class 2. First ascent July 24, 1903, by Joseph N. LeConte, James K. Moffitt, James S. Hutchinson and Robert D. Pike. Go up Glacier Creek to a cirque, then up a steep talus slope to the left to the foot of the small glacier southeast of North Palisade. The summit of Sill is not visible from here. There are two alternatives. One can ascend the steep cliff on the northeast side of the glacier directly to the summit, or follow up the glacier and the snowfield at its head and then work to the east over the easy slopes to the top.

Route 2. Northwest face. Class 3. Ice axe necessary. First ascent, June 10, 1927, by Norman Clyde. A number of routes are possible up the face to the summit, or up the wall to the ridge west of the summit. The bergschrund of the main Palisade Glacier may cause difficulty but can almost always be crossed along the left margin of the lower edge of the large couloir running up toward Mount Sill.

Route 3. Traverse from the U Notch. Class 4. First ascent, July 27, 1930, by Jules M. Eichorn, Glen Dawson, John Olmstead and Charles Dodge. From the U Notch (see North Palisade, Routes 2 and 3) climb about 20 feet up the southeast wall and traverse right to the southwest arête. Then follow the ridge to the summit.

Route 4. North couloir. Class 4. First ascent, September 25, 1931, by Walter A. Starr, Jr. From Glacier Notch go up the chute between the face of Sill and a small pyramid under the face. Pass through the gap and traverse on ledges across the face to an arête which leads to the crest on the north side of the summit. Then ascend the easy ridge to the summit.

Route 5. East couloir and southeast ridge. Class 3. Descended June 16, 1934, by Norman Clyde, Hervey Voge, and David R. Brower. For an ascent proceed from the east to the Sill Glacier and up to the first deep notch southeast of the summit of Mount Sill. A couloir just south of the precipitous east face leads up to this notch; this couloir is best entered by the left (SE) branch. From the notch follow the easy ridge to the summit. An ice axe is necessary.

Route 6. North buttress. Class 5. First ascent July 3, 1938, by Spencer Austin, Ruth Dyar, Ray Ingwersen, Richard M. Jones, and Joe Momyer. From Glacier Notch cross the north couloir diagonally upward to the buttress. Climb to the ridge of the buttress and follow it about half-way to the summit. Then traverse around an awkward corner to the right (W) on a series of ledges formed by a prominent band of light colored rock. One can climb back to the ridge from several places on these ledges. On the ridge proceed up over huge blocks to the summit. This route has more exposure than Route 2, but is almost free of loose rock. A class 4 variation may be made by traversing to the right (W) earlier and farther.

Peak 13,336 (13,390n; 1/2 SE of Mount Sill)

First ascent July 4, 1940, by Ted Sanford and Tom Jukes, from the south side.

Palisade Crest (13,568; 13,520+n)

This is a serrated crest carrying many jagged spires. There is no information available regarding ascents.

Peak 13,956 (13,920+n; 1/2 NW of Middle Palisade)

Route 1. North face. Class 3. First ascent June 9, 1930, by Norman Clyde. Go up the glacier north of the peak and ascend the first couloir west of the peak to the ridge. Then traverse southeast down the north face, around a buttress, and into the main chute north of the peak. Climb to the ridge just west of the summit and follow the ridge to the top.

Route 2. South face. Class 3. First ascent June 19, 1930, by Norman Clyde.

Middle Palisade (14,049; 14,040n)

First ascent August 26, 1921, by F. P. Farquhar and A. F. Hall, by Route 1 (SCB, 1922, 264).

Route 1. Southwest chute and south face. Class 3. The history of this peak reveals much disappointment that has resulted from the choice of the wrong chute. Those wishing to climb Middle Palisade instead of Disappointment Peak should take the third chute north of the angle between the Middle Palisade wall and its southwest spur, counting the chute that marks the angle as the first. The first and second chutes lead to Disappointment Peak, while the third leads to Middle Palisade, and heads just north of the little sawtooth peak between the two peaks. The route is intricate at the top, and there are a number of possible variations. Three-fourths of the way up, work to the left out of the chute and ascend the face south of the summit to the top.

