Palisade Traverse in the Eastern Sierra

It’s official, the Palisade Traverse is my favorite High Sierra offering! What a grand adventure: Wilderness approach, snow, ice, lightweight camping, amazing rock climbing, difficult summit pinnacles, high altitude, and an accumulation of demands to the body. Like many trips conducted with expertise in the ever-changing mountain environment, this particular traverse can be attacked with a number of strategies. Snow coverage, team fitness, rock-climbing prowess and weather forecast all combine to determine the appropriate tactics. Having done the traverse a number of times, in 4 different months of the year with many different combinations of the above factors, I feel well-versed in the options. I must say that my preferred schedule is the one Bill and I undertook this past weekend.

We hiked in on day 1 to the Thunderbolt Glacier tarn camp. This is a beautiful, smooth-rock campsite looking straight up at the imposing East Prow of Thunderbolt Peak.

We were able to wake around sunrise each morning of our 4 day trip. On day 2 we used the cool morning and firm snow to race comfortably up the North Couloir of Thunderbolt Peak.

Here is Bill on the traverse around “The Lightning Rod” on Thunderbolt.
We camped the second night at the Underhill Notch, scoring flat sandy spots, snow handy for water, and a leisurely, if cold, view of the sunset to the northwest.

A disproportioned view of the Thunderbolt Peak Summit block- quite a feat in mountain boots.
Bill and lichen coming ’round “The Archbishop”, a tower on the spectacular Northwest Ridge of Starlight Peak.

The wild summit of Starlight Peak: “The Milkbottle”
From the summit of Starlight to the summit of North Palisade is a complicated couple hundred yards. It’s climb down, rappel, across, up, down, swing across, scramble up, scramble down and finish with 2 5th class pitches right to the summit. Folks can easily converse between the adjacent peaks, but the traverse can take hours. Some knowledge and skill makes it smoother, but it’s always an experience. This section of ‘off-width’ climbing is not the easiest variation, but it is a safer option, and photogenic to boot.
Summit of North Palisade:

Soaking up some sun, re-organizing, and grabbing a snack at the U-Notch.
Sunset view from camp very near the summit of Polemonium Peak.
Small, but fierce, these variations of “Nieve Penitentes” made a compelling foreground for a day 4 sunrise.

The final Summit, Mount Sill, with all the peaks lined up behind Bill’s hooded head. This was a cold trip: each night we slept cold, each day we climbed in all our clothes and gloves. Brrrrr.

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