Trip Report: North Couloir on McGown Peak, Idaho

4/19/2015

As has been the theme with ski missions this spring, I got a buddy on board to leave after work on Thursday, with the plan to ski on Friday. This time it was Greg from skiing the Grand Teton that would be joining me in the car. We would also be meeting up with Craig Wolfrom, whom I had connected with. His blog posts about skiing various lines in the Sawtooths as well as his constant stream of information on conditions had me convinced he would be a great partner.

Just like the approach to the Sickle Couloir, we rode our bikes down a closed, mostly dry road. Craig had camped out the night before, and we met him at about 6:30 in the morning at Stanley Lake. After ditching the bikes, the three of us hopped, skipped, and jumped across some small streams that ran through the marshy area. Once we hit the snow, we put our skis on and skinned up to the bottom of the couloir.

Walking around the lake in early morning light

Walking around the lake in early morning light

The climb up the couloir was easy, as a gang of four had set a bootpack the day prior that we followed. However, once we got to the top of the couloir, we noticed that there were no tracks to the summit. Wrapping around the mountain and scrambling up the last 100 feet, we were on top of McGown Peak, one of the most photographed mountains in the Sawtooths. It was awesome! We climbed back down and clicked into our skis.

Booting up the couloir

Booting up the couloir

Heading towards the summit

Heading towards the summit

Top of McGown Peak! Psyched!

Top of McGown Peak! Psyched!

The very top of the couloir was sloppy seconds, but it wouldn’t have mattered if we got there first anyways. After side-stepping down a few feet, there was a choke narrower than our skis were long. Gingerly stepping over the rocks led to some fun hop turns in the steep and narrow.

Tricky entrance

Tricky entrance

Fun in the couloir

Fun in the couloir

Things opening up

Things opening up

It quickly opened up and we were playing in our own sluff. There wasn’t a ton of it coming down, but it was still soft snow and fun skiing. We came out into the apron with smiles on our face.

While we sat in the sun and ate some lunch on a rock, we were all super psyched. Craig had been turned around on the same line in years previous, and the fact that we got it without anything going wrong on a perfect bluebird day with good snow had us all really happy.

The North Couloir is not particularly gnarly. It’s steep enough to keep you on your toes, but it’s not nearly as steep, sustained, or narrow as The Sickle. However, it is absolutely beautiful to look at. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area sees enough visitors per year that it’s necessary to book campsites out months in advance, and Craig says that McGown peak may be the most photographed mountain in the state. Doing an image search for nothing but “Idaho mountain” will procure photos of the North Couloir on McGown. It’s certainly a classic line to be able to lay claim to on skis.

Three happy skiers

Three happy skiers

Here’s a video

benwhiteskis

Ben likes to ski