Palisades Traverse – Thunderbolt to Sill

Climb the Palisades Ridge from Thunderbolt Peak to Mount Sill, tagging five iconic 14,000+ foot Sierra peaks, with a high bivouac on the ridge. One of our signature guided summer alpine programs! We only offer it on a custom private basis, so click HERE to request a custom program reservation and get more information.


Palisades Traverse - Thunderbolt to Sill

High bivy on North Pal

High bivy on North Pal

Palisades Traverse

The Palisades are the most rugged and “alpine” ridge on the Sierra crest. The complete Palisades region spans from Taboose Pass in the South, up over Split Mountain (once called South Palisade) to the mighty peaks like Mt. Sill and North Palisade that cradle the Palisade Glacier, the largest glacier in the Sierra, and on to the north to Bishop Pass.  This area has a rich and storied climbing and guiding history. The Palisades have inspired climbers since Joseph Le Conte’s first visionary ascent of North Palisade in 1903 and on to the golden age of climbing there in the 1930’s, led by the great Norman Clyde. In 1959, the first guide service, called Mountain Guide Service, (as Sierra Mountain Guides you may be able to see why we love the simplicity of that name) was opened and located its primary operations in the North Fork of Big Pine Creek, the eastern access point to the Palisade Glacier and surrounding peaks. Eventually that guide service became the Palisade School Of Mountaineering (PSOM) run by the likes of Smoke Blanchard and the recently departed legendary guide John Fischer. SMG guides have in recent years continued to climb and guide new variations in the Palisades to discover new ways to appreciate these spectacular mountains and to feel a sense of connection to the feelings that the pioneering climbers may have experienced long ago. Whenever we go to the Palisades we consider ourselves part of a special tradition and spirit of Sierra mountaineering cultivated for over a century. We hope you will enjoy experiencing the Palisades with us.

On this intensive 4-day trip, we plan to climb several of the ranges breathtaking peaks using skills and equipment for high-end alpinism, and including a bivouac at 14,000 feet. This means that the kit needs to be lightweight, compact, and dialed. Alpine climbing and ultralight camping skills need to be honed, and fitness must be excellent. If we have to elaborate on this too much for you to comprehend it, then we recommend you try an easier itinerary before setting your sights on this high altitude ridge traverse. We offer this program on a custom private basis only with a recommended guiding ratio of 1:1 and a maximum ratio of 2:1. The best time of year is early summer, when there is some snow left on the ridge for melting.

We also offer the Palisades Traverse from either the east or the west, based upon your preference. The eastern approach is the classic, and arguably more spectacular, way to go – but it requires use of crampons and ice axes. It also requires carrying heavier packs on a longer approach, unless you commission our porters. If you want to climb the classic Swiss Arête on Mt. Sill then we can arrange to climb from the east, and in the reverse direction of Sill to Thunderbolt. Generally, Thunderbolt to Sill is the preferred direction however. The western approach may allow opportunity to leave crampons and ice axes behind (depending on conditions and timing) and to climb in comfortable approach shoes. Either way, this is an epic 4-days. The Palisades Traverse has become one of our specialties and one of our favorite alpine guiding outings in the range.


TRIP ITINERARY: Palisades Traverse
DAY 1 Meet early morning at the SMG office in Bishop. Gear check and final packing. Hike 7+ miles with 4600+ ft. of elevation gain to camp at Thunderbolt Glacier Camp, or alternatively hike over Bishop Pass, across Dusy Basin to a high camp near Thunderbolt Col.
DAY 2 Ascend Thunderbolt Peak, Starlight Peak, and North Palisade, to a bivy just below the summit of the latter peak.
DAY 3 Descend to U-notch and up Polemonium Peak. Traverse to Mt. Sill and descend/traverse back to high camp
DAY 4 Hike back to the trailhead.


  • AMGA trained and/or certified SMG alpine guide
  • Group camping and cooking equipment
  • Breakfasts and dinners
  • Wilderness permits and permit fees


  • Prior multiday alpine climbing experience
  • Prior multi-pitch rock climbing experience to 5.9, and comfortable climbing up to 5.9 at altitude with a pack
  • Prior experience using crampons and ice axe on steep snow of up to 45 degrees in steepness (if itinerary demands)
  • Excellent physical fitness and stamina


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