My buddy Pat and I climbed Torrey's Peak on Thursday 05/23 via Dead Dog Couloir, and although this TR doesn't contain pretty pictures, the beta might be valuable for those planning on heading to the mountains this weekend. So here is the 'just the facts' report.
FR 189 access- On Tuesday, 05/21 we were able to drive about 1.5 miles up the road before being stopped by snow. Upon returning to the car on 05/23, enough melt had occurred such that a 4WD vehicle could likely make it much farther, perhaps even most of the way to the avalanche debris field that resulted from the slide off of Kelso. That snow is going to be there for a long while though.
We had a terribly late start on the 21st, so by the time we crossed the bridge at the Grays TH, the snow was very soft and we suffered through a fair bit of postholing as we made our way to camp. I don't think that the amount of postholing warranted the use of snowshoes, as it was mostly just a occasional inconvenience. However with continued warm weather predicted for the weekend, more areas will become soft. Avoid areas near the brownish-red bushes that stick out from the snowpack, as air pockets under these bushes create unstable surface snow, promoting the postholing. The best solution; leave early while the snow is frozen.
We camped at 12,200 ft. in a flat area just SE of the Kelso Saddle. On the morning of the 23rd, we left camp at 7:00 am and took a direct line to the fan below Dead Dog Couloir, which we reached by 7:30. Despite sunny conditions, the snow was firm and accepting of a kicked-step. Evidence of several slides dotted the lower reaches of the couloir and a few hikers who traveled below the fan on the previous day mentioned witnessing a few slides. When I used to climb with guides, they always took the debris path up critical slopes (if passable, see below), as their opinion was that the tension has been released there and the probability of a slide in that area was effectively diminished. Additionally, my first impression was that the "rougher" areas would make for nice footholds, but I soon realized that these were quite unstable and resulted in two steps forward, one step back. Too much air underneath...stick to the clean snow.
The snow conditions varied throughout the couloir, ranging from perfect to abominable. Unfortunately, the much of the route was of the abominable flavor, as we postholed for at least 50% of the time, which made the couloir exhausting. I cannot imagine how much energy we would have saved under better conditions. Nevertheless we made it off of the couloir by 10:30 am. I am not the best at judging slope angles, but I've been on several slopes of fairly well known slope angles, and my guess is that we were on 45 degree slopes for the majority of the climb. This ramped up to probably 50 degrees toward the top of the couloir. I was leading for the majority of the climb, so I used a glacier axe and an ice tool, while Pat used just a glacier axe. If you come across our steps, avoid them, as the majority of them are at least 18" deep. You will better off making your own. No protection was necessary, as any slide could be arrested in the soft snow. As you reach the top 100 ft. of the couloir, you have an option to go left or right. We went right, which dumped us out on Kelso Ridge above the white rock. I don't know where the left path goes, but I saw no opening once we were on Kelso Ridge that suggested that it placed you on the ridge conveniently.
Turning left off of the couloir, the slope really doesn't relent. Here, an additional challenge awaited us, as the slopes held powdery snow that did not accept any kind of kick-step or ice tool. The initial ten feet of ridge climb was completed by actually crawling on our hands and knees in a effort to distribute our weight so that the snow wouldn't simply slough away. Once above this, however, passage became more normal. We were on the summit by 11:00, thoroughly tired. We descended, uneventfully, via the Grays/Torrey's Saddle.
The couloir was tiring, but a great route. Pat and I are from Ohio, so any chance to get into the mountains is cherished, and the Dead Dog made for a memorable climb that topped of three days in the Front Range.
I hope that this information is of some use for the many of you who will heading out for the holiday weekend. I have posted several times in the last few months looking for information to plan this trip, and the 14ers community has been very forthcoming, which is much appreciated.
Colorado 14er peak questions, condition requests and other info.
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