Pyramid (West) Couloir (Winter/Spring)

Pyramid (West) Couloir (Winter/Spring)

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 38.84430°N / 120.158°W
Additional Information Route Type: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Spring, Winter
Additional Information Time Required: One to two days
Additional Information Difficulty: Class 2-3
Sign the Climber's Log


The Pyramid Couloir is a broad and attractive line on the W-NW side of the mountain. It offers a more interesting and technical way to the top for those wanting to spice up their ascent. It gains approximately 900ft and deposits you a short distance from the actual summit.

Getting There

Topo showing Pyramid Couloir Winter Route
The normal way to approach the couloir is from Lake Sylvia, starting at the Lyons Creek trailhead . Wright's Lake Road is not plowed in winter however, and if you are wanting to climb the couloir in winter/spring, you will have to put in some extra miles and effort in the approach.

A winter/spring alternative is to start your approach on Hwy 50 and go up Rocky Canyon. The physical crux of the whole climb is immediately upon leave your car. You will be glad to leave the side of the freeway and the cars buzzing you at 60mph though. Assuming you are planning to camp out one night, you will be loaded and going up the steep drainage. If the snow conditions are wet or unconsolidated, expect strenuous trail breaking unless you have the luck to follow someone else's tracks. Snowbridges over the manzanita can be thin and weak, so do your best to give anything that looks like protruding vegetation a wide berth, unless you are a masochist who gets kicks out of plummeting into the voids next to the bushes. Snowshoes with ascenders (heel lifters) can make your life easier. It's your choice whether to follow the drainage exactly. We went up the W (left) side, and departed from the stream further the more we went up.

Once you have ascended the drainage, things get easier as the snow should firm up and the gradient eases. Continue N-NW and find a campsite among the many options. How far you go is up to you, but the easy descent option from the summit goes directly S, so the more you traverse around to the W on the first day, the more you will have to backtrack to get to your tent (unless you downclimb the couloir). A good place to camp is among the trees in one of the small bowls directly S of the summit, at around 8,300-8,400ft.

The following day you will have to traverse around to the NW side of the mountain. This involves crossing over the SW rib of the mountain, and following that the W ridge. This is best done if you maintain your elevation until you clear the SW rib in order to avoid unnecessary ups and downs. Clearing the SW rib is straightforward. Once you get up onto the W ridge, it's your choice how far down to drop down, if at all. If you are comfortable traversing on 30-35deg slopes, pick your line and proceed NW, slowly ascending towards the small NW rib of the mountain. You will now have stunning views of the N bowl and Lake Sylvia, dropping down on your left. Once you have cleared the small NW rib, continue curving around to climber's right, and the couloir should finally become visible. The summit should be visible towards the SE, to the left of the couloir.

Route Description

Sunrise over Pyramid Couloir
Close-up of Pyramid Couloir
Pyramid Couloir in Apr 2011
The simplest route up the couloir is straight up for about 900ft. The difficulty will depend on conditions. Large seasonal variations may be possible, which affect how you approach the climb. An excellent description by aahz is available here, but the photos show a very different picture to when we went up (April 2011, after a very snowy winter and spring). The terrain angle in the couloir should be under 45deg, with the steepest section at the top. However, a steep snowbank had formed in the middle of the couloir 2011, which exceeded 60deg. We opted to circumvent this by heading climber's left, and then traversing across to the right again in the top half of the couloir. If the snow bank is there and you are feeling like more of a challenge, some pro might offer solace. Check for snow stability.

The top section of the couloir heads up and left towards the obvious gap. A huge cornice had formed when we climbed - not a good place to linger, and best done while the sun is still low early in the morning, after a solid night's (re)freeze of the snowpack. I measured the last section at 53deg. With any luck, you will have perfect cramponing conditions like we did. American technique (pied troisieme) was sufficient to clear this section and top out. From there a short 10-15min walk will take you to the summit and hopefully reward you with spectacular, panoramic views (and a golf club!).

Depending on conditions therefore, the climb can be done by beginner climbers, or it may require a little more experience. If you are looking to play around, there are several possible steep exit lines on your left at by the rocks as you ascend the couloir, including one steep gully whioh could offer fun mixed climbing.

To descend, head directly S from the summit along the broad shoulder to rejoin your tent.

Essential Gear

Crampons, ice axe, avy gear (shovel, probe, beacon, and knowledge how to use them!) and standard winter/camping gear esential. Depending on experience and conditions, a rope and some pro (e.g. pickets) might be desirable.



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