Mount Gilbert via the North Couloir

This little-known route has become our favorite fall ice climb over the past few years. The approach from South Lake is reasonably short and takes but half a day. They gully we ascend is about 1,500’ long and up to 65º steep before it ends with a pitch and a half of mid fifth class rock climbing. The summit view is outstanding, featuring peaks of the Evolution region, Mt. Goddard and beyond. The descent is not unpleasant and goes fairly quickly back to camp. What more could one ask for in a gully ice climb? This ascent can be done on our scheduled dates, as a private program or as a part of our Alpine Ice Climbing Seminars.


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 Also check out our unpublished guide to Mt Gilbert here.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 South Lake/Bishop Pass trailhead for a night just before the trip. Cardinal Village Resort in Bishop Creek near North Lake is also a good lodging option. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more info.

Return to Classic Alpine Ice Climbs

Day 1:
The South Lake Trailhead west of Bishop in the South Fork of Bishop Creek is our starting point. We start on the Bishop Pass trail and after a steady climb take the Treasure Lakes trail. Eventually we leave the main trail, climb up slabs and circle around into the cirque below Mt Thompson and Mt Gilbert. The approach to camp takes around half the day leaving us time to set up camp and review skills.

Day 2:
We will get an early start and ascend the gully. The gully is pretty obvious, ending up just west of the actual summit. The
bergschrund can present a challenge to get into the main gully, but once past it the climbing is more straightforward.
The first few rope lengths are best belayed from the right side of the gully and fixed anchors will usually not be found. After several rope lengths the gully narrows and belays will be better protected from falling ice if they are placed on the left side of the gully. If the ice is good enough to provide ice screw belays, we use these since the rock can be poor quality. The crux ice pitches are at the top of the gully and in good years these last two pitches approach 60º and are smooth, green, and narrow.
At the top of the gully we drop down twenty feet and then climb a fourth class corner and gully to just west of the summit. If you want more adventure we’ll take the chimney directly above the couloirs top with some 5.6 climbing.
After doing this route a number of times we decided that a better route to camp was needed. So we pioneered a direct descent back down the NE ridge and then make a series of short rappels back into the cirque 20 minutes from camp.

Day 3:
After having breakfast and packing up, we begin the hike out to the trailhead. We plan to arrive around midday.

Elevations and Distances
Trailhead to camp: 3.0 miles, 2420’ of gain, 560’ of descent
Camp to summit to camp: 2.0 miles, 1750’ of gain, 1750’ of descent
Camp to trailhead: 3.0 miles, 560’ of gain, 2420’ of descent


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, group climbing gear, tents, kitchen gear, breakfasts, lunches and dinners (you bring hot/cold drinks and snack items). 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:

Mount Gilbert map

Rental Equipment:

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