Lone Pine Peak — Page 8

Lone Pine Peak - The Hidden East Couloir


My attention is focused upward, so I actually pass alongside the true entrance to the east couloir before I notice it. There it is: the Magic Line. I stare as it, not yet daring to believe.

Continuity. The line goes. But for a trivial step of rock, Lone Pine Peak's northeast face is skiable from the summit all the way down to the Owens Valley desert below. All I have to now is climb the last few hundred feet of it, ski it, and survive.

Andy in the Couloir Looking Down Ice Axe & Snow Looking up the Couloir The Whitney Crest From Lone Pine Peak's Summit Looking Down the Inyo Creek Drainage

No Problem.

It's funny, but at the entrance to the couloir, I notice a big rock with a nasty-looking moat to its left.

Climbing up the couloir unaware, it would be possible to fall through the sun-weakened snow bridge hiding the moat, and as I peer into the black void beneath, I see that would make for a very nasty fall indeed.

Something involving Rock.

Thank you, Little Voice, I say.

Though, given that I'm surrounded by rock, you'll get no points for clairvoyance from me.

Resuming the climb, I give the moat a wide birth.

The snow in the east couloir, in contrast to the headwall gully, is sun-burnt, sun-cupped corn.

It's soft enough for skiing, but I wouldn't want to be anywhere near it if it froze.

Nearing 13,000 feet now, I'm pretty well spent.

I push up the couloir, burning deep into my reserves now, fueled by spirit alone.

I easily climb the minor rock step (this would likely be snow-covered in better years), and find only snow between myself and the summit.

The angle of the couloir averages a quite-reasonable 45 degrees or so—steep, but not terrifying.

Considered in its totality, I am looking at the ski descent of a lifetime.

This is pure magic.

It's as if mother nature decided to create the most unlikely, most aesthetic big line imaginable.

And then she hid it in plain view on one of the most prominent peaks in the Sierra Nevada. Magic.

The wonder continues when I crest the top of the couloir and stumble a few steps higher to Lone Pine Peak's 12,944' summit. Mount Whitney and the Whitney Crest pop into view, along with Mount Russell, Mount Williamson, Mount Langley, Mount LeConte. At my feet is Lone Pine Peak's vertiginous North Ridge, considered one of the finer ridge routes in the range.

Mindful of my Voice's rock warning, I give that sheer edge a wide berth. Still, I have to take a least one photo of the view down Lone Pine Peak's northeast face. There it is: all 6700 vertical feet of the route. The scale of it is so utterly massive that the enormous field of snow I've followed all the way up the gully now looks like a pitifully small little afterthought—though I know it actually connects all the way down to the desert.

I find a sunny rock and plop down to rest for a bit. I'd like to give the sun a little more time to warm up the snow in the East Couloir, making the descent a little easier. Plus, to be honest, after all the mental convolutions I've gone through getting here, I'm still getting used to the idea that I'm actually going to ski this mountain.

next: The Magic Line

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.