The Palisade Traverse is for those of you who have alpine experience and are ready to take on one of the great Sierra Nevada traverses Thunderbolt Peak to Mt. Sill. Tag five California fourteen-thousand-foot summits and experience an en-route bivy.
You need to be able to follow efficiently at the 5.6 level and have experience on multi-pitch routes. You should be in good physical condition, have prior backpacking experience, and have the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with an overnight pack. Prior experience at altitudes above 12,000’ is required. Previous experience with travel on snow and talus is highly recommended, including the use of crampons and ice axe. This is the longest and most complex climb we guide. This is a long traverse, with extensive up and down climbing, while carrying an overnight pack. Your gear needs to be lightweight and fine tuned for alpine climbing. If we have not climbed together before we strongly suggest adding a warm up climb of Crystal Crag the day before heading into the Palisade Area. This will allow us to access your level, and will aid in your acclimatization.
Price includes guiding, permits, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items).
Acclimatization & Physical Training
For proper acclimatization, we suggest spending at least one night at a moderate altitude, higher than 8,000 feet, just prior to the start of the journey. See our detailed tips on acclimatizing an physical training in the “Resources” tab.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
★ Please Read before you go ★
We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)
Palisade Traverse Equipment List
- Fitness, Training and Acclimatization Tips
- Leave No Trace
Palisade Traverse map
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