After a few days up in Bishop, I headed further south to take advantage of the melting snowpack near Lone Pine. Many of the lines in the southern Sierra melt out faster than the further north, so it was time to take advantage of the low elevation coverage.
The NE Couloir on Irvine Peak and the NE Couloir/NE Face on Lone Pine Peak stand tall above Lone Pine and are relatively close to one another. You can access them from the same parking area just off the Whitney Portal Road. John, Jonathan, and I schemed a way to link them up in a day. We knew there’d be some funkiness getting into and out of the drainages…
After a long day prior, we opted for a casual 6 AM start; plus, we wanted to have light to navigate our way into the Meysan Lake drainage. Our plan was to climb up the Meysan Lake drainage to access Irvine’s NE Couloir first, then climb up to Lone Pine Peak. We had schemed a few ways of getting up to Lone Pine Peak:
- we could either climb up to the saddle beneath Mt. LeConte, then ski east/NE towards the south slopes of Lone Pine and climb up to the plateau,
- we could climb the west facing slopes directly below Lone Pine above Meysan Lake; we’d need to scout them on our way up to see if they were ‘in’
We opted not to walk the Whitney Portal Road to the Meysan Lakes ‘trail’ proper, but instead used an older trail directly into the bottom of the drainage on the east side of the creek. In hindsight, walking the road and then taking the Meysan Lakes trail would have been ‘easier’, but we weren’t very stoked on doing a lot of road walking. There was a little funkiness gaining a bench where we had to boot some postholey snow for about 500′, but other than that the climb up the drainage was pretty simple and straighforward. Once we got to about 8000′ on the east side of the creek, we were able to climb up a gentle bench all the way to Meysan Lake beneath Irvine. The day was hot and relatively windless.
From Meysan Lake, we stared straight up at Irvine’s NE Couloir. It was broad, wide, and relatively steep and sustained. It looked SUPER fun. By the time we reached the bottom of it, around 11AM or so, it was corn-y. Booting up was super easy with the soft snow and supportable base underfoot.
The couloir itself has more of an E tilt than true NE; near the top, it faces NE but down lower it’s almost directly E. It definitely gets morning sun and heats up pretty quickly. Thankfully, temperatures weren’t too high so it softened but didn’t overcook. The couloir doesn’t go from the summit, but rather starts from a shoulder just below the summit. From the shoulder, you are treated to AMAZING views of the Whitney environs.
We ate a snack at the top of the couloir, gazing out at Williamson, Whitney, and the Owens Valley. A breeze picked up and kicked our butts into gear. Time to ski!
The top of the couloir was chalky and a bit firmer, but about halfway down it turned to ripper corn. The couloir was planar and super smooth. It made for some very fun turns.
On our way up the couloir we looked over at the ‘sneak’ climb up to the shoulder of Lone Pine Peak and noticed that it was ‘in’. There was a snow finger that we could use to gain the shoulder between Lone Pine Peak and Rosco Peak (to the north of Rosco and south of Lone Pine). From afar it looked steep, but once we got to the base of it, we realized it was ‘foreshortened’ and it was actually SUPER easy and chill. A 1800′ climb took us to the rocky plateau just south of Lone Pine Peak. It saved us a bunch of time; the sneak likely doesn’t go in lower snow years. We were glad we didn’t have to wrap around to the south by LeConte.
We topped out the Lone Pine plateau and actually switched to trail runners to walk the broad ridge, which was a series of large boulders we hopped. The ridge had a ton of false summits and took us longer than we thought.
We reached the summit of Lone Pine Peak in the late afternoon and realized that we were probably going to get re-frozen chunder in the couloir (womp womp).
I peeked down into the couloir and we realized it’s actually SE facing…not NE facing. The couloir was re-frozen and full of ‘chunder’. It looked really ‘cool’, but did not seem like it was going to be good skiing. We hemmed and hawed on whether we should ski it or not; ultimately, we opted to ‘fall forward’ and ski it, as reversing course down the Meysan Lakes drainage probably would involve bad skiing too and likely take more time. We could sideslip/sidestep the couloir safely, albeit slowly.
I put on my ski boots and clicked into my skis. I confirmed that it was indeed re-frozen, breakable snow. Ugh…it was going to be ugly skiing in a really aesthetic line. If we were earlier in the day we might have been able to ski it in mushy/manky snow, but now that it was in the shade it was crunchy. I radioed up to John and Jonathan that it was going to be slow, but that we could make it through.
I mostly sidestepped/sideslipped the tall chunder. I made a few hop turns here and there, but most of the snow was so tall and grabby that making a turn seemed like a dumb idea. I broke a ski earlier in the trip trying to force a jump turn in some weird snow; I didn’t really want to repeat that again. It pained me to be sidestepping/sideslipping most of an AMAZINGLY aesthetic couloir. It was not the style I wanted to do this line in. Ultimately, I realized that the conditions were probably bad for the last few days, but still it didn’t meet my hopes for the line.
Once I got out of the couloir itself, the descent snakes more to a NE facing bowl that was firm chalk/windboard. It was engaging skiing with a ton of jump turns. I really got to practice my edge engagement as I skied my way down. The face was super broad and dramatic, looking down upon the Lone Pine valley. It was honestly pretty exhausting skiing after all the work of descending the chunder-filled couloir.
John and Jonathan were behind me and radioed that the couloir wasn’t as bad for them after I ‘planed’ it out for them. LOL. I guess one of the downsides of descending first. We continued skiing down the Lone Pine creek drainage to the point where snow began to end. We got some reverse corn on the way down, which was a nice break from the very firm ice/windboard/chalk.
Once the snow ended, we exited on the west side of the creek and wrapped back around to the trail we had used to ascend up the Meysan Lakes drainage. There was a large fire that had come through this area a year or two prior, so the underbrush was cleared out and it was mostly a ‘burn zone’. There was a lot of sand and dirt walking back to the car, in a somewhat ‘zombie’ mode.
Looking back up at the Lone Pine NE Face, I had a mixed emotion of pride and disappointment. Irvine’s NE Couloir was AMAZING; the NE (really SE) Couloir of Lone Pine was a huge disappointment to me, personally; the NE Face of Lone Pine I was proud to look back on. It pained me so much to have such an amazing line in terrible shape. I know there wasn’t much I could do, and that it was a really cool linkup…but still, the raw emotion of it hit me.