Eastern Sierra, CA Report: 12,247′ North Peak | Heinous Suncups, Terrifying Bootpack, Scary Skiing

Miles Clark | | Conditions ReportConditions Report
Eastern north couloir of North Peak. image: snowbrains

Report from June 28th, 2019

Brought to you by Scott Sports

Skis Used:  Scott Super Guide 105

Today, I drove up Tioga Pass then up Saddlebag Lake road to Saddlebag Lake to head out and ski the north couloir of 12,247′ North Peak, CA.

Saddlebag Lake road is clear of snow to the dam of Saddlebag Lake.

Right off the bat, the suncups were horrible.

1-2 feet deep and frozen hard.

It froze last night making the suncups absolutely brutal to travel through.

My ski tip kept catching on them.

I fell 6 times on my approach to North Peak.

After walking across heinous suncups in flat terrain for 2 hours, I was at the base of the climb up North Peak.

I only skinned a very short distance before switching to boots, crampons, and poles.

At the bottom of the north couloir, it honestly didn’t look that steep and the snow was starting to soften up so I figured I’d be fine on the climb up in my on Mt. Rainier crampons (read:  old & dull) and my one ice axe.

I was wrong.

12,247′ North Peak, CA showing . image: snowbrains

About 1/3 of the way up the chute, the snow turned hard and the angle was steep (guide book say 45º but felt like 50º).

I was gripped.

I should have had better crampons and two ice axes.

I struggled up, knowing falling was not an option.

I got tired and it felt like it took hours.

I had the fear.

The central and western (right) north couloirs of North Peak. We skied the one on the right. image: snowbrains

Near the top, the snow finally did soften as the sun swung into the chute allowing me to get a better purchase with my janky crampons.

Life improved considerably.

I topped out tired.

I looked up to the summit pitch and my body instantly said “no thanks”.

I’d summited this peak 22-years ago and made the same mistake climbing up this couloir – shoulda’ had 2 ice axes…

On my climb up the fear in my brain told me that I wasn’t going to ski the chute, the snow was too firm.

Gorgeous green waterfalls below the North Peak couloirs. image: snowbrains

On top, I considered my options, considered if I wanted to be scared again, looked down the steep chute, and decided to go for it.

It’s remarkable how much more comfortable I was once I put my skis on.

I slipped into the chute, decided it was “soft enough” and hacked my way down the steep-walled, gorgeous couloir.

The snow was soft enough, I perked up due to the excitement of skiing such an aesthetic line, and the fear accrued during the climb ebbed away.

At the bottom of the chute I stopped and looked back.

I didn’t expect my last day in California this season to hold such a beautiful challenge.

Eastern North Couloir. image: snowbrains

I skied down another no-fall zone to access the final apron below.

On the hike up, I was very much worried about this no fall zone as it’s above large cliffs and is pretty steep.

After the degree of steepness of the north couloir, this lower no-fall zone felt flat, slushy, and fun.

I made mellow turns through that techy zone, stopped and took photos of the brilliant green waterfalls, and cruised down the apron back into the tedious suncup nightmare.

The suncups were much more forgiving now that they were slushy and once on the lakeshore of Saddlebag Lake there was a bit of a trail cut into the suncups by hikers and skinners, but it was still a mental and physical strain.

Vicious suncups, gorgeous peak. 12,247′ North Peak, CA. image: snowbrains

I got back to the car tired, hungry, and grateful.

This was the best spring of my life.

This was the best winter of my life.

This was a great way to end this incredible California ski season.

I have two more days of skiing at Alta, UT this week before I head down to Ecuador to surf for a month before winter starts all over again in Bariloche, Argentina on August 1st.

This will be by far the most I’ve ever skied in a Northern Hemisphere Winter:  214 days.

Thanks to everyone I encountered along the way and to all the places I was honored to visit this season.

Fresh Tracks in Mt. Conness’ Y-Couloir. image: snowbrains

Related Articles

10 thoughts on “Eastern Sierra, CA Report: 12,247′ North Peak | Heinous Suncups, Terrifying Bootpack, Scary Skiing

  1. What do you do for a living that allows you to ski 214 days in a year followed up by a month of surfing in Ecuador and then kick off the southern hemisphere winter by skiing at Bariloche….

    1. Hey Jim, thanks for the question. I’m a professional freeskier, a mountain guide, and the owner/found/editor of SnowBrains. I’m extremely fortunate, grateful, and mindful around my opportunity and I do everything I can to make to most of it. Thanks for supporting us and reading SnowBrains and please let us know if you ever have any other questions, suggestions, or comments.

  2. You are my hero..214 days!! legendary to say the least..i might get that in 15 years!

    1. Thanks, Stefano! Definitely the most I’ve skied in a season by a lot. Fired up to get more days in South America this summer.

    1. Thank, Warren. I might have time to get up there but I have a buddy who spent months there and loved it!

    1. Thanks much, Jan. Many more to come. Alta, UT was great today. You can see an image from today at Alta in our Instagram.

Got an opinion? Let us know...