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′
Distance: 7.5 miles
Time: 5 to 8 hours
Top Elevation: Laurel Mountain – 11,818′
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.