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Timberline Trails Logo North Palisade

Climbing The North Palisade- is one of the more challenging climbs in the California Sierra Nevada list of peaks over 14,000 feet. It involves glacier travel, a steep snow and ice chute known as the U notch, and technical rock climbing in order to reach the summit.

North Palisade Glacier Crossing After leaving camp from below, the next step is to cross the Palisade Glacier (photo above left) in order to gain access to the U-Notch which is guarded by the bergschrund as shown in the images above right and below. As you can see, access to the couloir can be a bit tricky due to the steep entry and the crossing of the bergschrund. In early season (as shown here) it is much easier later on toward fall season (when the gap is much wider) and the chute turns to blue ice. One needs excellent ice climbing skills in order to be safe when climbing the North Pal in late summer or fall.

Climbing to the U-Notch

Start of U-Notch Always best to rope up on both the glacier and when climbing up the U-Notch as shown above left. Crampons and ice ax are a must. The snow and ice chute can be up to 45 degrees in angle (and even steeper at the entry point into the chute). If you should slip and fall without an ice ax and/or rope, you will begin a very rapid descent that will most likely end on the glacier below, or worse yet, land you into the bergschrund. Norman Clyde and others have done just that. Clyde survived but others have died or ended up very seriously injured.

Climbing to the U-Notch Once you get past the bergschrund you be able to gain elevation quickly. I always prefer hard pack snow and ice rather then a jumbled up bunch of rock for gaining elevation. For me personally, it's much faster. From the bergschrund to the actual U-Notch, you will gain approximately 720 vertical feet. The elevation at the bergschrund is 12,419 feet and the actual notch is at 13,920 feet. Also be on the lookout for falling rock. These chutes are famous for it, and rocks that come loose or dislodged by climbers above can gain speed very quickly and can come at you like missiles. So be on the alert and if you accidentally kick something loose call out ROCK to warn others.

Climbing to the U-Notch The Palisade Couloirs are spectacular as you can see. Note the climber in the photo above left on his way up. It gives you a great sense of scale when you compare a person to the immense expanse of the landscape at hand. The image above right gives you a view down the other side of the U-Notch looking down into Kings Canyon National Park.

North Palisade Double Chimney Section Once you reach the top of the couloir as shown above, the crampons come off and you then are faced with a Class 5.2 double chimney to climb. If you look close, you can see Joe at the bottom of the rock face standing in the actual U-Notch. From there, it is about a 200 foot climb to the top of the chimney system.

North Palisade Chimney Climb In the photo above, you can see Matt working his way up the chimney. Most of the climb goes without a hitch, but there are a couple of moves when transfering from one rock face to another that will put your rock climbing skills to the test.

North Palisade Chimney Climb Next above left, you see Mike demonstrating good belay practice by being well anchored to the wall. Too many times, I see people belaying and not anchored. If the climber below falls and you are not well anchored, you could be pulled out of your position and both you and the climber you are belaying may take a very serious or fatal fall.

Then in the image above right, you see Sean and David taking a break in a nice little pocket area at the top of the first chimney. This is a good place to set up for chimney number two.

North Palisade Traverse Once you have climbed to the top of the Chimney, you will need to travers over an bunch of jumbled rock and boulders for a final elevation gain of about 322 vertical feet. It is mostly class two with a possible bit of low class 3 to reach the summit. The photo above where you see our group negotiating the terrain gives you a good idea of what to expect. The summit is just a bit up and to the left of the above image.

Starlight Peak With just a couple of bolder hops away from the summit of North Palisade, you can see Starlight Peak come into view (circled in yellow). Starlight is another great 14er in the Sierra Nevada, and it is well worth the climb if you are into the more challenging peaks in the range.

Well, that should do it for the climbing section of North Palisade via the Palisade Glacier U-Notch variation. To see our write up and photos once on top, please visit our North Palisad Summit Page.

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