The Palisade Glacier descends from the flanks of four mountain peaks over 14,000 ft and is situated in a bowl geologists call a cirque. What makes it a glacier and not simply a snowfield is that it is moving. In this case, it is moving about 20 feet a year. The large crevasse, called a bergschrund, is clearly visible across the bases of the mountains. This is where the glacier separates from the upper snow of the mountains and begins moving. The glacier was at its maximum between 250 and 170 years ago. Currently, it is about .8 miles wide and .5 miles tall. It is currently in a retreating phase, although it has gained significant mass since the drought of 1977.
Our company took Friday off in honor of the 4th of July weekend, so after a lunch meeting on Thursday, I set out toward the Eastern Sierras. I was hoping to see the Palisade Glacier the next morning. By late afternoon I was catching up on phone calls and emails in Lone Pine. By 8:00 pm, I was following Big Pine Creek into the mountains, approaching the trailhead. All the campgrounds were full, but I was able to find a turn-off where I could set up my rooftop tent and turn in for the night.
5:00 am: Starting Out Toward the Palisade Glacier
After a great night’s sleep, I was up at 5:00 am and on the trail just after 5:30 am. As I climbed out of the valley, the sun turned the mountains brilliant orange. Spectacular. “I am so pumped for today!” I told myself out loud. Last week’s adventure to Mount Julius Caesar was pretty tough. By comparison, today should be pretty easy, I thought to myself.
I made my way up to Pine Lake, which was absolutely beautiful. And as always, Temple Crag was massive. It’s the centerpiece of the lake basin in this area. You can’t help but look at it and just be in awe. From above the lake I could see the drainage that leads up the right side of the crag. On the other side is the Palisade Glacier. I still had a lot of elevation left to gain.
As I went around the backside of Temple Crag and made my way up above the lakes, it was just a beautiful day where you could see back down into those perfect turquoise lakes.
Eventually, I made my way up to the headwaters of Pine Creek, which was just this gentle running brook through a beautiful alpine meadow. I took a short break, sitting on a stone in the middle of the water, soaking it all in. It was simply a dreamy day.
The trail eventually disappeared into a large slope of talus on the flanks of Mount Gayley. Fortunately, there were a lot of cairns along the way so it was pretty hard to lose the route. The route turned into bigger and bigger talus until it finally ended on a ridge that overlooked the Palisade Glacier.
And as I expected, it was truly awe-inspiring and huge. A ridgeline of 14ers – Mount Sill, Polemonium Peak, North Palisade, Starlight Peak, and Thunderbolt Peak – towers over the glacier bowl. It is hard to put into words how beautiful this place is.
I took a break to take it all in, then headed back down the mountain.
I got back to the car about 2:00 pm and was home by 7:30 pm. It was a really quick trip, but worth it. So many Southern California hikers stay in the Southern California mountains. I don’t think many people realize how close the Eastern Sierras are.
I love the SOCAL mountains, but they are mostly dry and featureless. When you’re in the Sierras in the middle of big granite walls, roaring creeks, waterfalls, alpine meadows, and big pine trees – it’s another world. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. And it’s so close to us.
I want to encourage you, if you haven’t been to the Palisade Glacier or to the Big Pine Creek area, you’ve got to go. You will not be disappointed.