Diagram of the Northwest Couloir route of Nez Perce.
The Northwest Couloirs route is the easiest way up Nez Perce, the 11,901 ft titan of Garnet Canyon. While the route is technically rated 4th class, it is very easy to get off route and find yourself in low 5th class terrain. There is an optional rappel just beneath summit block, which allows one to circumvent some of the exposed down climbing. While a rope is not necessary on this route, it is highly recommended if you have inexperienced members in your party. The route requires a total of 11 miles round trip and 5,140 feet of elevation gain.
Nez Perce seen from Garnet Canyon
Cloudveil dome seen from the base of Nez Perce. The south fork of Garnet Canyon is just out of the photo to the right
Drive to the Lupine Meadows Trailhead, and follow the trail to Garnet Canyon. There are campsites at the platforms and the meadows of Garnet Canyon. These are great places to camp if you are doing the climb in 2 or more days. From the meadows, cross the boulder field leading to the south fork of Garnet Canyon. Unless you are climbing in late summer, you will most likely run into snowfields leading up to the south fork of the Canyon. From the south fork of the Canyon you will be able to see the Northwest Couloirs.
The Northwest Couloirs of Nez Perce seen from the south fork of Garnet Canyon
The northwest couloirs of Nez Perce seen in June
Looking down towards the south fork of Garnet Canyon from the base of the Northwest Couloirs of Nez Perce
The Grand Teton seen at first light from the base of the Northwest face/couloirs of Nez Perce
At the base of the Northwest Couloirs you will see several steep gullies. From here you have several options in order to reach the main couloir which leads towards the summit. If you pick your route correctly you will be able to stick to 3rd and 4th class terrain. There is a rock ridge in between two of the lower gullies which has some pretty exposed low 5th class moves. Following this ridge to its top will lead you to a satellite peak of Nez Perce which looks like the main summit on the way up.
Looking down from partway up the Northwest Couloirs of Nez Perce
Looking up from midway on the Northwest Couloirs
A climber looking down from high on the rock ridge leading to a satellite peak, just beneath the actual summit block. The more traditional route to the summit is further to the right and significantly less exposed.
The view from the satellite peak of Nez Perce, just beneath the main summit block. Traversing off of this peak to the main route requires a very exposed traverse. If you end up here, a rope is very handy.
Once you reach the main couloir the route traverses left over a large rock buttress, and then up a steep rocky slope. This leads to the main summit block, which can be ascended several ways. The 4th class way zig zags its way up the left side of the cliff, finally leading to the main summit ridge. There is a rappel station located just beneath the summit block on the northwest side. Reaching the rappel anchor requires a small amount of down climbing. The anchor is located underneath an overhang. One 50-60 meter rope is sufficient.
The Grand Teton seen from the summit of Nez Perce, with a storm approaching.
The North Face of Mount Wister seen from the summit of Nez Perce, looking towards the south.
Looking at the traverse that must be made from the satellite peak of Nez Perce, to the main summit block
Looking up steep low 5th class terrain, which is very easy to wander into on the Northwest Couloir route
If you are climbing in the early season an ice axe is a must. Even in mid summer you may encounter snow on the route. Bringing along a rope is a good idea, if only to use for rappelling. If you intend to ascend the rock ridge leading to the satellite peak, a couple mid sized cams are recommended. A helmet is a must on this route. There is a lot of loose rock, particularly in the lower reaches.
The Grand Teton seen from halfway up the Northwest Couloirs/Face of Nez Perce
Teewinot seen from midway up the Northwest Couloir route