Route 2. Northeast face. Class 4. First ascent by Norman Clyde, June 7, 1930. The northeast face may be climbed by means of several routes up chutes and arêtes leading up from the glacier. This face is west of the prominent buttress that projects eastward from the peak.

Route 3. Northwest ridge. Class 4. Traverse along the ridge from Peak 13,956 (13,920+n), with a few deviations to pass gendarmes. First done July 30, 1933, by Jules Eichorn and Glen Dawson.

Route 4. Southeast ridge. Class 4. Traverse from Disappointment Peak, mostly on the northeast side of the ridge. First done July 20, 1939, by David Brower, Bruce Meyer, and Keith Taylor.

Route 5. East face. Class 3. This route is probably the easiest way to the top of Middle Palisade; it follows a prominent chute or couloir directly below the summit and directly above the moraine that divides the glacier to the northeast of the peak (see Sketch 19). First ascent uncertain. From the top of the moraine that divides the glacier proceed onto the left hand (S) glacier. About half way up the glacier a ledge is seen leading up the buttress to the right. Follow this ledge to the broad couloir and follow this couloir until it ends; then cross over to the next couloir to the north. After a short distance this couloir divides and the left branch may be climbed to a notch on the ridge just northeast of the main peak.

Sketch 19. Middle Palisade from the northeast, and Route 5.  A—Disappointment Peak. B—Middle Palisade.
[click to enlarge]
Sketch 19. Middle Palisade from the northeast, and Route 5. A—Disappointment Peak. B—Middle Palisade.

Disappointment Peak (13,900+; 13,917n)

This is the highest peak just southeast of Middle Palisade, and the central one of three on that ridge. From some places it appears to be higher than Middle Palisade. First ascent July 20, 1919, by J. M. Davies, A. L. Jordan, and H. H. Bliss, by Route 1.

Route 1. Southwest chute. Class 3. Climb up the large chute just north of the prominent buttress or spur that extends to the southwest from the main ridge. The chute leads to a point just south of the summit.

Route 2. Northeast couloir. Class 3. First ascent June 20, 1930, by Norman Clyde. It was stated to be a good climb, with some difficulty at the foot of the couloir.

Route 3. East ridge. Class 3. From the north climb to the main ridge about midway between Southfork Pass and Disappointment Peak and follow the ridge to the summit, sometimes deviating to the north side. William Dunmire and Allen Steck climbed Middle Palisade by this route in September, 1953, but they bypassed the summit of Disappointment.

The Thumb (13,885; 13,388n)

This peak has sometimes been called East Palisade. The old elevation was undoubtedly incorrect. The first ascent was made December 12, 1921, by W. B. Putnam (SCB, 1922, 271).

Route 1. Southeast slope. Class 2. The peak was first climbed by this slope after an approach from Birch Creek. From Birch Lake (little or no wood for camping) proceed southwest to the cirque southeast of The Thumb. The wall of the cirque can be climbed near the southwest end on ledges (class 3). Then proceed up the easy southeast slope of the peak. To climb The Thumb from the Muir Trail, follow the stream that comes from the east into the upper Palisade Lake. Cross the Sierra Crest by ascending the more easterly of the two talus-filled chimneys in the wall to the right of a small peak to the right (E) of Southfork Pass. The Thumb lies north of the main crest. Proceed up the easy southeast slope.

Route 2. Northwest face. Class 4. First ascent June 5, 1930, by Norman Clyde. Climb up a couloir of the northwest face, then circle around the final peak to the south or southeast slope.

Peaks East of the Crest

Coyote Ridge (12,246) (renamed “The Hunchback,” 12,226n)

As this peak was an old benchmark it was climbed early by a survey party.

Peak 12,378 (12,322n; 4 E of South Lake)

First ascent September 14, 1938, by Arthur Blake.

