Mount Gayley is a significant mountain in its own right, and strategically placed near some of the best and highest mountains in California. As such, it provides an awesome “warm up” for some bigger endeavors in the Palisade Range. It offers fun Class 3 scrambling from the east side or the west, more difficult routes on the North face, or one summit in a series on an awesome traverse. However you get to the top, the summit provides incredible views of one of the most intimate and styling climbing playgrounds (Palisades bowl) I have ever experienced.
East side approach: From 395 at Big Pine head east on Glacier Lodge Road to the hiker’s parking lot, located on the right side before the road ends. Detailed road and trailhead information can be found here: Eastern Sierra - Logistical Center
Begin at the North Fork Trailhead of Big Pine Creek. Follow the North Fork trail west and then north up the watershed of North Fork Big Pine Creek. If you start from the hiker’s lot, continue on the upper trail, but you will notice another trail lower down by the creek that eventually joins the upper trail. The trail follows the creek past First, Second, and Third Lakes, the second lake offering great views of Temple Crag and a worthwhile place to take a breather. Follow the trail about one mile past Third Lake to a junction marked with a wooden sign. One trail continues toward the higher lakes (Lakes Five-Seven), the other toward Sam Mack Meadow. Take the glacier trail across a meadow and stream and head up a broad gully that leads to Sam Mack Meadow.
From Sam Mack Meadow, cross the stream and head southeast up to the top of a ridge on a well defined use trail (when the snow has melted), then curving slightly left following the ridge to avoid rubble piles from the glacier moraine, then veer right up some slabs marked with cairns to reach Gayley Camp. The West Face of Mt. Gayley will be on your left prominently. When snow covers this area, a more direct route over the moraine will save time reaching Gayley camp.
From Gayley Camp, traverse the Palisade Glacier on the east side for about a third of a mile, then cut up a snow tongue (earlier in the season) or rubble slope and up a 100 ft. class 3 section, to the Glacier Notch, the saddle between Mt. Gayley and Mt. Sill. Be careful of loose rocks in this section. Later in the season you may need to navigate around the bergschrund.
A wilderness permit is required for overnight trips with quotas in effect from May 1 to November 1. You can get a permit at any of the ranger stations in Lee Vining, Bishop and Lone Pine. For more information and online registration, check out the US Forest Service website for Inyo National Forest. Advance reservations are required and permits may be reserved six months in advance. Campfires are not allowed at Sam Mack. Leave No Trace!
When To Climb
Year round with varying difficulty depending on the season.
Information on mountain conditions may be found here or call (760) 873-2400.
Mount Galey is named after a popular English professor, Charles Miles Gayley, who taught at Berkeley from 1889-1923. The origin of the name Gayley may come from the Gaelic geal, light, and -ly may come from the Anglo-Saxon leah, a piece of ground, whence our lea, a meadow. If so, the name Gayley, i.e., Gealy, signifies a light open place, such as a meadow.