Mount Thompson via a North Couloir

Mt.Thompson is Mt Gilbert’s neighbor not too far from South Lake in Bishop Creek. Although pretty close (by Sierra standards) to the road, this fine climbs sees very little traffic and offers several short fun gully climbs that end some distance from the summit. We sometimes pair one of these gully climbs with an ascent of Gilbert and this program is our scheduled Alpine Ice Climbing Seminar. Either way, this ascent makes for an ideal climb to a good central Sierra viewpoint in a pristine alpine valley.

This is our video description of what it is like to climb Mt Thompson:


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 Also check out our unpublished guide to the Thompson Couloirs here.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 One:
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 Two:
We will get an early start and ascend one of the gullies. There are three obvious couloirs on the north face. Recently modern climbers seem to have wanted their piece of the action and the couloirs have been called (named from the east) the Knudtson, Smrz and Harrington Couloirs. However Norman Clyde is said to have climbed Thompson over twenty times and it seems unlikely that this prolific first ascensionist and climber of most of the Palisade couloirs would have missed out on these, especially since they would not have tested his skills excessively.
All are about the same level of steepness with the presence or absence of water ice determining the difficulty. So we will take our pick.
Once at the top we leave the snow and ice gear at the top and hike for about 30 minutes up the gentle slopes to the summit and a great view of the Goddard and Paiute areas.
The descent is relatively straightforward and we have recently made it easier by upgrading the rappel anchors down the couloir.
Before long we are back in camp enjoying the afternoon.

Day Three:
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: 3.1 miles, 1980’ of gain, 130’ 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 we will not be instructing basic skills along the way, but we will be refining them.

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:

Thompson couloir map

Rental Equipment:

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