North Peak (12242 ft), the north couloir

1 Oct 2000 - by Arun Mahajan

Ron Karpel was rightfully tired of North Peak. He had climbed both, the right and the left couloirs in years past but had not tagged the summit because he had run out of time, so with the summit goal in mind and doing it the way of the left couloir, we decided on doing it as a two day trip and so we hiked in the three or so miles from Saddlebag Lake to Cascade Lake in about two hours on late Saturday evening, just as darkness fell. Sunday, up before dawn and rolling by 6.30am, we climbed to the toe of the steep left couloir. By 8.30am we were ready to go and Ron soloed three fourths of the first pitch on the icy slope and belayed me up, having found a secure place on the right wall. I took the first pitch after that which was mostly neve and angled diagonally to the left wall needing to set up two screws on the way. Hard ice nearer the rock, but I made it to the rocks, almost running out the rope. Ron then took the next pitch and brought me up and I continued on, past him to a more secure spot, traversing some more horrible ice to the rocks on the left. I belayed him on the 3rd pitch and he stayed on the centre of the couloir willingly going to the steeper and icier sections. After a while, he moved to the right wall at the point where there was a flake met by a band of lighter coloured rock. Ron also led the fourth pitch, staying on the steep right side (probably 50-deg), sometimes dropping into the gully between the ice and the rock, ending at a huge rock behind which he set up for belay. The area near this rock looks superfically as neve but underneath is hard ice and sometimes chunks of ice fracture off. I took the fifth pitch, staying to the centre and this was much clement and I did not have to front point and a little after noon we had topped off, enjoying the warm sun. Great ice climbing and then warm sunlight at the top, blessed California! From there we traversed on the rock staying below the top-off point for the right couloir. We were hailed by PCS-er, Tim Hult who had just topped off the right couloir. I gathered later on that Jim Curl and Dot Reilly, also of the PCS had climbed up the right couloir and the summit after Tim. Traversing on, we found a spot to dump ice gear and went straight up a gully to the ridge and then to the summit at about 1.30 pm. Back down to get gear and then traverse behind and below the couloir to a plateau and then down a rock gully which soon turned into steep ice. The angle was easier than the main couloir that we had just climbed and we were in no mood to do technical stuff coming down. Ron down climbed with his tools and crampons. I asked for a rapel and very soon after that, we were back at camp (3.45 pm), packed and headed out to be at the cars at 6pm.

Some details from Ron: Excellent neve in the centre of the couloir, tools sink with ease and cramponing is good. Pickets go in with some effort. Hard ice on both the sides and sometimes in the centre. There is a lot of dinnerplating and screws go in well but there is some fracturing. Lots of opportunites to set rock pro on both the sides. Cuoloir is 40 to 45 degrees with some 50-degree spots. The top is somewhat melted out from his memory of it two years ago. There is no bergschrund.

Sean McBurney adds:

Yes, that was Tim Hult and myself that topped out of the couloir on the right. We left the trailhead at 8 am, got to the base at about 10:30, and started climbing around 11, after chatting with Jim for a bit. I think it took us about an hour in the couloir itself, which we both soloed. I thought they were great conditions, secure tool placements and a perfect weather day. At the bergschrud, Tim led and went left of the bridge to stay out of Jim's way were he was belaying Dot. That was the only tricky section which was a near vertical bulge for about 15 feet. Pretty exciting though. We didn't head for the peak, instead we decided to head back and get home at a descent hour.

Funny thing is, I was wondering who was in the left couloir.

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