Crescent Moon Couloir

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 38.66360°N / 120.0003°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Mar 2, 2002
March 2, 2002

0) Introduction

It wasn't until Friday afternoon (March 1, 2002) that I decided to look into climbing Round Top's Crescent Moon Couloir on Saturday. I was already planning on taking 1 day over the weekend for hiking so I figured why not this? I quickly checked out the info on, posted a request for information (RFI ;-) on current conditions and called a climbing friend of mine to see if he wanted to join me. After getting some good conditions advice from Daniel, keema, and pieris, I was convinced I should go, however, my friend and I decided that he probably shouldn't go this time. His friend told him that there was avalanche danger in the Sierras and he would be looking to me for avalanche experience/guidance. Since I have very little avalanche experience beyond what I've read (though I have played with transceivers), I wasn't about to take responsibility (don't you hate that word? ;-) for someone else in case anything hit the fan. As it turned out, I didn't preceive any avalanche danger - but then again, that's only my perception. Special thanks to snwburd for submitting this route and photos as I, and the several people I spoke with, had never heard of this climb before.

1) Round Top - Crescent Moon Couloir - March 2, 2002

I woke up Saturday morning and drove out to Carson Pass, following the route I take to the Kirkwood Ski Resort (just 5.5 miles west of Carson Pass on CA SR-88). Once I got to the parking lot, I followed the PCT south through the woods until I came out in the clearing at which time I made a bee-line to the base of the couloir bypassing Winnemucca Lake. Since the couloir is north facing in the northern hemisphere, it stays in the shade most of the time. Once I got to the clearing, route finding was easy since snwburd had posted some excellent photos a couple of weeks earlier. At 9060' I stopped under the shade of the trees to have some snacks when I noticed the footprints switch-backing as they went up into the couloir (snwburd's I thought ;-). When I got closer to the base of the couloir, I saw that there was a large snow "debris" field right below the bottom of the couloir which could have been the result of a slide. The debris started below the couloir and nothing inside had slid. I hiked across it about 30' below the "flat spot" after which I was to the right and above the debris for the climb. When I got to the base of the couloir by the flat spot, I changed from snowshoes and trekking poles to crampons and ice axes. I had my trusted mountaineering axe and a new ice tool with me "just in case." As it turned out, the ice tool wasn't very useful though I learned why people use insulated gloves with them ;-) There were two sets of tracks going into the couloir - one turned right at at the first junction while the second headed up the right-hand chute of the couloir. It seemed like the steps were made a while ago so I had to solidify each one a bit while going up the right-hand chute. Near the top of the couloir there was a 1.5" hard snow crust over 5" of unconsolidated snow before hitting hard snow. I sunk my mountaineering axe's shaft to the hilt each time until near the top when I hit some rocks. The crux of the climb was about 20 feet from the top of the couloir when I hit a partially-exposed exposed rock that I had to climb over. This wouldn't normally be an issue except for the angle of the route at this point (60°?) - I considered this a "no fall zone." For the ice tool, I had a new BD Android leash which I unclipped several times for photographs - very cool. When I got to the top of the couloir I rested for a bit before hopping on top of some rocks to look at the east summit. I knew the east summit was higher from keema's SummitPost mountain page :-)

To my dismay, the east summit looked far away, at least, it looked like a miserable class 2 slog over there. When I got there, I found out that it was worse - it was horribly loose class 3. I had to test my holds well to make sure they wouldn't give. Because the class 2 traverse across the south slopes was at a moderate angle for long distances down, I had left my pack close to the top of the couloir and carried only my poles and camera with me. When I got back to my pack, I was happy I tagged the east summit, because the west summit was just a few short steps away from the couloir's right-hand chute exit. On the way out, I put on my crampons just below the west summit to get through some icy sections in the rocks and then glissaded down the lower north-facing slopes until I started post-holing. Then it was back to snowshoes and the hike out. I found only 1 trail-marker on the way out, however, I just followed myriad snowshoe tracks until I ended up at the road a few hundred feet east of the Sno-Park. I headed up-hill to the pass and then it was back to my car and the Bay Area, arriving home sometime before midnight.

When I logged in on Sunday to post my photos, I was glad I didn't see Morgan's comments about the slides in the area beforehand or that might have convinced me to stay home ;-) Looking back, I'm also glad I did a winter climb of the couloir for my first trip to this mountain - a lot of fun.


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