Tioga Pass Couloirs
(Solstice, North Peak right)

9-10 Sep 2006 - by Rob Yang

Saturday I started from Tioga Lake at 5am, intending to solo the Dana Couloir (I'd soloed it twice before). But around 7-ish as I got up the moraine at the base of Dana Lake I saw that the Solstice Couloir was filled in from the bottom to the top, with none of the nasty rockfall I'd seen in it the past several years. It was hard snow at the bottom, not too interesting, but the last half in the shade seemed to be good neve, steepening to about 45-50 degrees. There were some convenient rock islands for taking breaks.

The exit was interesting - the center looked easiest, and the right looked nasty - some overhanging stuff that might have been the remains of a cornice. I went up the left side, the last 10 feet of which seemed to be about 60-ish degrees. Fun finish. I'd entered the couloir around 7:30, and exited about 8:45. I headed up to the summit just for the hell of it and added a new notebook to the register around 9:15. It was an excellent morning, and the views were tremendous, as usual.

Took the tourist trail down to Tioga Pass, then hoofed it about a mile on the road back to the car before noon. The next order of business was getting a Monorito in Lee Vining, and then an afternoon siesta in Tuolumne Meadows.

Sunday I started from the Saddlebag Lake dam at 5:30am and made my way up to the glacier at the base of North Peak, arriving around 7:30. The left couloir looked like neve or snow still, and the middle one seemed in its usually dirty condition, whatever that is. The right couloir, which I had only climbed in more or less ice conditions (three times before) was all neve still, with an open bergschrund fully across.

At 8 or so I started off across the glacier and headed up to the schrund. In the shade the neve was perfect - hard enough to support points, but soft enough that only the merest flick was needed to set them. The 'schrund looked intimidating to me - probably only 10-15 feet high, but I'd be climbing it without rope or pro. I'd read about a class 4 rock bypass on the left side, but near there I could see that someone had climbed up the schrund recently, and above the foot or so of ice at the bottom it was all good compliant neve. So up I went. It felt a little like WI3, but made of styrofoam :)

Once above the pulse-quickening schrund I paused. The rest of the couloir looked tame by comparison. I could see some ice near the edges, as one usually does, but nothing serious. It was all white neve as far as I could tell, that transitional state between snow and ice. Perhaps the beginnings of ice in a darker runnel just to the left of center.

I made my way up at a measured pace, making careful placements with picks and crampon points. Rests were plentiful, as the couloir had lots of features. Around 9:15 I exited the couloir into the notch, took off my crampons, and looked up at the final rock scramble to the summit.

From here the ratings I'd seen ranged from class 3 to 5.2. I wasn't really sure which way to go, but headed up generally to the right, which seemed easy enough at the time. The last 30 feet seemed to steepen, and the holds got smaller. I thought about downclimbing and trying a different way, but the route looked doable. The last 10 feet or so seemed to be low fifth class. Initially I wasn't sure if I really wanted to pull the moves in stiff-soled boots with a pack full of gear, but did and enjoyed it :)

On the summit I was greeted with the view of Conness, the lakes below, and, well, the grandeur. It was 10:25. I again added a new notebook to the summit register, recognizing some of the names written on the scraps of paper inside the cylinder. Another fantastic morning and fabulous views.

Heading back down the class 2 southwest slope I noticed a third class gully that led up from a broad ledge - that was probably the way I should have climbed up from the notch - to the left instead of the right. Oh well, next time ...

The descent was familiar as I'd gone up the North Ridge of Mt. Conness about a month before. Shimmering lakes and awesome granite greeted me like an old friend. As I approached Saddlebag Lake again I thought about taking the boat back, but decided to just walk instead and returned to the car by 12:15pm.

I posted a few shots on Flickr.com here.

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