West Palisades

April 27-30, 2001

  Southfork Pass
David Schneider presents... Southfork Pass (from the east; hidden on the right side)
There are places in the Sierra that grow on you. Landscapes rich with subtlety, hidden wonders that speak to you in gentle tones. The Palisades are not that kind of place. Here, basins and lakes are flanked by towering cliffs in almost every direction, some reaching above 14000'. This is the Sierra at its most dramatic.

On Friday morning (well, just before noon), David, Andy, and I started up the Bishop Pass trail. This trailhead and its destinations are known for their popularity, which explains why we saw about 10 other people along our route, about a half-dozen more than we usually encounter on a typical crest ski tour. We camped at the Timberline Tarns, an easy 4 miles in.

After that, it was just us and some occasional ski tracks. We got an 8AM start and cruised over Bishop Pass into Dusy Basin, over Thunderbolt Pass, taking lunch overlooking Palisade Basin, and then to the lip of Potluck Pass, which we kick-stepped our way down (and occasionally through). Andy found a nice wind-protected hollow for camping, as David made the bold prediction that the weather, increasingly wintry, would clear overnight.

  Bob descends Big Pine Creek
Bob pausing on the descent of South Fork Big Pine Creek
Day 3 was sunny and warm, as we set off from camp to ascend Mt. Sill. We left skis 500' or so below the summit and punched steps from there. The top of Sill is said to have the best view in the Sierra (I'd also nominate the summit of Goddard). Aside from being a perfect perch to view the spectacular North Palisade group, Sill offers a panorama that stretches from Whitney southwards, to Ritter and Banner to the north. From here, we could recognize all of California's fourteeners except for Russell (which may have been visible), Muir, Langley, and Shasta.

Our descent back to camp was the probably the best of the trip. Then, we packed up and navigated our way over Cirque Col, dropping carefully between cliff bands down to our final camp at Palisade Lakes.

Day 4 was another full day, popping over the steep Southfork Pass, and skiing the increasingly deep slush down until it ended at cactus level, a mile or so uphill from Glacier Lodge. We took off our skis, took an exciting leap across Big Pine Creek, and trudged the rest of the way down to the trailhead.

-Bob Akka, 5/1/01

Route info and more photos on the West Palisades main page