I planned an early trip to the Palisades Glacier, you can check out my planned trip here. Unfortunately, we did not make it up to the Palisades Glacier, we only made it to Second Lake due to a snow storm over the Sierra Nevadas.
A map of our actual trip can be found here, and below is an image:
Our entire trip ended up being just under 5 miles up and 5 miles down. According to Caltopo, our distance up was 4.74 miles up and 4.75 miles down with 2887 feet in elevation gain on the way up:
The hike up to Second Lake I didn't feel was terrible at all. We had gear and food packed for two nights, and the slope as you can see in the profile image above is nothing crazy. With that said it is about 5 miles, all uphill but nothing crazy.
We started our hike at the hiker parking lot just off Glacier Lodge road, which you can find here on Google Maps. On our drive up from southern California, we picked up our overnight permits at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitors Center.
The trail out of the hiker parking lot is very well maintained, and as I said earlier is a very slight incline and will not completely destroy your quads as you hike up into the mountains. As we started our hike, we could see the snow off in the distance, but our immediate trail at this time was bare of snow.
The first part of the hike is beautiful and give you some stunning views up the valleys to your left as you slowly climb. The hike starts out in the open, with pretty much zero shade, so this could get hot in the summer months with the sun beating down on you.
As you approach the first big waterfall, you will encounter your first switchbacks with your first significant gain in elevation and head into the forest.
As we headed into the forest, we started to experience small patches of snow which led to larger and larger patches. Nothing was overwhelming, and they all seem pretty well traveled, so there no issues attempting to find the trail as we headed up.
While we were hiking up, we experienced flurries, in and out and the sky behind us slowly got darker and darker as the storm slowly moved in. Visibility stayed clear, and we continued up until we reached First Lake, at this time the flurries changed to snow and we decided to look for a spot to hunker down for the night and see what conditions were like in the morning for the push to the Palisades Glacier.
We found a couple promising spots to bed down near First Lake but the snow wasn't too bad, so we decided to push just a little further to Second Lake, and ended up finding a nice small spot with some boulders that would help block the wind.
My buddy and I both had bivies for the night and decided to set up my Hyperlite Mountain Gear Tarp for some added protection from the snow as it slowly picked up. If there was one lesson I learned from this trip, it was that I need more practice setting up my bivy.
Once we finished setting up camp, I watched as the clouds got thicker and darker and the snow picked up even more. I sat and looked across Second Lake at the route up toward the Palisades Glacier as the clouds started to engulf it.
As luck would have to there was a nice small protected cave, that was just big enough to sit in and eat dinner and change into some different clothes for bedtime. This was nice, as we set the tarp up pretty low just in case winds picked up in the middle of the night, so there wasn't much room for anything else other than sleeping under the tarp.
During the night we could hear ice creaking, I am assuming it was coming from the lakes but really not 100% sure; It was only a little creepy. There was a pretty full moon out, but the cloud cover was thick from the storm so I never really found the moon, but it was surprisingly bright out at night. It snowed all through the night, and I had to adjust one of the lines we had on our tarp, but the Hyperlight Mountain Gear tarp was an absolute champ in the snow. With two people under it and inside bivies, I never woke up cold and my water bottle under the tarp also never froze.
In the morning we woke up to a winter wonderland. This is out camp after brushing a lot of the snow of the tarp as we got out from underneath.
Looking around, back up toward our climb the conditions did not look to promising. The snow was falling heavier and heavier by the minute, and visibility was diminishing quickly. If we were to continue onto the Palisades Glacier, we would have had to climb about another 2,000 feet. Assuming the storm would be worse and that it would be much colder, we made the disappointing call to turn around and not make the push to the Palisades Glacier.
As we retraced our steps and headed back down to the parking lot, visibility got better the more we descended, but it snowed pretty much the entire hike down.
The hike down was almost an entirely new hike despite taking the same trail out that we took in. Overnight snow had blanketed the surrounding areas and turned them into a winter wonderland. As we neared the parking lot, we could look down the valley and see where the rain slowly turned to snow!
The hike back was all downhill, and we didn't stop for snacks or to just rest, our only stops for quick ones while I shot some pictures. We made it down in record time and were a little tired a disappointed not having had reached the Palisades Glacier. We probably could have pushed through the storm and came out ok, but I would rather be safe than sorry and think we made the right call. I am looking forward to another opportunity to hike up to these beautiful lakes and make the push to the Palisades Glacier.
Some of the Gear I brought