OverviewDisappointment Peak lies at the far southeastern end of the Palisades, less than 300 yards from Middle Palisade along a fantastically serrated stretch of the Sierra Crest. The peak stands less than a hundred feet lower than its more famous neighbour, denying it the coveted title of 14er--but the peak's failure to reach this artificial numerical status is just enough to keep the crowds away. Whereas Middle Palisade sees several parties over a typical summer weekend, Disappointment Peak receives fewer than this over the course of a whole year.
The relative inattention paid to this peak is reflected even in its early climbing history. The first ascensionists intended to make the first ascent of Middle Pal, but ended up on Disappointment Peak by mistake. The peak's name derives from their feelings when they realised they were separated from their intended destination by seemingly unclimbable cliffs. It would be another twenty years before David Brower found a route through these cliffs, and led a party over to Middle Palisade. Interestingly, the first ascent party on Middle Palisade (Francis Farquhar and Ansel Hall) made the same mistake a couple of years after that first ascent of Disappointment, but showed more persistence in descending from Disappointment Peak to finally climb the right mountain.
But while Disappointment Peak is often overshadowed by Middle Palisade and the spectacular and beautiful Norman Clyde Peak further north along the same ridgeline, it is well worth a visit in its own right. The peak has a reputation for being one of the harder climbs on the SPS List, class 4 by its easiest route, with the simplest approach requiring negotiation of a bergschrund atop the Middle Palisade Glacier, and much loose, exposed climbing to reach the summit. Thus, rather than disappointment, the feeling upon reaching the summit these days is likely to be one of satisfaction at climbing one of the more challenging and rarely climbed peaks in the Sierra.
Routes OverviewTraverse from Balcony Peak, class 4. This is probably the quickest and easiest approach to Disappointment Peak. From the summit of Balcony Peak (Peak 4220m+/13,840ft+, 0.1mi SE of Disappointment Peak), descend to the east and traverse across the peak's north face (easy but exposed) to the notch south of Disappointment, from where the summit is a class 3 scramble. Please refer to the route page for details. Variation: Rather than traversing across the north face of Balcony Peak, Secor suggests heading south and descending a narrow chute (blocked by a chockstone) that leads to the southwest chute of Disappointment Peak. A number of strong climbers have descended this route, and reported some intricate climbing to negotiate some of the ostensibly class 4 (low class 5) moves; some people may want a rope here. This is a harder alternative to traversing Balcony's north face.
Traverse to/from Middle Palisade, class 4. A traverse along the crest of the ridge between Disappointment and Middle Pal is reportedly 5.6, with one or more rappels encountered along the way. By dropping down from the crest and crossing several ribs and chutes low on the northeast side of the ridge, the traverse can be kept to mostly class 3 with a couple of class 4 sections.
Other scrambles. Several couloirs on the peak are also class 4 and have been climbed: Northeast Couloir, Doug's Chute, and the Southwest Chute; please see Secor's book for details. These routes all eventually lead to the notch south of the summit. Some of these chutes are extremely loose; Doug's Chute has been described as being "more akin to climbing vertical seashells than rock."
Technical routes. The West Face is rated IV, 5.10, A2, and was first climbed by Galen Rowell and Dan Frankl in 1986. It seems doubtful it's been climbed many times since then.
Getting ThereThe peak is most easily approached out of the Glacier Lodge/Big Pine Creek trailhead, several miles west of Big Pine; see the Eastern Sierra logistical page for details.
For eastern approaches to the peak (i.e., traverses from Balcony Peak and Middle Palisade, Doug's Chute, and the Northeast Couloir), follow the same approach as for Middle Palisade's NE Face. In short, follow the South Fork trail up to its end at Brainerd Lake. An easy cross-country hike south up slabs leads to the drainage above Finger Lake and then the Middle Palisade Glacier at the base of the peak. It is also possible to leave the trail before Brainerd Lake and follow a use trail up to Finger Lake, but while this is shorter distance-wise, it involves more difficult cross-country travel and is somewhat more time-consuming.
Western approaches to the peak from the vicinity of Palisade Lakes (i.e., the Southwest Couloir) are most quickly reached via Southfork Pass. This is a difficult cross-country pass of some notoriety, and is reached by the same South Fork trail. Please consult Secor's book for details.
Mountain Conditions, Red Tape, etc.The peak lies along the boundary of the John Muir Wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park, and is subject to all the usual wilderness red tape. See the Eastern Sierra logistical page for details about red tape and current conditions.
When To ClimbThe peak is most commonly climbed during the summer months, typically June through October. The bergschrund on the approach to Balcony Peak may be most easily climbed or avoided in early through mid-season. It was easily negotiated in August 2005 (a heavy snow year), but could be more problematic late in the season of a dry year.
CampingBrainerd and Finger Lakes are popular camping spots for climbs of Middle Palisade and Disappointment Peak. Finger Lake is particularly scenic.
Etymology"Named by J. Milton Davies, A. L. Jordan, and H. H. Bliss when they made the first ascent on July 29, 1919. In a can they left a note reading: 'The undersigned made a first ascent of this peak this day and were disappointed not to find it the highest point of the Middle Palisade. We hereby christen this summit "Peak Disappointment."' (SCB 11, no. 3, 1922: 266.)"
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada