Report from May 24, 2022
2 nights ago we got a text from Tall Carl.
It was a picture of the North Couloir of North Peak, CA, and all it said was:
“The couloir on North Peak is in.”
Greggy & I got the text at the same time, looked at each other and simply nodded.
The next day, we were standing on top of the North Couloir of North Peak staring down into its icy abyss wondering what the hell we were doing there…
12,242′ North Peak, CA – North Couloir Details:
- Summit: 12,242′
- Vertical from car: 2,000′
- Vertical skied: 2,000′
- Pitch at steepest point: 50º+
- Aspect: North
- Distance: 7.5-miles round trip
- Time from car to summit: 2 hours & 50 minutes to top of couloir
- Car to car time: 6 hrs 40 mins (we waited on top for 1.5 hours)
- Recommended Equipment: crampons, ice axe, skins
- Additional Notes: We don’t recommend you ski this couloir at all…
I first ice climbed up the North Couloir of North Peak when I was 19-years-old back in 1997.
It was a ghoulish experience.
At the time, I never thought I’d ski this worm hole to another world…
On June 30, 2019, I finally skied the North Couloir of North Peak and it was intense…
In general, I’m not into “extreme skiing” (read: you fall, you die), but this easy-to-access chute has a special allure I’ve been unable to resist.
The first thing Greggy said to me after we skied this thing yesterday was:
“I’m never doing that again.”
It’s steep at 50º+.
It’s often icy as it doesn’t get much sun due to its steepness, truth north aspect, and towering rock walls.
We started the day at 7am with “Monorito” (breakfast burritos) at Mono Market in Lee Vining, CA.
We huffed down the luscious burritos with salsa on a sunlit bench outside Mono Mart and hit the road.
The burritos were so filling that, despite the big day, we didn’t eat again until dinner…
We were hiking by about 8am.
I’ve never seen Saddlebag lake so low…
It’s well below the spillway and looking drab.
It took us 2 hours and 50 minutes to reach the top of the North Couloirs of North Peak via a spectacularly gorgeous walk through white granite, calving meadow glaciers, ferocious terrain, and lakes upon lakes.
We were early.
The sun wasn’t in the chute.
One of the rocks I threw into the chute to test the snow broke…
After an hour of sitting the sun finally swung into the couloir but the rocks still kept saying no-go.
1 hour and 30 minutes was our threshold.
It was time to drop.
We built DIY Whippets by strapping our ice axes to our ski poles to mitigate both the icy chute and our undercurrents of fear (see video below).
I dropped first and linked 9 turns together before the angles in the chute got weird…
Instead of being a pleasant, flat snow surface in the couloir, there was a V shape to it reminiscent of a runnel that made turning difficult if not impossible in spots.
We believe that only one other person has skied it this spring (likely on Monday) and they side-stepped the whole thing due to this V feature in the chute.
Once I got to the V, the angle of the chute was over 50º and a fall would have been real bad.
I made sure every turn was calculated, accurate, and precise.
In the steepest part of the couloir, the V was at its worst and turning required piercing concentration.
Sylvain Sudan-style pedal hops worked best.
I even did double pole plants on a few turns to make sure I got my tails up and clear of the steep walls as I plummeted downhill only to ungraciously hack to a stop as soon as humanly possible.
Once past the worst of the middle V section, the chute’s wall flatted and the angle gradually eased.
I was able to proudly link together 20 turns and make my way safely out of the chute and back into the two-dimensional world.
I was euphoric.
I blasted across the flats, unbuckled my overly-tightened-out-of-fear boots, and ripped out my camera to film Greggy.
Greggy is comfier in the steeps than me and made his way down handsomely yet with a healthy dose of trepidation.
He skied up to me and said:
“I never wanna do that again.”
He went on to say that it was the scariest thing he’d ever skied.
We’ve skied some terrifying things together including “Central Couloir” off Cody in Peak in Jackson Hole, WY, and more – so I was impressed with his sentiment.
I think I agree with him.
Besides some of the things I’ve ended up on in Chamonix, it was the scariest.
We were both high on adrenaline and continued life.
The slog back to the car that would normally seem arduous was filled with glee and the noticing of small things like bugs and mini-flowers.
We were just stoked to be on flat ground again.
To be clear, we do not recommend skiing the North Couloirs of North Peak this season nor any season for that matter.
They’re not exactly fun.
Back at the car, we did feel very satisfied and alive.
We went home, changed, and went straight to the Lazy River for a surf.
It was our best session yet – we learned how to do 180º board slides!
After the river, we met up with some more friends and hit Mammoth Brewing Co. for good food and a few beers.
- The suncups are forming and it was crazy hot yesterday. I think the whole Saddlebag Lake zone is going to have burly sun cups and be much less fun to traipse upon in about 5-days time.
- GPS chute still goes but had a natural wet slide at the bottom that was fresh on our way back.
- Y Couloir of Mt. Conness looked OK but doesn’t look like it exactly goes smoothly – looks like some rock walking to get through it. The skier’s left option goes clean but it looks like it’s got quite a bit of off-fall-line and steeps and no-fall-zone.
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- 5/11/22 – Lake Tahoe, CA Report: 10,300′ Round Top’s “Crescent Couloir” & Memories of the “Dogahawk”
- Cinco de Mayo – Sierra Nevada, CA, Report: The 3 Bears Chutes, Cinco de Mayo, & an Insane Lenticular Sunset
- 5/4/22 – Trip Report: Tioga Pass, CA – 1,800-Foot “Kidney Chute”
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- 4/9/22 – Trip Report: 7,193′ Mt. Benet, AK – 50º Steep for 1,000-Vertical-Feet, Bergshrund, w/ World Cup Skier Travis Ganong
- Scott Superguide 105 Ski
- Dynafit Superlite 2.0 Bindings
- Lange XT3 130 Ski Boot
- Petzl Leopard Crampons
- Petzl Ride Ice Axe
- Scott Couloir Freeride Ski Helmet