A Higher CallingSkiing on the Palisade Glacier
Sierra Nevada, California, USA
In the beginning there were snowshoes.
Then one day in the Palisades the sky opened up and the mountain gods called down to me a deep, booming voice, “You... must... ski... corn...”
I dropped to one knee and cried out, “I believe! I believe!”
From that day onward, my spiritual life revolved around dropping to one knee and an annual pilgrimage to the Palisade Glacier with skis.
No doubt many others share my higher calling. We have all spent many glorious days paying homage to the Corn Gods by ripping turns on the Palisade Glacier.
The Corn FestivalWhen do the devout attend the annual Corn Festival?
Anytime in May or June is fine for me, but I prefer the week before the Memorial Day. The snow conditions are usually perfect then, and I like to have the Palisade Glacier all tracked out for the holiday crowds.
Too early, and it's still full-on winter conditions up there in the Palisades. Too late, and you're skidding across the tops of sun cups and dodging rocks.
Check for local snowpack conditions as they can change dramatically from year to year.
Getting ThereStarting in downtown Bishop, California, along U.S. 395, drive west up Glacier Lodge Road to the Big Pine Creek Trailhead. Follow the North Fork Trail up past First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Lakes to Sam Mack Meadow.
CampingSam Mack Meadow (elevation 11,100 feet) is the usual camping area for the Palisades. However, I don’t care for that spot. Sam Mack Meadow is too small and too fragile to handle the load, in my opinion. Besides, climbing out of that hole every morning to reach the glacier is a real P.I.T.A.
My preferred area for a ski camp is just above the tarn at the toe of the Palisade Glacier (elevation 12,300 feet). It’s a lot more work hauling your gear up that high, but the views and the ease of getting to the glacier are worth it. It’s about 8 miles to Sam Mack Meadow from the trailhead, and it’s another 2-3 to the glacier camp.
SkiingNo matter the conditions on the Palisade Glacier, remember this:
|"There is no such thing as bad snow, only bad skiers."|
I’m a purist. I don’t like tracking up the glacier with anything but turns. So when I’m at the bottom of the glacier, I climb out onto the lateral moraine and ascend there. Besides, it’s usually a lot cooler up on the lateral moraine and the view is so much better.
I’ve never really worried about the crevasses. Ski the glacier, take your chances. The only hole that I worry about is the bergschrund at the bottom of the U-Notch. You had better be in control and in the right spot when you launch over the bergschrund there.
External Links1. Great backcountry skiing videos. "The Dark Side" is a must see for all free-heel and AT skiers. There is also a nice video on sking and snowboarding on the Palisade Glacier, including skiing the U-Notch couloir.
2. A trip report of a ski trip to the Palisades:
Ski Mountaineering in the Palisades, May 2003
3.Spring Corn Camps with the Sierra Mountaeer Center:
4. A trip report to the Palisades Glacier: U & V Notch, Winchell & Gayley
May 22-23, 1999:
Some DefinitionsHere are some definitions of a couple of skiing terms:
Etymology: from Middle French; Middle French rando (tele), from Latin nee (can't), or can't tele
Date: 14th century
1: a ski that someone uses because they can't tele (common usage)
2: some screwed up binding system
Pronunciation: snô bȯrd
Etymology: from Old High German & Greek; Old High German sneow (ski), from Greek bord (can't), or can't ski
Date: Before 12th century
1: a device used by punks who can't ski (common usage)
2: a piece of firewood
3: an oversized skateboard
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