North Palisade - tops out at 14,242 feet and is the third highest peak in the Sierra Nevada Mountains after
Mount Whitney and Mount Williamson.  It is considered by many to be one of the finest climbs in all the
range, and consists of all the components of a classic alpine climb. North Palisade is just one of the many fine
climbs in the area, and those who specialize in ice climbing will find nearly unlimited challenges in the
many steep couloirs the region has to offer. The V-Notch
couloir sports a 50 degree angled gully that becomes rock
hard blue ice by the time September October roll around.
The U-Notch which is the snow gully on the left portion of
the photo above can offer both an excellent 45 degree snow
and ice climb in early season or a fine ice climb in latter
season. To the right of the U-Notch is the challenging Clyde
Couloir (also shown above). We just recently watched
climbers from our high camp on the Palisade Glacier tackle
this gully by viewing the light of their headlamps as they
slowly made progress (at 3AM no less) in the star lite early
morning hours. Next working to the Northwest (but not
shown in the photo above is the Underhill Couloir. This is
also a challenging high angle gully. There are other snow and
ice climbing possibilities such as the North Couloir on Thunderbolt Peak, but I am sure you get the picture.

North Palisade is the center piece of the Palisade region which consists of no less than seven recognized peaks
over 14,000 feet. These peaks are Thunderbolt Peak, Starlight Peak, North Palisade, Polemonium Peak, Mt
Sill, Middle Palisade, and Split Mountain. Five of these peaks are in very close proximity with only Middle
Palisade and Split Mountain being off the immediate ridge. These peaks make up eight miles of the Sierra
Crest, and the two miles of Peaks from Mt Sill to Thunderbolt peak make up the highest continuous ridge in
all the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The smaller aerial photo above and to the right (taken by Mike Koerner),
gives you an excellent view of the region. This image was taken May 6, 2007. The winter of 2006-2007 was a
low snowfall year, but as you can see even in a light year, there is usually plenty of snow in the area. Most all
you see in the photo is part of the alpine zone in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This zone is above timberline,
and is certainly treeless due to the scant soil and wind swept slopes.

Upmountain winds, afternoon thundershowers and lightening
in the summer months, along with cold temperatures at night
are common. On our late May trip up Polemonium Peak in
2007 (just to the southeast of North Palisade, and shown in
the shadows on the left hand side of the large topmost photo),
we experienced huge temperature swings on the Palisade
Glacier. They ranged from 80 degrees Fahrenheit during mid
day to 14 degrees Fahrenheit just before dawn. It is simply
amazing that more snow does not melt during these peak
daytime temperatures, but the innumerable surfaces of the
snow surface reflect more sunlight than they absorb.   Thus
the need for ample amounts of sunscreen. I remember in 2005 when both my son Sean and his friend Matt
nearly had their face and lips burned right off their faces, because they failed to use proper sun protection.

Getting started on North Palisade involves enduring dry slopes on the South Central portion of Sierra Nevada
Mountains. Even though the trailhead begins at about 7,700 feet, it resembles more closely the Foothill belt of
the Sierra rather than the Upper Montane Belt that is
more characteristic of the proposed elevation. Dense
shrub assemblages dominate rocky soils and warm
temperatures will quickly prompt you to shed clothing
as you begin your journey up the mountain. The
photo to the right shows the beginning trail marker
that leads out of the hiker/climbers parking lot. After
passing a horse corral you will begin one of the
longest traverses in the Sierra Nevada Trail system.
During the summer months, it is a long hot
introduction into the North Fork drainage area of the
Palisade Crest. If you can arrange your trip to start
in the evening, you can avoid the unpleasant daytime
temperatures and complete this section in the cool of
the night with headlamps.
                                                                              
                                                                        The long traverse across the dry slopes then gives way
                                                                        to a short series of switch backs that then empties you
                                                                        out in a forested area that dawns beautiful wildflowers
                                                                        in season, and pristine young aspen trees as shown in
                                                                        the photo to the left. This level section is a welcome
                                                                        break from the hot dry slopes below and is a fine area
                                                                        to set up camp in if you made use of the cooler night
                                                                        time temperatures to begin your approach to the Palisade
                                                                        climbing area high above. As you go through this
                                                                        section  of the trail be on the alert for a small cabin
                                                                        located on the left side of the trail as you ascend the
                                                                        mountain. Its rustic Architecture with a gable roof,
                                                                        over-hanging beams, and granite fieldstone exterior do not
hint that it was once the place that Quasimodo, the Phantom of the Opera, and other famous monsters who
came to relax, hunt, and fish in the High Sierra. That is, this was the summer home of one of Hollywood's
most famous character actors, Lon Chaney, Sr. Today, the cabin is used by the forest service for a ranger
station (even though I have never seen any activity around the cabin during the times I have been in the area).
 

