Mount Sill (14153 feet) and Middle Palisade (14012 feet) are 2 of the 11 California 14ers located in the Palisades region of the High Sierra. I planned to climb both of them over a 3 day backpacking trip up the South Fork of Big Pine Creek. I also hoped to add on nearby Mount Gayley (13510 feet) and Temple Crag (12976 feet) if time allowed. I left San Diego early Friday morning and drove about 5 ½ hours to the Big Pine Creek Trailhead. The trailhead is located about 10 miles west of Big Pine at the end of Glacier Lodge Road. This road is paved and drivable for any vehicle. I began hiking at 11:42am from 7656 feet above sea level.
The overnight parking lot is annoyingly located 0.7 mile from the actual trailhead, so I walked on the side of the road past Glacier Lodge to the beginning of the trail.
My plan for day 1 was to hike up the South Fork Trail for a few miles and then proceed cross country towards the base of Mount Sill. The trail went past a few cabins and then crossed Big Pine Creek.
At 1 mile the trail split. I went left on the South Fork Trail.
I hiked southwest up the trail. I could see Middle Palisade and Norman Clyde Peak in the distance.
At 2.2 miles I crossed the creek.
At 2.4 miles I passed the wilderness sign.
The trail then got steeper as it made switchbacks up the side of a hill.
I reached the top of the switchbacks and got a great view of the surrounding peaks. From left to right: Middle Palisade, Norman Clyde Peak, Palisade Crest, Mount Jepson, and Mount Sill.
At 4 miles I left the trail and began heading west towards Sill and Gayley.
I crossed a few streams and had to fight through some minor brush.
I crossed to the north side of the creek and then boulder hopped across talus fields as I followed the course of the water.
The boulder hopping was slow and tedious. Eventually I reached a meadow around 11000 feet. I considered stopping here for the day but decided to press on a bit further.
I climbed above the meadow while staying on the left side of the creek. I had to fight through some dense brush and also got my shoes wet in some marshy terrain. Eventually I found a good spot to camp for the night at 11573 feet. It was only 4:15pm so I had plenty of time to leisurely set up camp and enjoy the pleasant weather. My campsite was located on a small grassy flat on the northeastern slopes of Mount Sill.
Stats for day 1 were 6.61 miles, 4154 feet elevation gain, and 4:31:54 total time.
My plan for day 2 was to climb Mount Sill via the class 4 north couloir and Mount Gayley via the class 3 southwest ridge (also known as the Yellow Brick Road). Sill and Gayley are very close to each other and are separated by a saddle around 13000 feet. I began hiking at 5:34am from 11573 feet above sea level. I had a good view of the two peaks as I climbed above camp. Sill is on the left and Gayley is on the right.
I climbed up talus slopes towards the saddle underneath the impressive northeast face of Sill.
The sun began to rise behind me to the east.
I climbed up to the saddle through a class 3 notch.
At 1.2 miles I reached the saddle at 13151 feet. I turned left towards Mount Sill.
I ran into 2 hikers from the Bay Area at this point. They were attempting to day hike Sill and Gayley which was impressive. They started at 1am and had come up the North Fork. We climbed up the north couloir which we found to be a bit loose but mostly solid.
We soon reached the saddle between Mount Sill and Apex Peak (13800 feet). Apex Peak is a small rocky prominence located northwest of Sill. Just above this saddle is the class 4 crux of the climb. I made my way along a narrow exposed ledge and then climbed up the crux. I found there to be only one difficult move, and I might even consider it high class 3 rather than class 4.
Once above the crux, I turned east and followed the ridge to the summit. I made this a little harder than it needed to be by dropping slightly below the ridge on the south side, but I managed to push through and make it to the top. I reached the summit at 7:48am at 1.7 miles!
I signed the register which had been placed in 2020. The most recent entry was from the previous day. As expected for a 14er, there were many other full register books as well. The 2 other hikers joined me on the summit a few minutes later. Secor wrote in his book that Mount Sill “has the best summit view” in the Sierra, and it was hard to argue that from where I was standing. To the north: Mount Gabb, Mount Humphries, Mount Morgan, and Mount Tom
Mount McGee, Mount Fiske, and Mount Darwin to the northwest:
The iconic North Palisade less than a mile to the west:
Mount Williamson, Mount Keith, Mount Tyndall, and Mount Stanford among others to the south:
Middle Palisade and Split Mountain to the southeast:
I began descending after a nice break. I went more directly down the ridge, and then climbed carefully down the class 4 crux.
Once below the crux, I decided to quickly climb Apex Peak before continuing down the north couloir.
I reached Apex Peak at 8:33am at 2 miles. I had an excellent view of Mount Sill:
I also had a great view of the Palisade Glacier, which is the largest glacier in the Sierra. North Palisade is the peak rising above it on the left.
I descended the north couloir towards the Sill-Gayley saddle. I ran into 2 more hikers near the bottom of the couloir who had also come up via the north fork. They were carrying a rope to rappel the class 4 crux. I reached the saddle at 2.3 miles.
