For years I’ve been eyeing the couloirs that snake directly up the north face of Bear Mountain (the wall above Mirror Lake on the Glenn Highway). There are 2 very obvious lines – a direct couloir that drops straight off the summit for almost 3000′ and a twisty turny line that ascend though rock bands and tops out just east of the summit. This year the couloirs have been melting out and thin ribbons of ice have been appearing, making them quite appealing!
After eyeing them for a couple weeks I talked Bryce and Yvonne into heading up there to check them out. We opted to go for the obvious northwest direct couloir, not knowing what the other would entail. So we left one car at the Peter’s Creek trailhead, parked another car at the scout camp and started the tromp up through the woods.
The approach was quite easy this time of year; there was a little devils club to deal with but little snow and in less than an hour we had reached the base of the couloir and started up. The bottom portion had mounds of debris from a season’s worth of slides, but everything was quite stable so we headed up.
About 500′ up we finally encountered the ice; a thin ribbon snaking uphill. We had hauled ropes, screws, pins and pickets so dug out the ropes and Bryce headed up. Unfortunately the ice only last about 25′ – and then it was back to snow. Bryce set a belay and brought up Yvonne while I soloed up ahead and began booting up the couloir. Above the ice, Yvonne unroped and then we all set off.
The rest of the couloir was straightforward; essentially you climb close to 2500′ of snow that averages 45-50 degrees while you twist and turn up a very narrow gully with steep rock walls on either side. It took us about 3 hours to reach the top.
At the top we repacked all our gear and then headed down. As we neared treeline I saw a pit in the snow with tracks all around it; we all started over to investigate it when suddenly we realized the tracks were bear tracks and that there was fur all over the place; in a panic we all sprinted away thinking we had found a bear den. After that the decent was straight forward; except that we didn’t know where the trail was and got a bonus bushwhack down 1000′ of steep willow slopes.
The line we climbed was fun – but rather mellow. If you’re interested in heading up there for some urban alpine, I would suggest you check out the line that tops out east of the summit. It appears to have a bit more ice in it and is a tad steeper. Below is a photo showing the ice and a map showing where to park. Leave one car at Peter’s Creek and park at the Scout Camp; it will take you about an hour to reach the base. Be aware of the upper slopes which are getting sun now.