The trail then leaves the lush lower meadows of the North Fork drainage, and then switch backs up and into
the lakes area. There are seven numbered lakes, but Third Lake shown in the lower left portion of the photo to
the right is perhaps the most noteworthy. This is because of the beautiful Temple Craig formation in the upper
center portion of the image. Temple Craig is the goal of many rock climbers. It has multiple established routes
of varying difficulty and will interest intermediate to advanced climbers. Third lake is also a hangout for
backpackers, fisherman, and outdoor type people from all walks of life. This area is one of the many jewels of
the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The trail does a series of gradual ups and gradual downs through the lakes
district, only to once again turn upward in earnest and switchback upward to one last meadow before
ascending to Sam Mack meadow, which is the last in the series of meadows before reaching the Palisade
Glacier. We usually make use of Sam Mack Meadow before ascending to the Palisade Glacier. It is a
beautiful but fragile meadow, and care should be taken to use established campsites so you won't trample the
surrounding vegetation. There is a wonderful stream running through the meadow and this ample water supply
is much appreciated. Latter on if you decide to camp on the glacier (like we normally do) you will think back
on this area and think of how convenient it was to fill water bottles from a running source of water in
comparison to melting down snow from the glacier.

The photo to the right shows Sam Mack Meadow in early
season. Fine established camps are off to the right of the
image. But be warned. As temperatures heat up in late June
and July, mosquitoes will come out with a vengeance and
force you into your tent or bivy bag to escape their onslaught.
Make sure your netting is in tack or you will be eaten alive.
Insect repellent can help, but unless you bathe in it, those
relentless insects will bite you on your scalp and any other
area that is not protected in the night. Exiting Sam Mack
meadow and proceeding up to the upper ramparts of the
Palisade Glacier will involve a couple of choices. You can
use the short climbers trail to the left of the meadow
(as you view the photo to the left)....Or..... If you have crampons and ice ax in earlier season, you can
climb directly out of the south end of the meadow on steep snow. Having exercised both options, I prefer the
crampon / ice ax method of reaching the glacier from Sam Mack Meadow. The reason for this is because the
short climbers trail is just that, short. And to add further complicate to the matter, it empties out onto an
endless section of boulders and loose rock that make up the glacier moraine. The only way to avoid this is to
make use of early spring snows. But if you do this, you will encounter much more snow down lower on the
trail. On the other hand, by using the steep snow at the end of the meadow, you are assured of very few
boulders. May or June are usually good months for this (unless there was a very dry winter). June is usually a
good month for climbing in the Palisades, because it assures you of mainly clear trail on the lower sections of
the mountain, and good snow cover up above. This will enable you to walk above all that muck and boulders
as you proceed upward to the glacier. Many are intimidated by the steep snow at the end of the meadow, but
I assure you, if you have experience with crampons and ice ax you will have no problem with this section, and
it is the most direct route to the Palisade Glacier.

The photo to the right shows a good overview of the terrain
above Sam Mack Meadow. Notice the small figure in the
lower center portion of the image. Matt Milner is exiting one
of the many steep slopes in the area. But even though the
area looks difficult, it is actually the best way to go, and you
can easily weave in and around the large rock strewn islands
as you proceed up to the glacier. It is also quick and easy to
descend this area, and there are many sections where you
can glissade if you have the skills. Glissading is fun and can
quickly get you off any mountain. But conditions can vary,
and there were sections on our last trip in the area, where
we had to put our crampons back on and climb down slopes
due to very steep and icy patches. However, even stepping down using crampons and ice ax is preferable to
boulder hopping and risking broken legs by punching though loose snow on the trail side of the glacial
moraine. By the way, if you are wondering what glissading is, visit our page on how to glissade and read about
it. Or watch David Koerner in a video featured here at Timberline Trails do a slide on Mount Shasta. Just
Click Here if you are interested in this.

Once on the Glacier, look for areas where you can set up
camp. We usually work our way to a nice rock outcropping
as near to the start of the U-Notch couloir as we can get.
This gives us a nice high start in the morning and quick easy
access to the climbing areas of the North Palisade and other
Palisade Peaks. In the photo to the right, you can see that
Mike Koerner has found a great ledge to set up his bivy bag.
The site is out of the snow, wind, and ice, and the rock
provides a nice solid area for set up. With a little ingenuity,
you will be able to find several sites in the area. The only
difficulty is that you will have to melt down your water
supply, and this is time consuming. I spent four hours melting down five gallons of glacial snow on our
Polemonium Peak outing. For more about the importance of food and water in the mountains,
Click Here.

Below and to the right, you can see a clear view of what we saw from our outpost camp on the glacier. The
skyline is that which was described above, and it is the highest and longest continuous ridge in the Sierra
Nevada Mountains. Norman Clyde, as noted in his writings, spent many an enjoyable day climbing in this
region. This classic route (Eastern Approach via North Fork of Big Pine Creek) now finishes with a 700
vertical foot 45 degree snow and ice climb up the U notch couloir and is then followed by a 5.2 rated chimney
section that leads to the final traverse to the summit. There are many other routes to the summit, and for the
ambitious, there is the Southwest Buttress rated 5.11c.  Some will make use of other steep ice gullies and we
saw a team access North Palisade via the difficult Clyde Couloir option on one of our outings.

People often confuse directions in this range
by thinking that the U notch couloir faces east,
but it actually faces north. This means that the
ridge is actually running from east to west. As
mentioned above, the Palisade Glacier (as
seen to the right) is the largest glacier in the
Sierra Nevada Mountains. But even this being
so, it presents very little difficulty to the
mountaineer. Having crossed this glacier many
times, about the most troublesome feature
(during some years) has been deep sun cups.
That is about it. Other than that, the glacier
sports no crevices of any magnitude to speak
of, and even the bergschrund can usually be
passed without too much difficulty. But nevertheless, care should always be taken. On our last trip up
Polemonium, my climbing partner Mike told me that he felt the snow bridge, (that we made use of the gain
access to the U Notch couloir), vibrate when my son Sean kicked a step into the hard packed snow. If the
bridge would have collapsed, we would have most likely found ourselves jammed in the crevice of the
bergschrund below. Not a happy thought.

There are several less noteworthy glaciers in the area, the most notable being pocket glacier below the
northeast face of Mt Agassiz. Others discount this, and consider it to be just part of a lobe of the main
Palisade Glacier. Still others have renamed it Thunderbolt Glacier. So as you can see, there is still some
controversy as to the naming of some of the permanent areas of ice and snow in the area.

Rockfall is always a problem in the Palisades, and stained areas of snow and ice in the couloirs give clear
evidence of this ever present danger. I remember a time when ascending the U-Notch, when cannon sized
balls of rock, rocketed down the couloir at amazing speeds. We had gotten a late start that day, and seeing
that, prompted Mike Husovich and myself to get out of the couloir as soon as possible. Getting hit with rock
missile such as that would certainly ruin ones day (or life) to say the least. This supports the old mountaineer's
adage "That it is always latter then you think in the mountains." Early starts on a nice cold crisp morning are
the way to go not only in the Sierra Nevada Palisade's, but throughout all the mountainous regions of this
earth.

North Palisade was first climbed on July 25, 1903 by James Hutchinson, Joseph LeConte, J. K. Moffitt, and
to this day, it is still one of the most sought after summits in all the Sierra's.

Well that's about it for now. For more information and photos of the actual climb up North Palisade, check
out the following links.

North Palisade Links

Base Camp                      Getting Started                  Trailhead                   The Approach        

High Camp                      The Climb                         Summit                      Aerial Photo
You will find that North Palisade has much to offer the "Adventurer"
North Palisade - Base Camp                                        timberlinetrails.net
Photo by Sean French  5/28/07