North Palisade is the third highest mountain in the Sierra Nevada range of California. It is the highest peak of the Palisades group of peaks in the central part of the range. It sports a small glacier (the Palisade Glacier) and several highly prized rock climbing routes on its northeast side.
North Palisade has a collection of names from the 19th century. The Wheeler Survey referred to it as Northwest Palisade in 1878. The following year, Lil Winchell called it Dusy's Peak after local rancher Frank Dusy. In 1895, Bolton Brown advocated yet another name, after David Starr Jordan. U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein, supported by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, has introduced legislation to rename the peak as "Brower Palisade", in honor of environmentalist David Brower. There is significant opposition to this proposal.
The first ascent was made on July 25, 1903 by James S. Hutchinson, Joseph Nisbet LeConte and James K. Moffitt. They approached the area overland from south of The Palisades, and scouted possible routes from the summits of Marion Peak and Mount Sill. Armed with this intelligence, they planned to ascend the southwest chute of the U Notch, and find a way to bypass the rock face between the notch and the upper reaches of North Palisade. Around 13,100 feet (4,000 m), they followed a northward branch of this chute, and slowly climbed a difficult system of cracks. From here they found a catwalk ledge that took them to a series of icy gullies, bound toward the summit. These gullies were blocked by a pair of chockstones, requiring class 4 moves to pass. Beyond these obstacles, they crested the southeast ridge, and climbed a series of granite blocks to the summit.
North Palisade has several named subsidiary peaks (nearby peaks which have less than 300 ft (91 m) of topographic prominence). These all lie on the main ridge crest, and are as follows:
- Polemonium Peak, 14,080+ ft (4,292+ m). Prominence of 160 feet (49 m). This lies between the "U-Notch" and "V-Notch" couloirs (popular snow/ice climbs), 0.15 mi (0.25 km) east-southeast of North Palisade. Named on the USGS topographic map. The peak is named for the Polemonium eximium skypilot (plant) found in the area.
- Starlight Peak, 14,200 feet (4,328 m). Prominence of 80 feet (24 m). This is the northwest summit of North Palisade, less than 0.1 mi (0.15 km) from the main summit. Some climbing routes end atop this peak known for its famous "Milk Bottle", a 20 ft (6.1 m) pillar of rock with huge exposure (class 5.6).
- Thunderbolt Peak, 14,003 feet (4,268 m). Prominence of 223 feet (68 m). About 0.25 mi (0.4 km) northwest of North Palisade. Named on the USGS topographic map. The Sierra Club guidebook notes: "This was the last 14,000 foot (4,267 m) peak to be climbed in the Sierra. During a wild storm on the first ascent, a bolt of lightning left Jules Eichorn severely shaken; hence the name".