Round Mtn. (11,165; 11,188n)

Class 1. As this peak is an old benchmark it was climbed early by a survey party. The first recorded ascent was in August 1935 by Chester Versteeg and Mr. Stevens. It is climbed often by deer hunters.

Sugar Loaf (11,003)

No record of ascent is available. It is class 1 by inspection and is easily reached via the jeep road through Coyote Valley.

Chocolate Peak (11,712; 11,658n)

Class 1, by the southeast ridge. First recorded ascent July 16, 1939, by Chester Versteeg, who found empty cartridges on top.

Inconsolable Range, Peak 13,400+ (13,501n)

First known ascent June 15, 1927, by Norman Clyde. The name “Cloud Ripper” has been proposed. Class 1 from Seventh Lake via the east ridge, or class 2 from Green Lake via the north ridge.

Inconsolable Range, Peak 13,210 (13,278n)

First recorded ascent June 15, 1937, by Norman Clyde.

Peak 12,850 (12,834n; 1 N of Fifth Lake)

Climbed prior to July 1940 by Morgan Leonard.

Peak 13,200+ (13,200+n; 1/2 N of Mount Agassiz)

Climbed June 14, 1934, by David R. Brower and Hervey Voge. A class 3 ascent from Jigsaw Pass or the glacier northeast of Mount Agassiz.

Peak 12,986 (12,880+n; 0.7 W of Fifth Lake)

First ascent July 6, 1929, by Norman Clyde. The ascent from Fifth Lake by the east ridge and the north side of the east ridge is class 3. The summit is a large, smooth block.

Peak 12,981 (12,840+W; 0.8 NE of Mount Agassiz)

Route 1. Northeast face. Class 3. First ascent July 4, 1930, by Norman Clyde, who described it as a good rock climb, involving the passing of numerous pinnacles.

Route 2. West ridge. Class 3. First ascent June 14, 1934, by David R. Brower and Hervey Voge. Follow the ridge from the little glacier northeast of Mount Agassiz.

Route 3. Southeast face. Class 3. Descended June 14, 1934, by the party of Route 2. The face is cut by rough, broken chutes, which are readily climbed or descended.

Mount Gayley (13,500+ 13,510n)

This is the peak just northeast of Mount Sill. It has sometimes been called Mount Alice. The first ascent was made June 10, 1927, by Norman Clyde, by Route 1.

Route 1. Southwest ridge. Class 2 to 3. Follow the ridge from Glacier Notch. An alternative (Norman Clyde, 1949) is to climb from the Palisade Glacier to the ridge north of the buttress north of Glacier Notch, rather than first climbing to the notch.

Route 2. South face. Class 3. Descended September 28, 1931, by W. A. Starr, Jr. A number of routes are possible.

Route 3. West Face. Class 3. First ascent June 1950 by Robert Cogburn and Ed Robbins. A fairly large gully comes down the west wall south of Gayley. Ascend on the northeast side of this gully for a short distance in a rotten chimney, and then traverse left (N) on a series of ledges underneath a prominent gendarme to a couloir that leads up to the summit ridge.

Temple Crag (13,016; 12,999n)

From the north Temple Crag is one of the most beautiful mountains of the Sierra, chiefly because of the splendid sculpture of the precipices on that side, which are of dark, massive granite and rise 3,000 feet above the lower Big Pine Lakes. The north face is cut by two deep and narrow snow chimneys; the northwest face by a broader couloir. These have carved the intervening buttresses into tremendous, fantastic towers.

The first ascent was made by the USGS in 1909, probably by Route 1. Three new routes have been established, but these have hardly touched the climbing possibilities. (SCB, 1922, 312; 1941, 141).

Route 1. Southeast face. Class 3. Climb the deepest chute in the broken southeast face to the gradual nivated slope above it. A shallow chute connects the top of this slope with a spectacular knife-edge leading to the summit. As a variation, the nivated slope of Route 1 may be reached by a steep crack or chimney up the west wall of Contact Pass, just south of the highest point of the pass. Fourth class climbing up the crack, or up the wall outside, leads to the slope above.

