Trip Report: North Peak, CA – 50º+ North Couloir | “I’m Never Doing That Again…”

Miles Clark | | Conditions ReportConditions ReportTrip ReportTrip Report
Greggy in the belly of the beast. North Couloir on North Peak, CA.

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…

Looking up the 50º+ North Couloir of North Peak. image: snowbrains

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.

Until now.

The skier’s right North Couloir of North Peak. image: snowbrains

The first thing Greggy said to me after we skied this thing yesterday was:

“I’m never doing that again.”

I agreed.

It’s steep at 50º+.

Miles & Greggy bottering near top of North Peak. image: snowbrains

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.

North Peak and our exit tracks. image: snowbrains

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…

Greggy, stream, North Peak. image: snowbrains

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.

Eric ripping the Lazy River. image: snowbrains

The sun wasn’t in the chute.

One of the rocks I threw into the chute to test the snow broke…

Bad sign.

Greggy loving it with Conness’ Y Couloir in background. image: snowbrains

We waited.

And waited.

After an hour of sitting the sun finally swung into the couloir but the rocks still kept saying no-go.

Flow and Conness. image: snowbrains

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).

Miles & Erica in paradise. image: snowbrains

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.

Greggy, waterfall, North Peak. image: snowbrains

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.

DIY Whippet. image: snowbrains

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.

Y Couloir of Mt. Conness. image: snowbrains

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.

Calving icebergs and GPS chute. image: snowbrains

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.”

Greggy in the North Chute of North Peak. image: snowbrains

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.

Miles slash. image: snowbrains

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.

Greggy and GPS chute. image: snowbrains

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.

Lotza booting. image: snowbrains

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.

Thanks, Mammoth!

Notes

  • 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.

Recent Reports

Gear:

Photos in Chronological Order

Tioga Pass rd. image: snowbrains
Ellery Bowl looking dry. image: snowbrains
Saddlebag Lake Resort looking sad… image: snowbrains
Greggy and North Peak. image: snowbrains
Greggy in the wide open. image: snowbrains
Glacier island. image: snowbrains
Greggy and GPS Chute. image: snowbrains
North Peak. image: snowbrains
Waterfall & North Peak. image: snowbrains
Y Couloir on Mt. Conness. image: snowbrains
Y Couloir on Conness. image: snowbrains
Greggy bootering. image: snowbrains
Zebra corn. image: snowbrains
Greggy and Y Couloir. image: snowbrains
Summit of North Peak. image: snowbrains
Greggy contemplating. image: snowbrains
Looking down the North Chute of North Peeak. image: snowbrains
Greggy in the North Chute of North Peak. image: snowbrains
Greggy in the North Chute of North Peak. image: snowbrains
Greggy on the apron of North Peak. image: snowbrains
Greggy looking back to North Peak. image: snowbrains
Greggy likes it. image: snowbrains
Calving icebergs. image: snowbrains
The final walk. image: snowbrains
Saddlebag lake spillway is dry. image: snowbrains
Exhausted dude. image: snowbrains
Miles figures out switch! image: snowbrains
Mammoth Brewing Co. image: snowbrains
Mammoth brewing Co Pub Salad. image: snowbrains

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3 thoughts on “Trip Report: North Peak, CA – 50º+ North Couloir | “I’m Never Doing That Again…”

  1. You would have enjoyed this couloir more if your ski edges were sharpened more. That way you could griped that steepness better.

  2. Had similarly shitty conditions in the Bell Cord a few weeks ago. Sounds like a rough ski, but a great adventure. Nice work!

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