Hiking Mt Gayley

Notes by piero scaruffi | Travel resources | Other California destinations | Other California trails
Pictures of the hikes

The Palisades region of the Sierra Nevada is located west of the town of Big Pine. It includes some of the highest mountains in California, including Mt Gayley (4117 m).

The easiest approach to Mt Gayley for a day hike is from the South Fork trailhead west of Big Pine via Glacier Notch.

This South Fork trail starts at the Glacier Lodge (2300m) and reaches Willow Lake in 6.5 km at 2900m of elevation. You don't see the trail because the pass is above it, and there's a forest in between. The trail then descends into the valley and reaches a fork. Turn right at the sign following the direction for Willow Lake, but don't go down to the lake. Cairns can be confusing. Head west up the drainage of the Big Pine/ South Fork creek. The trail ends right way.

The nicest way to coast the South Fork creek up from Willow Lake is to stay on its southern side, after crossing the tributaries coming down from the southern peaks. A use-trails appears and disappears on that side. The northern side of the Gayley creek is all talus rock, but the route is easier to follow (so probably the best option in the dark). At the second southern canyon you should reach a little pond and then a vast meadow. This is a good point to cross over to the northern side of the creek, where a use trail leads through the now sandy terrain (steep and sandy) up the drainage.

Head west all the way past the waterfall. The use trail on the northern side leads to the lake below the Sill glacier. This is a bowl with many little ridges. It is best to coast it to the right (north) to avoid going up and down all the time. Basically, this popular use-trail heads for Mt Gayley and continues west up the saddle between Mt Sill and Mt Gayley.

That saddle is Glacier Notch. If there is no snow/ice, this saddle is a steep ascent on loose scree. As you approach it, you should notice a diagonal groove. Climb that groove until it gets too steep. Then look to the left and you should find easier ways to climb Glacier Notch.

Once on top of Glacier Notch, Mt Sill is towering to your left and Gayley's southwest ridge is to your right.

There is an easier way to get to the base of Gayley: several of the chutes to the right of the use-trail lead to it. So there is no need to go all the way to Glacier Notch.

These chutes are particularly helpful on the way down: getting down from Glacier Notch through its slippery chimneys is not fun. Much better to use any of these.

If you take the ridge from Glacier Notch, you will have to do some serious class-3 rock climbing. There is an easier way, the so called "Yellow Brick Road" that is mostly class 2. I suggest you take it from this point (right of the cube), which is about on a straight line between the point where you enter Glacier Notch and the summit:

The start of the Yellow Brick Road:

  • Bridge: 30'
  • Pass to Willow Lake: 1h45'
  • Second canyon (the Palisade Crest drainage) at the meadow: 2h45'
  • Third canyon (Elinore Lake canyon): 3h30'
  • Sill glacier: 5h30'
  • Top of Glacier Notch: 6h
  • Summit: 7h

View from Mt Gayley (2012)
View from Mt Gayley (2018)


Pictures of this hike
View from Mt Gayley
Hiking California