Northeast Couloir AI 2 4th Class

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North Peak

High Sierra, California USA

Trip Report
(Right) North Couloir of North Peak (AI2) (Photo TR)
Saturday August 17, 2013 3:18am
Sean following the 3rd Pitch. These bulges were fun.
Sean following the 3rd Pitch. These bulges were fun.
Credit: PellucidWombat

Seeing as this route is in the new SuperTopo guide, where I felt not enough emphasis was given to the fact that what makes this route a great (ice) climb are timing the conditions right, here is an example!

September 25, 2010

A casual alpine ice climbing outing in the High Sierra near Yosemite. Sean Hermany and I climbed the N Couloir of North Peak and found the route to be fully in! Ice was just challenging enough, but not too hard. There was another team that forced their way past us (they simuled past me as I led P1, then stopped to pitch out the rest of the climb once above), so that was annoying and dangerous.

This climb is a relatively straightforward snow and neve solo for most of the year, and a ski descent well into summer, but if you catch it just right in the Fall before the winter storms come, you can catch it in the coveted condition as a dark sheen of bullet-proof ice. In this condition, real alpine ice is much harder to climb than water ice of the same angle. In this respect, 40-50 degree alpine ice feels to me to be more on par with WI3.

Alpenglow on the north side of North Peak. You can see the Left Couloir #1, Middle Couloir (?) and the Right North Couloir.

The ice climbing couloirs of North Peak

Left Couloir #1

Middle Couloir looking a little dirty and not too icy.

Middle couloir and our objective: The (right) North Couloir

The (right) North Couloir. The ice section is about 500-600 ft long.

Roped and ready to start climbing neve at the start of the North Couloir. (by Sean Hermany)

Getting cut off on the first pitch. The guy climbed past me as I placed my screw, then he placed his on the next patch over before heading up the line. He stopped to begin pitching it out just behind the corner here, and I got to eat his ice while leading the rest of the climb.

The follower in the simul-climbing party that cut us off before they slowed down and pitched out the climb.

Sean following Pitch 1.

The anchor at the top of Pitch 1 - a 22cm, 15cm, and a stubbie for good measure.

Pitch 2

Mark leading out on P2 of the North Couloir. (by Sean Hermany)

Mark leading out on P2 of the North Couloir. (by Sean Hermany)

Looking down from Pitch 2 at another party beginning the climb.

Looking down from Pitch 2 at another party beginning the climb.

Sean following the 2nd Pitch.

Looking up the 3rd pitch.

Sean following the 3rd Pitch. These bulges were fun.

Sean following the 3rd Pitch. These bulges were fun.

The cl. 3-4 section to scramble up to reach the summit. A fun, steep scramble in our ice climbing boots and packs.

Mt Conness seen on the descent.

Standing atop a fun ridge pinnacle with Mt Conness behind. (by Sean Hermany)

Picasa Album

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About the Author
PellucidWombat is a mountain climber from Berkeley, CA.

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San Francisco, CA
  Aug 17, 2013 - 08:35am PT
Nice work! And looks like fun. Thanks for sharing another great TR.


Trad climber
  Aug 17, 2013 - 12:14pm PT
Super cool!
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Aug 18, 2013 - 09:02pm PT
Good work, great pics as always mark!
Thank you!!!

Trad climber
The land of Fruits & Nuts!
  Aug 19, 2013 - 11:45pm PT
Only three posts commenting on this TR full of awesome photos, to the point commentary and a pretty badass looking route way up in them hills?


I fortet there are routes like this up there. Where you can get in a full value route in an awesome location and all in a weekends time.
I should climb more alpine like stuff. Supprising I haven't done more of it than I have.

Thanks for reminding me this stuff is out there waiting.
And thanks for the TR.

Trad climber
Bay Area, CA
  Aug 19, 2013 - 11:58pm PT
Big thanks for posting this TR. I just moved to the Bay Area after a long time in CO and would love to get on an alpine route again... and this looks like just the ticket. Has anyone been up there lately? What's it like?
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Aug 20, 2013 - 12:28am PT
Looks realy great.

Mountain climber
Berkeley, CA
Author's Reply  Aug 20, 2013 - 01:16am PT
Has anyone been up there lately? What's it like?

Hey HighCamp,

In general for the Sierra the best ice conditions are found latest in the season before the first winter storms cover the ice. Apart from that, you just got to take note which routes melt out or become rockfall hazards beyond a certain point of melting, and know that those you need to chance a little sooner. If you head up too early, you just risk the climb being more of a steep snow or neve climb, which is fun enough, but not nearly as good as smooth, solid ice :-)

To my knowledge this couloir is a good one to do as late in the season as you can. At least as a general point of reference, CA had had a big winter the season before, and we climbed it mid-September. As last winter was pretty dry, it might start forming up in early September?

As this couloir is so popular and accessible, I would look on SummitPost for ice conditions reports for this one and the Dana Couloir (another fun ice climb, and easier to start on). The conditions of these couloirs will give you a sense of what to expect in the high country, but even then it is a big game of chance catching those backcountry couloirs in condition beyond neve.

Another pointer - there are 3 excellent couloirs for ice climbing on Mt Thompson, and one on Mt Gilbert, all visible from the South Lake TH outside of Bishop. For those, you can see from the TH if there is ice to be had before you even head up! An ideal strategy is to head up that way for some backcountry trad or scrambling when you think the ice is in, and on that 'recon' outing, gauge when you want to come back with the ice gear.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Aug 20, 2013 - 02:00pm PT
Bump for an excellent TR (But then, you've made us come to expect no less, PW).


Trad climber
Bay Area, CA
  Aug 20, 2013 - 03:49pm PT
Thanks for the beta, PellucidWombat. Now I just need to find a partner.

Anyone interested for September? I'm a super safe and attentive belayer, trained and practiced in self rescue, been on the sharp end 19yrs, lead WI4 and M5.

Ron Anderson

Trad climber
Relic MilkEye and grandpoobah of HBRKRNH
  Aug 20, 2013 - 04:35pm PT
Very Nice TR and Conditions! Too bad about the WEENIES cutting ahead of you. They SHOULD have waited their turn, first come first serve doesnt exist anymore eh? I would have bombed them with ice chunks.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Aug 20, 2013 - 04:55pm PT
Oh yeah! Thumbs up for alpine ice and another great report. Do you boys ever epic or is it always smiles and sunshine?!!!
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North Peak - Northeast Couloir AI 2 4th Class - High Sierra, California USA. Click to Enlarge
The Northeast Couloir of North Peak.
Photo: Dan Mingori