TRIP REPORT: Norman Clyde Peak – Northeast Ridge
Norman Clyde Peak has a huge striking arete and summit pinnacle. It’s visible from Temple Crag and is found along the Palisade Traverse. However, it doesn’t get that much traffic as it’s a long approach and stiff scrambling. I found this trip to be a solid day effort. It could be more pleasant as an overnighter.
I’ve had this peak on my mind since I was a park ranger at Devils Postpile and gave campfire talks about Norman Clyde. It was good to finally get a day on my own in these wild and beautiful mountains as I climbed the Northeast Ridge of Norman Clyde Peak.
Difficulty: 4th class Grade III
Distance: 18 miles
Summit: 13,691 feet
Trailhead: South Fork of Big Pine Creek
The day use parking for the North and South fork of Big Pine Creek trails are the same. Shortly after crossing a bridge over the North Fork Big Pine Creek, near a tumbling waterfall, you will see signs pointing you to the north fork or south fork trail. Take the south fork trail and cross the rest of the open space slowly gaining elevation. Eventually, the trail will cross a creek and begin to switchback to gain elevation to the first of the alpine basins. Continue on the trail until you get to Brainerd Lake. From here skirt the north side of the lake to and begin gaining slabs to Finger Lake. From this upper lake you can begin to aim towards Norman Clyde. There will be talus walking and may be snow depending on the time of year you approach.
As you walk up from Finger Lake, you will want to aim for the saddle that connects to the prominent ridge up Norman Clyde. I gained the ridge before it dips to the back of the drainage. This worked, but as I walked the saddle, I noticed what looked like a well-traveled path descending right down the center of the saddle to the back of this basin. So that may be a good option too.
This was about 7 miles on the approach, but felt longer.
A note on navigation:
I try to add details where I think things might be confusing. I’m not a fan of sharing GPS tracks as I think it’s important to find the route that matches the terrain and group in that moment.
It pays to practice. Two other climbers hiked faster than me on the trail but continuously ended up behind me off trail. After about the 4th time this happened one of them said, “Well we might hike faster, but you are a lot smarter”. They followed me until our paths parted for our different objectives.
I was by myself and climbed the 4th class route to the summit. I had always heard that this peak has some hard 4th class. I had hoped to find this was a bit exaggerated. It wasn’t. I wouldn’t say that any of the climbing was harder than 4th class. But it’s an exposed 4th class that had a lot of slabs and not many large ledges. So, if you were to slip, you don’t have a lot of chance to stop yourself from falling 1,000 feet to the glacier.
It’s easy to end up in 5th class climbing and you must weave back and forth a bit across the face to find the path of least resistance. In general, I was 50-200 feet from the prominent firebird ridge as I climbed.
It was an engaging and fun scramble. Once I gained the final ridge it’s a short traverse to the true summit.
After summiting, you descend the same way you climbed. Keep this in mind as you are climbing up. Often things are easier to climb up than they are to downclimb. I brought a rope, just for this reason. It gave me the safety net; I could rappel if the downclimbing was too hard or if I needed to bail.
In total this was about a 18-mile day
- 30 meter rope
- A few nuts
- Webbing for rappel anchors
- Rappel system
- Alpine harness
I’m going to be honest; I don’t recommend climbing this route. I would recommend climbing Firebird Ridge 5.9 with a partner and a rope, and then descend the Northeast Ridge of Norman Clyde Peak. The ridge would offer better and more sustained climbing. You would be on a rope and protected a heck of a lot more. I also think the ridge would feel more worth the long approach.
Either way this mountain is for intermediate and advanced rock climbers and peak baggers.
The palisades are far into the backcountry and require good navigation, rope skills, and often snow travel. If you don’t bring a rope, you should have enough experience to nail all the navigation and technical downclimbing.
If you want to feet more confident and competent on these big mountain missions, check out my strength and endurance bootcamps and mountain skills training and resources!