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Pyramid Peak 11.728′ – Mammoth Lakes

Pyramid peak 11,728′

If you are really into ski touring, just move to Mammoth Lakes. This is the epicenter for Sierra rock climbing, hiking, backpacking, and backcountry ski touring. I like to think of Tahoe as an ideal “center” position in California, in-between Mt. Whitney and Mt. Shasta. Tahoe also rules for mountain bike trails and airport access. Our mountains are tiny compared to what begins 2 hours south of here in Bridgeport, CA, and continues for 100 miles to Lone Pine, CA. I almost moved to Mammoth when our kids were born. Tahoe certainly worked out for my family; things couldn’t have gone better. But Mammoth Lakes could be the most ideal spot for a mountain person on earth. Who wants crevasses anyway? Who needs a big city nearby? Ok back to Pyramid Peak, which is just one of a thousand little guys right behind town that BLOWS AWAY the options of peaks in Tahoe. You don’t even notice Pyramid Peak unless you know where to quickly look left into Valentine Canyon on hwy 395. The thing is so impressive however that I bet you’ve all seen it.

I have only gone up there twice. I can say this is a very worthwhile adventure for beginners if you just go up the west side to the summit and return the way you came. Or this will be one of the more serious ski descents of your life if you drop in the “para chute” couloir. My first series of pictures here shows Logan Talbot and Eric Ongerth joining me on that drop. The second series of pictures aere from one year later when Howie Schwartz and I found an alternate, mellower entrance east of the summit, that had more west exposure. Both times we avoided climbing up the couloir itself, as proposed in the Moynier Guidebook. I doubt he did that either. There is no point. I have enjoyed the exciting ice axe climbs to ski down stuff, but that was the only option. And yes, you should examine the condition of the snow in the terrain you intend to ski when possible. For this peak however; you will want to just skin around from North or West. In both ski descents I have made from the summit, I could see down the two couloirs enough to know what we were getting into. You add a little more unknown danger to drop into a couloir like this, but you avoid falling during a climb….and also you avoid other skiers dropping snow and rocks onto you.

Eric lived in Mammoth for years, and came to work at our shop in the mid 2000’s. He was amazing, I wish he still lived here. We were down there skiing after a huge dump and decided on the Pyramid Peak Para Chute Couloir for lack of avy danger. Yup, this is a strategy sometimes. The steepest and narrowest snow couloirs will slide during the storm. There could be any danger in the apron below, and a bergstrom to assess after skiing big couloirs.

We brought a rope, and I was lowered in by Logan so I could try and move any remaining wind slab from the top. I don’t recall thinking the angle of the couloir was crazy steep, like it looks from far away. I was on Tele Gear. But the rope obviously took away my sense of entry difficulty. There was no cornice, and the couloir was a few ski widths so sliding in went easy. I skied halfway down and hid, while Eric was lowered in to begin his ski. I remember Eric had those BD Crossbow skis at 82mm waist.  Then Logan went in without the rope on AT gear. We leap frogged once or twice and found shin deep soft snow that was pretty good and glided out Sherwin Creek.

To access Pyramid Peak, we left a car on Sherwin Road and bumped ourselves up to the Nordic Center parking lot at Lake Mary. This is really beautiful back here. We skinned past Arrowhead and Skeleton Lake and angled up to the top of Pyramid Peak. We had to scramble a little at the top in the dirt with nothing tricky, and probably not quite 3rd class.

A year later I went up there again with my friend Howie Schwartz. This time I was hiring Howie for some ski guide training. I had just taken the AMGA ski guide course with Howie and Bela, and wanted a follow up. We skied Independence Peak and Pyramid Peak with me making the tour plan and guiding Howie. The next two winters brought almost no snow. I got busy with other sports, started collecting surgeries from a few accidents, and didn’t become a ski guide. I loved the experience and learned a lot, and totally recommend this level of AMGA training for recreational skiers. You guide your friends and family, right? We didn’t use a car shuttle this time. We just skinned through the woods up the north side of the mountain and landed on top with skis still on. We bailed on the Para Chute as it wasn’t in condition to ski and looked around for another way down. We found an easier chute with soft sun warmed snow. I think Howie knew this nice little escape chute was up there. We could have skied back the way we came up, but that would have been boring. Skiing the peak in a loop from the car was about 3500′, but it will take you longer than skiing Tallac back in Tahoe. Our car shuttle tour with eric went a bit quicker, but you’ll want to spend all day out there. Look at the views from this peak! Holy Shit! You are definitely skiing Banner and Ritter after you see them from Pyramid. I a ski tour out there posted on the website as well now.

Pyramid Peak is in the out-of-print John Moynier Backcountry Skiing California’s High Sierra Guidebook. You can figure it out on your own on the map. Hire Howie Schwartz IFMGA, owner of Sierra Mountain Guides in Bishop. Or hire any AMGA guide to hit some big East Side Peaks if you are not experienced enough to launch on your own. I know many of them and have great recommendations depending on where want to ski. Logan Talbot went on to earn his full IFMGA certification, which is the highest international guide standard. He is co-owner of Alpenglow Expeditions with Adrian Ballinger, located right here at home in Olympic Valley, CA. He is an amazing educator and fun person to go into the mountains with.

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