It was about 500 feet of class 2/3 rock to the summit of Gayley.
Previous trip reports indicated that one can follow the “Yellow Brick Road” to the summit. The Yellow Brick Road is the easiest route up the southwest ridge and follows a mostly yellow/orange path through the rock. I found the lower half of the ridge to be trickier. Once I was halfway up, I was able to stay on top of the ridge the rest of the way.
I reached the summit at 9:38am at 2.7 miles! I didn’t sign the register since I was unable to open the metal container. I had an awesome view of Mount Sill and North Palisade to the southwest
Temple Crag to the northeast:
I then descended the southwest ridge back towards the saddle.
I saw the 2 hikers from the bay area again making their way up. I dropped down off the south face of Gayley rather than descend all the way to the saddle. It was still fairly early in the day, so I decided to climb Temple Crag before heading towards Middle Palisade. I descended into the basin between Gayley and Temple and hiked north.
Temple Crag has a few famous rock climbing routes on its north side but also has a class 3 route up its southeast face from Contact Pass. Rather than hike all the way to Contact Pass, I found a shortcut chute that went directly north from near a small unnamed lake.
I had to make a few tricky moves through the chute but eventually made it onto the southeast face. From there it was a talus slog to the top.
I made it to perhaps 50 feet below the summit where I encountered a narrow ridge with 1000 foot drop-offs on each side. There was an exposed step between 2 rocks located a few feet apart. The initial step was a bit higher than the far step. The far step had a flattish landing area, so a “leap of faith” looked relatively safe. However, reversing that move would have required jumping onto a higher step which was small and didn’t have anything to hold onto for balance. It was easy to imagine attempting the jump and tumbling off the other side. I sat there for about 10 minutes and then decided to turn around. I’m not sure I had ever turned around so close to a summit before, but I was confident I had made the correct decision. I’ll have to come back some day with a rope.
Disappointed, I retraced my steps down the southeast face and the shortcut chute.
I reached the bottom of the chute and then hiked south towards my campsite, which I reached at 5.7 miles. My plan for the rest of the afternoon was to get in position for an attempt on Middle Palisade the following day. I descended my route from the previous afternoon, boulder hopping and bushwacking along the creek.
I reached the South Fork Trail at 8.1 miles. I followed it as it made its way southeast towards Brainerd Lake. I soon the left the trail to climb directly south towards Finger Lake. This involved some minor bushwacking and then a steep ascent up a rocky slope.
I reached Finger Lake at 5:20pm. There were many nice campsites on the northern shore. I picked one to set up camp and spent the rest of the evening relaxing and enjoying the amazing scenery.
Stats for day 2 were 9.36 miles, 5262 feet elevation gain, and 11:47:17 total time.
The plan for day 3 was simple – climb Middle Palisade from Finger Lake and then descend to the trailhead. I began hiking at 5:36am from 10792 feet. I crossed the stream at the northern outlet of Finger Lake and then began climbing up rocky benches to the southwest. I descended a small dip and then climbed up a talus slope.
I reached the top of the hill and then side hilled along a right-to-left facing slope. Middle Palisade (left) and Norman Clyde Peak (right) were directly ahead. Norman Clyde Peak is about 150 feet lower and is a stiff class 4 climb.
At 11941 feet I turned southeast and traversed underneath the Middle Palisade Glacier.
Middle Palisade was an impressive sight rising above the glacier.
At 12286 feet I turned southwest and climbed up the rocky moraine that divided the Middle Palisade Glacier in half.
I was able to see the other half of the glacier.
I turned northwest as I reached the base of the red rock route, which is the entrance to the main ascent chute.
The red rocks section was very steep and loose. I reached the top of it and entered the main chute which I would climb for over 1000 feet to the summit.
The chute was long and tiring. It felt more like class 2 up until 13500 feet.
From there it was pretty much sustained class 3 climbing to the top. The rock was solid and there were abundant holds everywhere. Also, there was minimal exposure except near the top.
I reached the summit at 8:37am at 2.3 miles!
I signed the register which had been placed on August 13. The previous entry was from 2 days before by my buddy Marcus. There were 4 other register books which were completely full. They were located inside this cool metal container which was bolted to one of the summit boulders.
The views were spectacular. Mount Gabb, Mount Humphries, Mount Morgan, and Mount Tom to the north:
North Palisade and Mount Sill to the northwest:
Mount Williamson, Mount Keith, Mount Tyndall, Junction Peak, Mount Stanford, and Mount Ericsson to the south:
Split Mountain to the southeast:
I began the descent after a 20 minute break.
I ran into 4 other hikers on their way up at the base of the Red Rocks. 2 of them had camped near me at Finger Lake the night before. I had an excellent view of the lake as I descended.
I reached the lake at 4.3 miles. I packed up my gear and descended to the trail, which I reached at 5 miles. From there, it was an easy descent to the trailhead. I reached the car at 2:12pm. Stats for day 3 were 10.01 miles, 3422 feet elevation gain, and 8:36:03 total time.