North Peak Left Couloir

27 Sep 1998 - by Ron Karpel

John Zazzara and I set up to climb the left couloir on North Peak. We hiked in from Saddlebag Lake trailhead Saturday afternoon and camped by Cascade Lake.

Sunday morning was foggy but dry. We climbed the 1000 ft slope west of the lake to the base of the couloir. There is an excellent view of all 3 couloir from this point.

We roped up at the base of the left couloir (the steepest of the 3) and John start leading. First half pitch was relatively easy and required no protections. The ice was brittle in places and require careful planting of the ice tools before proceeding with the next step. Following this relatively easy pitch came 5 full length pitches with ice angle 45 to 50 degree. Conditions vary from solid water ice to partially consolidated snow. We used ice screws, snow pickets and rock protections at different places. The climb was enjoyable and protected, but also relentless and technical. I was wearing relatively soft boots and having difficulty front pointing. I used a technique of frontpointing with 1 foot and sidepointing with the other to let my feet rest from time to time. I am sure those boots would not do on anything steeper then that couloir. John lead the first 4 pitches, then I lead the 5 and last full pitch which was mostly on softer and slippery snow. I carefully kicked each step in the snow to get a good perch. I was also low on protections. I used the only picket I had about half way up, and slings though some rocks to setup a belay point at the top.

At one point one of John's ice tools flew out of his hand. It slid right next to me and down until it disappeared out of site at the bottom of the couloir. I had to resist the instinct of trying to reach for the tool with my hand, too many sharp edges on these tools. John was able to downclimb with one tool to me and then rappel all the way down to the bottom of the couloir to retrieve his tool. Next time we will use gloves with better grip. Also carrying a third tool may be a good idea.

The descent took us on the loose scree slope on the other side of the ridge. Then following the ridge proper to a relatively low angel snow field that allowed us to get back to our camp. The climb took 5-6 hours, not including the hike in and out.

Aaron Schuman asked:

> Next time we will use gloves with better grip.
> Also carrying a third tool may be a good idea.

What about tying a leash from the tool to your belt?

Ron Karpel replied:

Yap, that will work too.

The tools have a leash that attached to your wrist which is used during normal climbing. Then you want to be able to take the leash off so your hand is free to set protections. You usually simply drive the pick of the tool into the snow, and let go. In that particular case John was reaching over his back trying to get an ice picket out of his backpack. I am not sure how it happen, but I think something caught on the tool and yanked it out of the snow. One thing about ice climbing is that there is so much gear -- ice pickets, screws, ice tools, rope, carabiners and what not, and you have to manipulate everything with gloved hands.


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