North Peak Couloir

California is well known for a sunny climate and fantastic rock climbing but less well known for its alpine ice climbing. Come late summer and fall the snows of the past winter have melted off, and repeated freeze and thaw cycles have transformed the snow to firm neve and water ice. This provides straightforward ways to the summits of many Sierra peaks. North Peak is another one of the great introductory ice routes in the High Sierra. It has the added benefit of a short approach and return, making for a reasonable day car-to-car. The climb includes six pitches of snow and/or ice up to about 50º, followed by a short rock scramble to the summit and an easy descent.


Guide_Eastern_Sierra_iceGuidebooks include Secor’s “The High Sierra; Peaks, Passes and Trails”, and “Sierra Classics” by Moynier and Fiddler. The best of course is “Eastern Sierra Ice” by SP Parker. Also check out our unpublished guide to North Peak here.

Get it from Maximus Press.

We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000′) just prior to the trip. Spending a night in Mammoth would do the trick or better yet, camped at an even higher trailhead, such as the Sawmill Campground near our early morning meeting location. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.

Return to Classic Alpine Ice Climbs

This is a long one-day climb. We meet early and plan on a 10 to 12 hour day round trip, generally retracing our steps for the return.

We approach via the Saddlebag Lake Trail as it traverses around the lake for a mile before flattening out at the head of the lake near Greenstone Lake. We continue past small lakes and tarns, steadily climbing towards North Peak. We surmount a steep rocky ridge, climb over a loose moraine and we are at the small glacier below the peak.
We gear up with crampons and pull out axes at this point. Before long we enter the couloir. The bergschrund can present a short challenge to overcome, then we are in the couloir proper. We belay on ice screws or rock anchors on the wall of the couloir. There are about six pitches of climbing and if the gully is hard ice the calves will be working hard by the time we reach the top. On the other hand soft neve snow will be a bit easier on the legs.
A rest here will revive us and get us ready for the final 300 feet to the top. There is a little low fifth class rock and we emerge pretty close to the summit.
The descent is easy with long sandy slopes back down to Conness Lakes and a glorious descent over rock slabs and through verdant meadows. Then comes the final trail section back to the parking area.


Program Prerequisites:

You should be in good physical condition, have some backpacking experience and have the ability to traverse broken uneven slopes with a moderate pack. Prior experience at altitudes above 10,000’ is recommended. You should have basic snow and ice climbing skills and be able to climb moderate angle ice. Since this climb is only one day, there is less time for basic instruction but we do help coach and refine your movement on snow and ice.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits, and group climbing gear. Scheduled dates include USFS trail fees. Private programs do not.

Local accommodation is not included.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details, itinerary, and equipment list for your trip
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

PDF Maps:

North Peak map

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.