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Thunderbolt Peak
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Austrian Arete T 
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Southwest Buttress T 
Southwest Chute 1 T 
Thunderbolt to Sill Traverse T 
Underhill Couloir T 

Palisade Traverse 

YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a Mod. Snow

Type:  Trad, Snow, Alpine, Grade IV
Consensus:  YDS: 5.9 French: 5c Ewbanks: 17 UIAA: VI ZA: 17 British: HVS 5a [details]
Page Views: 5,680
Submitted By: Colin Simon on Nov 2, 2009

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The Palisades


This a description of the Thunderbolt to Sill Traverse (not the Palisade Traverse) which is also posted here.

This is a ridge traverse from Thunderbolt Peak to Mt. Sill that encompasses five fourteeners, North Palisade being the highest. This is an incredible way to bag all of these summits in a long day of moderate climbing and scrambling. Most people will want to have a separate day for the approach and another for the exit.

Thunderbolt peak, Starlight Peak, North Palisade, Polemonium Peak, and Mt. Sill.

Thunderbolt can be approached from the East via the Palisade glacier, or the West from Thunderbolt Pass. We approached from the West, so this description follows that. Once you've gained the T-bolt ridge, it's all the same.

The easiest way to gain the ridgeline from the west is by Southwest Chute no. 1 as described by the High Sierras book. It is the obvious couloir northwest of Thunderbolt, and the first couloir south of Thunderbolt Pass.

In early July the snow in the couloir was firm and steep enough that crampons would have been useful, but my partner and I were able to get by with just approach shoes and one set of YakTrax between the two of us. A mountaineering axe was almost essential, however.

Once a ways into the couloir, head right over some exposed 4th class rock and into a gully(LOOSE!) for a few hundred more feet until the ridge is gained and one can see east and into the Owens Valley.

Some easy 5th class rock leads to the base of Thunderbolt summit. 20 feet of exposed (you could hit a ledge and stop, you could bounce off and into the abyss) bouldery, unprotected moves gain the true summit. This can be bypassed. A safer way is to lasso the summit and batman your rope.

Continue along the ridge and either scramble down (4th) or make one rappel(less than 100'). Continue up 500 feet of 5.5, bypassing gendarmes to the Starlight Peak area. 20-30 feet of bouldery but less exposed 5.9 gains the Starlight true summit(bolted anchor).

Continue across a windy notch and around a gendarme to the North Palisade massif. We traversed to the East side and went up a somewhat scary and insecure snow-filled chimney (5.7) to some more scrambling to the North Pal summit.

More scrambling or rappelling into a notch, and then some 5.6/5.7 up to the summit of Polemonium Peak. This felt like an endurance crux, as it's the last technical section.

From the summit of Polemonium, do a last bit of scrambling and then a long 2nd/3rd class slog up Mt. Sill.

The descent from Sill back to Thunderbolt Pass is obvious but circuitous, long, and involves more uphill than one would imagine for a descent.

In July we needed minimal clothing -- I was comfortable with softshell pants, a light insulating baselayer for my torso, a light windproof/waterproof shell, a beanie and light insulating gloves. We had a beautiful day, but the ridge was relentlessly windy.

The climbing is moderate, just be prepared for a long and physical day of routefinding!


For the West side approach to Thunderbolt Pass:

Take Hwy 168 west of Bishop
Turn left(south) at South Lake Rd.
Continue a few miles to South Lake, and park at the parking lot (SURPRISE!)
Bear boxes and a latrine may also be found at the parking lot. Do NOT leave food in your car!


Two double length runners
BD stoppers 4-13
Two cordalettes
Extra slings/webbing and rap rings to beef up rap anchors
One 60m rope

Go light and fast!

Photos of Palisade Traverse Slideshow Add Photo
Most of the T to S Ridge
Most of the T to S Ridge

Comments on Palisade Traverse Add Comment
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By Cory
From: Boise, ID
Dec 10, 2009

Great info, thanks!

It should be noted that this is only a portion of the much longer full Palisade Traverse, which starts at southfork pass and ends at Bishop Pass, going over many additional peaks including Middle Pal and Clyde. For more information on the Thunderbolt to Sill traverse (described here) see: mountainproject.com/v/californ...
By Chris Owen
From: Big Bear Lake
Jan 18, 2010

Thanks Cory, I've moved this to Thunderbolt and cross-reference both your posting and Colin's (this one).

By boulderkeith
From: Boulder, CO
May 11, 2010

I'd suggest this page be deleted. It serves no purpose given the more accurately cross-referenced page.
By Donno
From: Newport Beach
Jul 18, 2012

I agree; delete. Rock ratings are off also.
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