Middle Palisade lies in the center of the highest continuous ridge along the Sierra Crest, stretching 10 miles from Mt. Agassiz in the north to Cardinal Mtn in the south (between Bishop and Taboose passes). This ridge includes seven of the California 14ers and some of the finest climbing in the Sierras. This region was the center of Norman Clyde's adventures, with the summit of Middle Palisade visible from his cabin on the Big Pine Creek.
Climbs on the northeast side are the most commonly used, originating from the South Fork, Big Pine Creek TH. The Middle Palisades Glacier lies on this side, an immense span of snow and ice that is split in two by a moraine attached to the Northeast Face. All routes on this side except the Northeast Face will require crossing the glacier which can be difficult in summers following dry winters. Note that for the standard route on the NE Face which uses a class 2 ramp at the start, a small portion of the upper glacier must be crossed to access the start. The southwest side of Middle Palisade has a number of generally snow-free routes, but they are notoriously loose and difficult.
Another option, difficult but rewarding, is the class 4 traverse from Disappointment
Peak. A fine loop can be made in climbing both of these peaks from the north side of the crest.
Take US395 to Big Pine. Drive west on the Glacier Lodge Rd to the end. Overnight parking is clearly marked, and lies furthest from the trailhead, just before the pack station. Dayhikers can drive to the end of the road and park in any of the appropriately marked spaces.
Overnight permits are required and quotas for the South Fork of Big Pine Creek are in effect from May 15 to September 15. The South Fork is far less popular than the North Fork trail, so getting permits is not usually a problem.
Everything you need to know about permits and regulations can be found on the Eastern Sierra - Logisitcal Center page.
May to October are the usual climbing months. Early in the year there is much snow (and considerably more gear to carry).
Camping is allowed in most places of the SEKI and John Muir Wildernesses that surround Middle Palisade. For east-north approaches, there are two excellent camp locations within easy reach of Middle Palisade. The lower (and nicer) location is at the mouth of Finger Lake. There are some nice levelled pad areas on the east side of the creek, about 30 feet above the lake level. Further up, about 400 feet above the inlet to Finger Lake is a small bench with level areas and a source of water. No trees or other protection from the elements up here, but you have a grand view of the Middle Palisade Glacier and the surrounding peaks.
"The Palisades were named by the Brewer party of the Whitney Survey in 1864. '... along the Main crest of the Sierra, is a range of peaks, from 13,500 to 14,000 feet high, which we called "the Palisades." ... they were very grand and fantastic in shape.' (Whitney, Geology, 393.)
The first ascent of the Middle Palisades was made on August 26, 1921, by Francis P. Farquhar and Ansel F. Hall. 'With a shout we greeted the summit as its first visitors. ... The summit of the mountain is an extremely narrow knife-edge. We had to use great care in moving about, as there were many large blocks just poised on the brink.' (SCB 11, no. 3, 1922: 268)"
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada