Lone Pine Peak — Page 7

Lone Pine Peak - Upper Headwall

The Headwall Revealed

As I climb above 10,000 feet in elevation, now via axe and crampons, several things of significance are happening within and without.

A fierce wind is blowing up the face. When the gusts hit, I have to stop and wait for them to pass. Drifting snow whips up the face past me. Then, as the gust dies, the snow comes cascading back down. Despite the low overall risk, this does raise the specter of slab avalanches.

Looking down the gully Ski Poles & Crampons Below the Headwall Looking Down: Massive Vertical Nearing the Hidden Couloir

I've also passed the second major twist in the gully.

The route is indeed snow-covered, and if my earlier scouting proves correct, I now know there will be snow all the way to the headwall.

There is a chance—a chance!—I'll be able to connect with the summit couloir.

It's almost too much to dare hope for.

Lone Pine Peak's northeast face is revealing itself to be a route both bigger and more spectacular than I could have ever imagined.

If a skiable route exists from the summit, it would indeed be a Magic Line, one of the most remarkable descents in the entire Sierra.

If, if, if...

Ahead, I can see what I believe is the entrance to the east couloir at the eastern base of the headwall.

It looks like it might just go.


My euphoria is interrupted, however, by my Little Voice, which decides at this moment to inform me I'm not coming home.


I've learned, over the years, that my Little Voice has a knack for being right, so it's not easy to dismiss this warning as mere Camp Doom leftovers.

How? I ask.

Slab Avalanche?

No. Well, that's a relief. That's certainly been at the top of my worry list. I still don't like the wind-sculpted look of the snow in this upper section, but I do think the danger is manageable. Do I fall while skiing? No. Rockfall, maybe?

No—but something about the word 'rock' makes the voice nervous. Something involving rock. Well, that hardly narrows it down, but it's a start, at least. I'm not sure it makes sense to keep going in the face of this warning, but there's at least as much hazard below as above, now, and I am a climber. My business today is unfinished.

Besides, just a little bit farther, and the great mystery of Lone Pine Peak's east couloir will be solved. Will I see a smooth stairway of snow leading up the final 500 vertical feet or so to Lone Pine Peak's summit—or will I come to an impassible wall of rock?

next: Continuity

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.