Route 2. Northwest face. Class 3. First ascent by Norman Clyde in 1930. Go up the chute to the right (SW) of the broad northwest couloir until it joins the latter, then follow the right wall of the main couloir to the broken face at its head. Here cross to the left of the left branch of the chute for a way and work up to the west arête of the Crag, which is followed to the summit.

Route 3. North face. Class 4. First ascent August 11, 1931, by Norman Clyde, R. L. M. Underhill, Glen Dawson, and Jules Eichorn. Climb the narrow crack just east of the western snow-chimney of the north face. The crack goes more or less up the center of the north buttress. Then. climb the east wall of the snow-chimney to a point below the notch between Temple Crag and its north peak. Proceed diagonally upward and east to the summit knife edge.

Route 4. North peak from the northeast. Class 4. First ascent July 7, 1940, by John and Ruth Mendenhall. From Third Lake ascend scree and snow slopes and enter the first deep chimney or couloir southeast of the north buttress. Well up in the chimney the angle diminishes and climbing becomes class 3 until the notch looking down the northwest face is reached. To reach the north peak, first ascended by the Mendenhalls, climb north along the ridge, winding in and out of, and over, rocky teeth. The summit of Temple Crag should also be accessible from the notch.

Peak 12,840 (12,861n; 1 E of Temple Crag)

First ascent Nov. 22, 1925, by Norman Clyde. Class 3 from the north.

Peak 13,530 (13,165n; 1 NE of The Thumb)

First ascent November 14, 1926, by Norman Clyde.

Peaks West of the Crest

Columbine Peak (12,545; 12,652n)

First ascent prior to 1925, by persons unknown. Class 2 by northeast or south ridge.

Peak 12,339 (12,359n; 1 E of Giraud Peak)

First ascent by John White, August 11, 1938. A class 2 traverse from Knapsack Pass.

Isosceles Peak (12,100+; 12,280+n)

This is the most striking feature of the south wall of Dusy Basin, and is a good class 3 climb by the northwest face. The first ascent was made July 10, 1938, by Wear and Morse.

Giraud Peak (12,539; 12,585n)

First ascent September 1, 1925, by Norman Clyde. Class 2 by the east arête.

Peak 13,900+ (13,920+n; 0.4 SW of Mount Sill)

First recorded ascent July 25, 1925, by W. A. Starr and A. M. Starr. A class 2 climb from the cirque southwest of Mount Sill.

Peak 12,688 (12,692n; 1.3 S of North Palisade)

First ascent in 1925, by Ralph A. Chase.

Peak 12,200+ (12,220n; 2 S of Mount Sill)

No information is available.


Text: SCB: 1904, 1-19; 1905, 15; 1913, 55; 1914, 80, 189; 1915, 262; 1921, 204; 1922, 264, 271, 312; 1928, 33, 87; 1929, 58; 1931, 105, 107; 1934, 24, 94; 1935, 72; 1938, 33, 45; 1939, 40; 1950, 123, 127. American Alpine Club Journal: 1930, 186; 1931, 344, 395.

Photographs: Palisades in general: SCB, 1896, 297 (sketch of “Mount Jordan”); 1903, plate 68; 1904, plates 2, 3, 4; 1913, plate 29; 1917, 223; 1922, 266, 267; 1934, 95; 1936, 30-31; 1938, 62-63.

North Palisade: SCB, 1904, plate 5; 1915, 262; 1921, 205 (route from SW); 1931, 14 (W face); 1934, 14 (from S), 25 (sketch of route from SW); 1938, 62-63.

Mount Sill: SCB, 1904, 11; 1924, 64; 1926, 304; 1934, 94-95.

Palisade Crest: SCB, 1934, 95.

Northwest peak of Middle Palisade: SCB, 1922, 267; 1934, 94-95.

Middle Palisade: SCB, 1914, 189; 1917, 223; 1922, 266 (route from SW), 274 (from the E); 1934, 94-95 (from the S).

Temple Crag: SCB, 1913, 55.

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