Split Mountain Northeast Couloir

Big Pine, California

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Hidden in the deep recesses between the two prominent aretes that split the eastern face of Split Mountain is a deep, narrow couloir. Norman Clyde first climbed this gully in 1930, following a heavy winter when avalanche debris covered the steep lower headwall. This 1,000-foot couloir holds one of the longest snow and ice climbs in the Sierra. As the glacier below has since receded, the steep headwall above the glacier is often exposed and forms the crux of the route. Bob Harrington recounted his ascent of this gully. “Bill St. Jean and I went in to climb the gully that goes up between the aretes in December, 1981. Bill was ahead of me and decided to climb the next gully to the north, as the start of this one is pretty serious. Instead of the usual bergschrund, it necks down to a 20-foot high, three-foot wide strip of 65-degree ice that you have to climb to gain access to the easier gully above. After a few hundred feet, I came to a cliff band in the gully. On the right was a 70' pitch of very steep water ice (climbed later by Yvon Chouinard, Richard Leversee and James Wilson) and on the left was a snow-choked chimney.” “The water ice wasn’t solo material for me, so I started up the chimney, but after a few feet I realized it was too hard. I took off my crampons and traversed out left on the rocks and went up until I could get back into the gully above the cliff. The rest of the climb was great, low angle water ice leading to a long section of perfect névé, ending right at the notch between the summits.” The gully has also received a few ski and snowboard descents. However, each of the parties has wisely chosen to rappel over the steep cliff to reach the glacier. Please note that conditions must be right for this route to be done safely because warmer conditions can bring an inordinate amount of rockfall down into the couloir. As mentioned earlier, to the right of the central couloir is the St. Jean Couloir, which was first climbed by long-time Bishop climber Bill St. Jean in December of 1981.

Split Mountain: Northeast Couloir Professional Review and Guide

"Hidden in the deep recesses between the two prominent aretes that split the eastern face of Split Mountain is a deep, narrow couloir. Norman Clyde first climbed this gully in 1930, following a heavy winter when avalanche debris covered the steep lower headwall. This 1,000-foot couloir holds one of the longest snow and ice climbs in the Sierra. As the glacier below has since receded, the steep headwall above the glacier is often exposed and forms the crux of the route. Bob Harrington recounted his ascent of this gully. “Bill St. Jean and I went in to climb the gully that goes up between the aretes in December, 1981. Bill was ahead of me and decided to climb the next gully to the north, as the start of this one is pretty serious. Instead of the usual bergschrund, it necks down to a 20-foot high, three-foot wide strip of 65-degree ice that you have to climb to gain access to the easier gully above. After a few hundred feet, I came to a cliff band in the gully. On the right was a 70' pitch of very steep water ice (climbed later by Yvon Chouinard, Richard Leversee and James Wilson) and on the left was a snow-choked chimney.” “The water ice wasn’t solo material for me, so I started up the chimney, but after a few feet I realized it was too hard. I took off my crampons and traversed out left on the rocks and went up until I could get back into the gully above the cliff. The rest of the climb was great, low angle water ice leading to a long section of perfect névé, ending right at the notch between the summits.” The gully has also received a few ski and snowboard descents. However, each of the parties has wisely chosen to rappel over the steep cliff to reach the glacier. Please note that conditions must be right for this route to be done safely because warmer conditions can bring an inordinate amount of rockfall down into the couloir. As mentioned earlier, to the right of the central couloir is the St. Jean Couloir, which was first climbed by long-time Bishop climber Bill St. Jean in December of 1981."

Activity Type: Climbing
Nearby City: Big Pine
Class: Class 4
Local Contacts: John Muir Wilderness; Kings Canyon National Park
Local Maps: USGS Split Mountain, Fish Springs
Driving Directions: Directions to Split Mountain: Northeast Couloir

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May 2018