After navigating the North Fork of Big Pine Creek Trail and climbing out of the meadow just above third lake, you will come to Sam Mack meadow (image to the left) (image above) If you are making a three day ascent or even two, Sam Mack is a great place to camp for placing yourself in a great position to access the Palisade Glacier.
There are established camp sites at Sam Mack Meadow that available, so you don't have to construct new ones. Then from here you have two options (as shown in the photos below). One is straight out of the meadow and up a snow and ice slope (early season) or use a trail that begins by leaving the main trail and crossing the stream.Above you see a photo of climbers leaving Sam Mack Meadow and heading up the snow slope at the end of the meadow. I believe this is the best way to gain access to the Palisade Glacier, but is best done in the spring when there is still a good amount of snow and ice in place. Crampons and ice ax are a must for safety reasons and the bonus is that you will be able to make quick work of accessing the glacier. The other option of going later in the season is described below. Taking the trail option on the other side of the stream (from the main trail) will take you to a ridge just above the meadow, but then you will be traveling cross country through the glacial moraine to get to the main glacier (and there is a fair amount of this rough terrain that you will have to work through). This is a better way to go if the snow has melted off, because you will be able to gain some altitude on the trail as noted. But I would highly recommend against it. It is much more difficult to travel through all the loose rock and boulders (as the climbers in the above photo demonstrate), and progress will obviously be much slower (and even more dangerous) if you decide to take this option. Early season, when there is still plenty of snow, is the ticket. Getting to the Palisade Glacier is a bit of a climb on snow fields (as shown in the photograph above) but with snow cover it goes pretty smooth. Imagine all this terrain in later season covered in rock as shown in the photo earlier on this page. We have done this a couple of times when the snow had melted away, and take my word for it, it's brutal! In the above photo, you see that the climbers are nearing the main body of the Palisade Glacier just above the yellow arrow. Lots of work, but it's well worth it. In the photo you see the North Palisade, Starlight Peak, and Thunderbolt. Polemonium Peak and Mt Sill are just to the left of North Palisade. You can see Polemonium Peak, to the left of the U Notch, but Mt Sill is still out of sight. Once there you are in a great position to climb North Palisade, Polemonium, Mt Sill, along with other Palisade peaks. I have found that Starlight and Thunderbolt are best accessed via the Bishop Pass Trail. They are less technical from that approach. Once you attain the Palisade Glacier, you can either continue on with your climb, if you are in fantastic shape, or you can do what we do and set up a High Camp on the glacier. We usually head to an area where the rock is projecting out of the glacier to set up camp. Here are a couple of options: You can level out some of the snow in the area (as you see Wayne and Larry doing above left), and then set up your tent as seen in the photo below. Or, you can just lay out your bivy bag, like Matt is doing on the right hand portion of the above photo. At this stage of the game, you are in a great position to climb many of the peaks in the Palisade's of the Sierra Nevada. Most of the miles and altitude gain are now behind you, but that's not to say that the rest of The Climb will not be very challenging. But even if you just want to hang out and camp on the Glacier, you will be rewarded with spectacular sunrises and sunset photos of the magnificent Palisade Peaks!! Email Sign Up
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