Peak(s):  Palisade Mountain - 8,264 feet
Date Posted:  02/18/2013
Date Climbed:   12/15/2012
Author:  cougar
 Palisade from the Big T  

After driving past Palisade Mountain numerous times on the way to Estes Park, and looking into different routes up, I found out about a route that ascends the steep southern face from Hwy 34. This is a fun class 3+ route that avoids any private land on the back side of the mountain, and is a great foothills rock scramble. However, the route finding can be tricky, and it took two attempts to find the proper route.

The route starts at the Idylewilde Dam in Big Thompson Canyon. Park in the big lot at the dam, then cross the road and walk east a bit along the road's north side - maybe 50-100 yards. Look for a big storm drain gate along the roadside. This is the key to knowing if you're near the base of the correct (easier) rib/ridge to climb. There are other routes and unofficial trails up the south face of the mountain, but these seem to all lead to high class 5 climbs of the Buttresses. If you find a well-cairned route up a gully or somewhere else in the area by the phone lines, you're probably on one of these routes (info on climbingproject). Those will go class 3 for most of the way before hitting the base of the cliffs. The nontechnical route to the summit doesn't have any cairns most of the way.

The class 3 route starts at a gully next to the storm drain. Go through some thick brush, then head east up the steep, grassy hillside. There is a faded trail in spots. The first objective is gaining the open, grassy ridge. This is fairly quick, and you'll end up on a flattish shoulder spot with the ridge/rib to the south. Then the fun starts - a series of scrambling - sections of class 3 (and higher if you choose such lines in spots) that get steeper in sections, then top out on more level areas, some thickly wooded. Keep heading up - there are spots with cracks between the boulders that can be climbed up, and a nice slab which may be above class 3 but is not exposed and has decent holds if you look for them. There also looks to be a way around this on narrow ledges.

Along the way you will see the area from a different perspective.

This was taken while off route but similar views await on route. It also shows the ruggedness of the terrain and the difficulty in getting over to the next rib if you're in the wrong place.
Palisade Mountain and the Big Thompson Canyon from halfway up - taken on first attempt while off route

Eventually the rib tops out and flattens out in a thinly wooded plateau at the edge of some cliffs. Like a canyon rim. The rocks are really cool up here. Head across the plateau a bit through the forest and rim and you'll find cairns. These lead to the summit block - which is split in two halves with a gully between them. There are other unofficial trails up the west and southsides that lead here. The true summit is the western outcropping, and has a huge summit tube with pano photos that have all the peaks you can see labeled.

And some shots of the climbing and route:

getting on steeper terrain





On the descent, the class 3 rib can be bypassed by descending along the east side of the ridge, but the bushwhacking can be thick in spots. Don't go too far east - there is some sort of marked trail (tree ribbons and faint trail) that you can take a way, but eventually it looks to lead into a valley about a mile east and some old jeep road, so turn right once you've rounded the rougher part of the rib. Most of the route, you can see the road and where you parked. If you come back across a gully, traverse it instead of descending. Watch your footing on the dead pine needles as they can be very slippery, especially when piled up on rocks.

I found a route description for this on everytrail but didn't find the gully at the top of the rib that was mentioned, and it didn't matter.
This was a fun route in the foothills, is south facing and usually dry, and good climbing practice in a couple miles. It's also ~2000 ft of elevation gain in ~1.5 miles and requires substantial route finding. Be careful finding a line for your skills as as couple of people have died on these slopes in recent years.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Deaths and cactus
02/19/2013 20:43
Good stuff on a good mountain with a cool profile from the East. I remember picking out cactus needles from my skin for weeks, though, so hopefully you had better gloves!

Was wondering if you had a source for this:
”Be careful finding a line for your skills as as couple of people have died on these slopes in recent years” -- curious about that?


02/20/2013 02:41
yes, lots of cactus, but it's kind of like acupuncture

A man from Kentucky died up there in 2008 near the area I got off-route on. I think another man from TX also died up there a year before or after (this may have been the same incident, but I thought that man was in his 70s), and there have been a couple other rescues. Not surprising given the terrain and where those cairns lead. Several local news outlets reported this - not many details though. Larimer Co. SAR lists most of the incidents.


scary, thanks
02/20/2013 04:16
Interesting and sad, thanks, hadn't heard about those and forgot to check LCSAR directly -- good resource

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