|Peaks:||Torreys Peak - 14,267 feet|
Grays Peak - 14,270 feet
One of my climbing partners, Matt, and I have been talking about doing a winter ascent on Kelso ridge for quite a few months now. With both of itching to get out and get that zen, we finally planned a trip for MLK weekend. Our plan was to leave Colorado Springs on mid-day Saturday and get up to the trail head to camp and climb Kelso ridge to Torrey's peak and then head over to Grays and back down to the car on Sunday.
After stopping for some lunch at Chipotle in Castle Rock (not keeping in mind that we would be sharing a tent that night) I threw out an idea that we should try and summit Torreys on that night and camp. We had both always talked of how we wanted to winter camp on a 14er summit and this was our chance. Matt said he was game.
We arrived at the Summer trailhead in His Jeep Cherokee at around 2:30 PM with ease. I would have been pretty comfortable attempting this in my Honda CR-V or a Subaru outback to be honest. There was one spot where Ice covers the road and after that, it was all packed snow as long as you don't pull over for folks coming down. Sorry, no pics of the road for beta but if you were skiing up and/or down, you could ski probably 90% of the road.
After laying out all of our gear and re-packing our packs for the new goal Matt went to rid of some of the Chipotle before the hike. He came out of the crapper looking like this:
He said "I have always heard stories of crap stalagmite, but never believed it to be true." He said I had to look for myself because the tower was unbelievable. I tried to take a picture but it didn't come out so well. Let's just say it looked something like this if you were a midget inside of the septic tank:
After the good laugh we were off on the trail by 3 PMish. The beautiful start looked about like this with Matt leading the way:
After probably less than half an hour of hiking we passed a couple of climbers that were returning from an attempt of Dead Dog couloir. They said a that about 150 yds from the summit the snow got too soft and deep and the cornice was looking rather nasty. They made a good call and decided to bail. They were lucky they did not cause a slide as they were not carrying any Avy gear and did not do any snow tests. Not too long later we crossed the Kelso Mountain Avalanche that we were warned about on the forums. I stopped just before the slide area and let Matt lead the way across one at a time. The slide came right over the trail.
Matt looked back and snapped a pic of me by the rubble:
Very shortly after that, we arrived at the old wood hut by the old mine at the low point on Kelso Ridge. The sun was below the peak at this point and it began to get colder. While donning our crampons and some more layering, we saw two climbers coming up and heading for Grays. Hearing their voices carry, we determined that they were women climbers. After yodeling at them from across the valley, we began our adventure up Kelso ridge as the dark set in.
As the dark was enveloping everything, I negotiated the first bit of fun
The next bit of fun was a section that was a steep ice filled gap that was about 40 M high. We kicked up steps and hammered in our axes while grabbing the surrounding rock with our free hands. Here are a couple of pictures of Matt quickly pulling through a class 3 section before headlamps became necessary.
It all looks easy until you remember that you are carrying a full pack with winter camping gear and then you have to get serious. Most of the climb to this point was fairly straight forward. There were a couple of places where the exposure was pretty high on the ridge. This is where there are no unimportant steps and you don't walk by the edge because you don't know where the rock ends and you are just walking on snow looking to fall into the black abyss. Eventually we came to the section that was considered possibly 4th class. With headlamps on we worked this section one at a time. We both already had our climbing harnesses on and the 30M rope ready ready. This was one of those spots where you don't want to fall for you would surely die. Matt pulled through it with no problems and offered to throw down the rope for a belay. I politely declined as I feel that I have enough scrambling experience under my belt to handle what he had just climbed. It was an awesome section that required some good focus. I even forgot that I had 45lbs on my back until I was near the top and a slight overhang in the rock above caught on my pack. Here is a pic of Matt leading the way through that section:
We opted to rest for a few minutes after that section before continuing on. After this point, the wind picked up quite a bit to 30MPH or so I would say. Eventually, we came to the infamous "knife edge" and we knew that we were finally getting close to the summit. Matt climbed up to peak at the "knife edge." At this point, it seemed the only option. With no packs and in the daylight, this would have been a non-issue, but with full winter camping gear, the darkness of the night, and a good amount of wind we were both feeling a bit anxious about this knife edge. Although we could have made it and even roped up if necessary, we decided to climb down and to the right. We were so glad we did as it seemed a much easier 3rd class scramble with those conditions.
Before we knew it, we arrived at the summit. We were so excited. #28 for me.
The sky was clear as ever and we could see the night skiing lights of Keystone. We were both kind of tired so we began looking for where we would pitch our tent. At the very highest point there was a good bit of snow present. We decided to chop it out level with shovels and axes. The now was hard and came out in blocks so we piled them around the top and outside. This build a three sided wall around where we would put our three season tent.
