Pinner Couloir, Laurel Mountain, Eastern Sierra, California

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Skiing The Pinner Couloir On Laurel Mountain In California’s Eastern Sierra

Location: Pinner Couloir, Laurel Mountain, Eastern Sierra, California
Starting Point: Convict Lake Marina – 7580′
Aspect: SE
Distance: 7.5 miles
Time: 5 to 8 hours
Top Elevation: Laurel Mountain – 11,818′
Vertical: 4150′
USGS Maps: Bloody Mountain, Convict Lake
Guidebook: Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra by Dan Mingori and Nate Greenberg


After skiing Terminal Cancer in Nevada in the AM, seeing the sun setting over the Eastern Sierra in the PM was a welcome sight. After scouting around for a free place to park and camp, we packed up our gear for an early start to climb Laurel Mountain and ski the Pinner Couloir.

pinner couloir, eastern sierra, california
The Pinner Couloir

In the dark, we drove up Convict Lake Road and pulled in to the day use parking area near the Convict Lake Marina. It was crowded, probably because we were in California now. We geared up and hopped on the old heel-toe express in our approach shoes. The trail skirts along the north side of Convict Lake. At the far end, it begins to switchback up to the snow line. From the hike in, you can’t actually see the Pinner Couloir as it is tucked into the rock walls on the southeast aspect.

Convict Lake Road, Eastern Sierra, California
Driving Toward Convict Lake
John Muir Wilderness, Convict Lake
Entering The John Muir Wilderness

Based on beta provided by a local friend, we decided that the best route was to climb the SE aspect of the NE ridge up to 9600′ instead of booting the Pinner Couloir. It minimized risk in a new zone and eliminated any real overhead exposure. We ditched the shoes around 8000′ and slipped on the ski boots. Then we began the slow ski boot dirt walk up to the NE ridge of Laurel Mountain.

Eastern Sierra, California
Transitioning to Ski boots
Eastern Sierra, California
Climbing NE to the ridge
Laurel Mountain, Sierra CA
A long, steep walk in ski boots

About half way up this face, we met Zach and Chris from Colorado. They were also headed to the Pinner via the same route. At the ridge line, we opted to skirt the lower valley feature to the north and began a long and leisurely skin out and around the headwall of this valley.

MyTrailCO 50 Backpack
Testing out the MyTrailCo 50 Backpack
Laurel Mountain, California
Approaching the North Side of Laurel Mountain
Laurel Mountain, California
Skinning across the plateau

For the final 1000′ to the summit, we were forced to scramble over a precarious scree field. Luckily a faint climber’s trail led right to the summit. This trail was very helpful as the winds were gusting quite strongly. At any given moment if you weren’t completely balanced you’d get knocked off your feet.

Laurel Mountain, California
Scree Scramble to the summit
Laurel Mountain, California
Super windy knock-you-off-your-ski-boots summit photo
Convict Lake From the Summit of Laurel Mountain
Convict Lake From the Summit of Laurel Mountain

Finally we reached the summit of Laurel Mountain at 11,818′. Another group was at the top and they planned to ski the Mendenhall Couloir on the east face of Laurel Mountain. After transitioning in howling winds we skied south to the top of the Pinner Couloir.

Bloody Mountain from the summit of Laurel Mountain
Bloody Mountain from the summit of Laurel Mountain
Red Streak Peak north couloir
Red Streak Peak

We decided to ski as a big group and try to leap frog down the ski line due to the warm temps. The Pinner Couloir is a 40 degree ski line that starts in a large bowl before it funnels down between colorful rocks and finally enters a long and steep walled couloir. It runs roughly 3500′ to the valley bottom near Convict Creek. It’s a hidden line that’s easily seen from the mountains to the south, but is hard to see from Convict Lake zone. It’s a mind blowing ski descent in the right conditions.

pinner couloir, eastern sierra, california
Jeremy dropping into Pinner Couloir
pinner couloir, eastern sierra, california
The Pinner Couloir
pinner couloir, eastern sierra, california
Chris about half way down
pinner couloir, eastern sierra, california
Zach in the Pinner

The four of us dropped into the ski line one at at time, regrouping in safe spots. The Pinner Couloir never gets too narrow, there’s always plenty of room to make turns. But about half way down the ski line, we ran into an unwelcome surprise. The Pinner Couloir had recently seen wet slide activity and left the main walled section of couloir choked with hot chunder. It made for less than ideal ski conditions.

pinner couloir, eastern sierra, california
Looking into the Pinner Couloir
pinner couloir, eastern sierra, california
So much avalanche debris
pinner couloir, eastern sierra, california
Wet slide debris in the Pinner Couloir

It wasn’t enjoyable skiing as we strived to link a few random turns and criss crossed the avalanche debris down to the apron. To be safe, this took a lot of time to avoid any unnecessary athletic injuries. If we had booted the couloir, we would not have skied it. Eventually we all popped out on the apron. Below the debris was beautiful corn snow and superb turns.

pinner couloir, eastern sierra, california
The bottom of the Pinner Couloir
pinner couloir, eastern sierra, california
Exiting the couloir onto the apron

We then set a high traverse north below Sevehah Cliff to retrieve our shoes. As we slipped our shoes back on the feet, we watched a large wet slide tumble off the east facing rocks and cover the traverse we were just on. The bottom of the Mendenhall Couloir looked about the same as our descent. Glad we started early. It was time to hoof it back down the summer trail and enjoy a cold beer at the picnic tables by the Convict Lake Marina.

pinner couloir, eastern sierra, california
Traversing back to Convict Lake Trail
Mendenhall Couloir, Laurel Mountain
Mendenhall Couloir, Laurel Mountain

Skiing Pinner Couloir took 7 hours. We covered 7.5 miles and 4150′. Of course if you booted or took the direct and rocky NE ridge you might make it quicker. Glad to tick this one off of the list, but would love to return in primo conditions.

Convict Lake Marina, Eastern Sierra, California
Convict Lake Marina aka the place ot park

FYI – If you’re road tripping it, you can pay to use the showers, buy beer, and refill water tanks with tasty California well water at Convict Lake Resort.

See our route for skiing the Pinner Couloir on Laurel Mountain in California’s Eastern Sierra:


Here are additional photos from skiing the Pinner Couloir on Laurel Mountain in California’s Eastern Sierra:


This trip report from skiing the Pinner Couloir on Laurel Mountain in California’s Eastern Sierra is from April 22, 2017.