Both North Peak Couloirs

10 Oct 1999 - by Michael Gordon

Johnny Brown, Dave German, and Michael Gordon had the ambitious plan of climbing both the left and right couloirs on North Peak - one on Saturday 9 Oct., and the other on Sunday 10 Oct.

Johnny and I slept fitfully (and cold: high 20's) at the Saddlebag Lake trailhead on Friday night after the long drive from the LA area. Sometime after 3am the intrepid, but insane Dave German would arrive (from San Diego!) at Judy Rittenhouse's in Bishop, only to stop for a brief moment and then continue on with Judy to the Saddlebag Lake TH to meet us at 8am.

We geared up and walked in to Cascade Lake in about 1.5 hours where we camped Saturday night. In the truest example of fortitude and indefatigability, Judy would walk setting her own pace......on crutches!!. Judy's ankle is still recovering from an incident on the Palisade Glacier a few weeks previous, and though her ambitions were set high to climb North Peak with us, her ankle told her otherwise. She would enjoy the High Sierra splendor from camp without the ankle taxation of the climb.

Johnny, Dave, and I dropped packs, pumped a little water, geared up, and began the ramp approach to the glacier. Traveling unroped, we reached the bergschrund where we would set an anchor. We roped up, and I took the first pitch over the extremely tame bergschrund. Johnny took the second pitch, with Dave taking the third. Since we were on double ropes, Johnny and I simul-lead the fourth and last pitch, bringing Dave up on belay.

The snow/neve is not very icy (but the axe sticks were good) and is pretty oxygenated and granular at depth. 22cm screws are highly recommended, and we were able to pound in a couple of bomber pickets where screws were worthless.

Saturday night was long, as we were all tired (especially Dave, operating on two hours of sleep or so from Friday night) and retired early to our bags. Sunday we awoke, Dave opting to walk out casually with Judy and not climb, and Johnny and I determining we didn't want to return home extremely late and real tired.

We declined on the left couloir, and instead went for the closer and shorter north-facing broad couloir located centrally at the head of the "Cascade Lake Cirque". It is only about 400 feet in height, but since it receives daytime sun (unlike the North Peak couloirs), the numerous freeze and thaw cycles have created far better and icier conditions than the Couloirs themselves. Johnny and I soloed up this 35-40 degree couloir in about 30 minutes from camp to where it hits the east ridge of North Peak, then downclimbed to return to camp. As it was steepest at the top and liberally coated in blue ice, we descended swinging tools and facing into the slope until the ice and angle eased up some. We were back in camp only an hour after we left. This is a great practice couloir because it's short and close to Cascade Lake, and if one is camped at Cascade Lake, it makes a faster, albeit steeper (and possibly icier) descent back to the lake from the summit.

The weather was fantastic this weekend, with the nighttime temperature at Cascade Lake surprisingly warm. Winds were virtually nil, with subtle breezes now and again.

Another enchanting and beautiful weekend in the High Sierra......


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