After climbing in the tent and out of the wind, we setup our gear and climbed in our bags and began to cook dinner. I actually carried some hot dogs and buns up in my pack. The buns were flat from being smashed but we didn't care the slightest bit. We were just hungry and tired. After cooking up our hot dogs, we both began to eat them. After the first bite, we were both like "this is so good but I don't think I could eat another."
Shortly after, I put my boots, nalgenes, and fuel canister in my bag, removed all of my layers but my base layer and I was out. It was probably about 7:30 at this time. I was super warm in my bag and enjoyed having a pee bottle and not having to get up and outside on the frigid summit. The night seemed to last forever and eventually I had a headache set in. I figured it was a combo of the elevation getting to me and slight dehydration. I started sipping some water and drank about ¾ liter over a period of 2 hours or so. Then it happened, I felt nauseous . I quickly unzipped the tent door on my side and spilled out all of that water that I thought was hydrating me. I tossed and turned and it seemed like the sun was never come up. When it finally began to get lighter out, I heard snow pattering against the ceiling. Alright 10% chance for snow and here it is. We peeked outside and realized that visibility was about 10'.
After trying to get some breakfast down in my stomach and some hot coffee, I puked again. We decided it was time to pack up and lose some elevation before things worsened for me. Matt wasn't feeling 100% either. Here are a couple of pics of our tent and visibility at the summit:
While not completely necessary we put on our crampons and double checked our direction of travel on the GPS. We did not want to descend the wrong side of the mountain in the fogginess of our altitude sickness and the low visibility. Just before climbing out of the tent we heard some popping and some loud noises. We looked at each other and both agreed that it sounded like an Avy somewhere below us. Hey, at least at the high point on the mountain, we knew that nothing was coming down on us. Just because I carry Avy gear does not mean that I ever want to use it other than for practice.
The clouds lifted just a slight amount and while arriving at the center of the saddle between Grays and Torreys, we saw a few folks making their way up Grays. We arrived at the split to either descend and meet the Grays trail or summit grays.
I was feeling better already but still had a way to go to feeling great. While not feeling the best, I figured we had all day to ascend a few hundred feet on Grays and if I felt too horrible, we could turn back. With 20 steps at a time so as not to puke and also not overheat. In no time, we were nearing the summit.
Alas, we made Grays summit. #29 for me. I felt like a tard feeling like crap after that super simple ascent, but I felt like a Man at the same time for fighting through it and not giving up.
On the top of the page of the new summit register, I noticed PAK on there. A shout out to him from this site to whom I climbed Castle Peak with last spring and endured with me and my dog through my first climb on the snow. Almost twice my age and he seriously kicked my butt! I will never forget that!
After a few minutes of rest and some water, we began our descent.
While visibility wasn't optimal for the beautiful scenery of Colorado's front range, we were both happy for the gentle descent of Grays.
With every step, we were both feeling better and better.
We passed by a couple of folks on the way up. While not entirely necessary we wore our crampons for the entire descent in the flurrying snow. I would say yak traks or comparable would have been more than sufficient on Grays trail.
It's hard to make out in this picture but that Avy we thought we heard earlier was real. While there was minimal snow on Grays, you can see there was quite a bit on the face of Torreys. Dead Dog Couloir where the two folks were the day before slid. I guess the wind loaded just enough snow overnight on the cornice to release the snow. Thank God this did not happen while anyone was climbing on it.
Getting closer and closer to the car kept looking back and stepping off trail as I looked at the ridge that we had climbed the night before.
And a quick beta photo of there you start Kelso ridge near the old mine as if there aren't enough for this commonly climbed trail out there already.
Matt was looking pretty content with our accomplishment. As pretty much anyone can hike Grays and Torreys in the summer, and most folks can still do them in winter, and it is not uncommon for people to have winter successes on Kelso ridge. Knowing that we were crazy enough to do all of this at night felt pretty satisfying.
Next, a look at the valley towards the car and the side of Kelso Mountain on the left. Notice that the trail is snowpacked but not much risk of any avalanche on Grays.
Once again crossing the avalanche risk area on Kelso, we created some distance between us to finish out that section
Matt caught a photo of me taking a photo
In no time, we were back at the car just in time for the clouds and fog to begin burning off and the sun beginning to peak out. We changed clothes and cooked some beef stew and downed a bunch of water and hung out for a while. We noticed that it was much more of a mild temp at the car all night. So much so that the water and beer left in the car was not frozen or even kind of icy. This was a big difference compared to the one aluminum water bottle that I left out of my sleeping bag inside of the tent that was frozen solid.
All in all, it was a great hike and we both fulfilled the long lasting dream of winter camping on the summit. Once again, it is always an adventure when climbing with MountainMicah83, even if you are on Grays and Torreys. I can't wait for our next trip which we are tentatively planning for the class 3 ridge on La Plata within the next month or so.
We met several nice folks on the trail. If you were one of them, thanks for chatting with us.
See you at the top!