Summit to Desert

Is a Ski Descent of Lone Pine Peak's East Couloir Possible?

Lone Pine Peak

LONE PINE, CALIFORNIA — Who am I? I am not used to asking this question, but today it has taken on a ferocious intensity. I am pushing through brush and brambles, elevation 6400'.

Skis plus overnight gear weigh upon my back, here somewhere beneath Lone Pine Peak's massive Northeast Face. I am searching for a ski route that almost certainly does not exist. This much I understand. But I didn't expect I'd also be searching for myself...

Lone Pine Peak: East Couloir Visible Lone Pine Peak: East Couloir Hidden

I first saw it driving Highway 395 just south of Lone Pine. In the midst of Lone Pine Peak's immense northeast headwall, there appeared a thin line of snow angling down from the very summit.

The mere existence of such a line seemed so unlikely an apparition as to demand further inspection.

So I pulled over in Lone Pine, expecting to survey the couloir.

Surprise: the chute had vanished.

Only sheer, merciless rock remained, calling into question whether my eyes had deceived me in the first place.

I call them madman's lines: here and there in the Sierra, you find discontinuous ribbons of snow that make for tempting ski fantasies, until you contemplate the dead-end drops below. As I continued staring at Lone Pine Peak's northeast headwall and the immense cirque below, it seemed all but certain there was no skiable route connecting the summit to the northeast face.

In any case, I'd never heard about anyone skiing Lone Pine Peak via any route. Given the peak's prominence and proximity to Highway 395 (Lone Pine Peak is often mistaken for Mt. Whitney because it appears higher), you'd expect the mountain to see occasional ski attempts—unless it just wasn't skiable.

In R.J. Secor's guidebook, The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails, Secor grades Lone Pine Peak's northeast face Class 4 A0, noting a 200' rappel is required at the headwall. That would seem to rule out any skiing possibilities—at least without a very long rope. Still, from that day on, whenever I drove past Lone Pine I found myself twisting my head out the window, looking for that phantom couloir. It tickled my imagination, even if I had no intention of ever trying to climb and ski it.

next: Granite View

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.

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