| Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines...
It all started with an ill-prepared Blanca attempt and a life experience on the dunes many moons ago. After that, my adventurous spirit lay dormant for years while I finished college and stepped out into the rest of my life.
Then all of a sudden back in February a long time friend, and now present roommate and I were discussing matters in our office when I mentioned my Blanca attempt. During the story and conversations over the next week my buddy Chuck becomes highly interested, and whilst discussing the matter myself I get that competitive burning feeling you sometimes feel after a defeat. I wanted vengeance, he was incredibly curious, and that was that. We have a Blanca attempt planned for later in the year. We started buying gear, researching maps, and reading articles to educate ourselves the best we could. As you probably know, once all of our gear came in we had to immediately try this stuff out, and the Blanca trip was just too far away. So we planned our Grays-Torreys Trip for June 3-5. We wanted to climb Dead Dog and then scale the traverse and come down Grays. Three weeks ago I realized that last weekend was the three memorial day weekend, and we should utilize that time. We decided to bump the trip up to last weekend (May 27-30).
We arrived at Bakersville about 1300 and were on the trail by 1400 after changing. I initially took my car up part of the road, but that weekend the snow came ALL the way down the road, save maybe a quarter mile from the parking lot.
Chuck and I started the climb up the road from the lot and as I said before we were immediately met with snow covering 90% of the road with small patches of dirt here and there. Hikeable with boots, but after about a half mile we had to put on our snow shoes. This made everything much easier, as it was getting a little later and everywhere but the middle of the snow-covered road was getting a bit soft even for snow shoes. Point is, the entire road was covered in about 6” to a foot of snow way before the fork to Grizzly Gulch.
We got about 3 hours of sleep the night before because we drove from eastern KS. My roommate ate a corned-beef sandwich in Denver (Masterpiece Delicatessen is money btw) and had not been properly hydrating himself days prior, or even day of. We start hiking and he gets altitude sickness in a bad way. We are both in shape, can knock out miles and miles of running, biking, or swimming here in the great state of Kansas. But Colorado climate is of course a totally different animal that made that accent with our overloaded packs total hell full of headaches, nausea, cramping, etc for Chuck. It was a miserable hike that really crushed his spirit and showed him what a mountain can really do to you. We arrived at Gray’s trail head much later then expected due to sickness and having to snowshoe uphill in 2 feet of snow for the remaining miles left of the trail. It was about 1720 and some weather was rolling in quick. It got very cloudy, and super windy right at 1740 and we needed to get a shelter down asap. Problem: There is 3 feet of snow. Everywhere. There wasn't a patch of land to be found for a quarter mile. Chuck spots a patch of rocks across the stream on the shore that was relatively flat but wildly out in the open. Reluctantly, we go start to set up get the tent out and rolling, positioned and start to stake it down. The ground is completely frozen and our stakes just bend when you hit them, even softly.
Grays and Torreys 5/28 1500
This is where things get interesting. Its now 1800 and it is well, starting to storm. We haven't really ate much but a couple of bars and drank some water, well at least I was. Little did I know my partner had been getting sick and evacuating every solid or liquid he put in his body. Did I mention there was a 55 mph gusts frequenting the area? I immediately see the fear flash across his face and I personally start to realize the severity of the situation rather quickly.
What to do? Don’t panic that’s for sure. I figured one of those conifer bunches had to have some kind of level patch that was hopefully not covered in snow to the point that we could maybe stake something down. 250 ft north of the bathroom-looking building (that I was prepared to sleep in if forced to) I found a spot with a small patch of frozen grass partially covered by a sheet of ice. The hatchet and ice axe make short work of this stuff, but not without much labor intensive chopping from a fatigued self and sickly roommate. After hacking patches that we could stake down to, we popped our REI T2 Quarter Dome (This tent is overly impressive, amazingly built, I cant say enough --minus those flimsy stakes I promptly replaced with gangster ones last week) in a jiffy, and jumped in about 1827-- I will not forget that time. The wind really started to pick up from here and Chuck was looking half past dead, and basically passed out face down on our NeoAirs (also, a fantastic product). I on the other hand was starving. The altitude did not really bother me to much, but not being able to eat much because I was too preoccupied earlier that I had one thing on my mind...booze.
Just kidding. Food of course! Took the Jet Boil Sol and boiled water from my rez right outside the tent. Jet Boil only blew out three times, but the wind was awful so I was actually really impressed. Smashed some MRES and passed out to wake up to other hikers the next morning. Understandably Chuck was a little slow getting around the next morning but we ate some breakfast, snagged some water from the stream a ways back down the trail, then started up the trail towards Torreys.
Me going up the Trail to Torreys 5/28 0900
Holy cow there was so much snow on the trail. Like I said earlier, that stuff was everywhere. Not in a million years would I ever have imagined there would be so much so at the end of May. On the way up the trail at 0930 we ran into multiple people from Denver who said that I was the most snow that they had ever seen this time of year. As we continued up the main trail the snow was still pretty hard and was great for climbing in snow shoes or skis. I could tell ole’ Chuck wasn’t doing so well when he started to fall behind halfway up the long hill up to the opening of the bowl. A single skier quickly caught us on the trail, and he stopped to chat with me. He agreed that the snow amount was crazy this time of year and mentioned that my buddy “looked pretty cooked.” He continued on and I waited for Chuck. At 1130 we continued on together to the first area of grass larger then a bathroom I had seen in a long while. This was basically was Gray’s Trail 1 started. I hit the grass and tore off my snowshoes and Chuck bends over projectile-vomiting 5 hr energy and granola. Hmm. Things are not going according to plan. This guy is so sick with Altitude sickness and dehydration he needs to get the heck back to base camp. He says he is alright and there are a couple more people coming up the trail now, aprox 5. I tell him to drink water like crazy and eat something back at base.
He felt fine but we decided to part ways for a bit because I at least wanted to see part of what I came to do. He heads downhill to the tent and I take the trail up to the base of Torreys. The snow is nice for walking with snow shoes still, but it is about 75 degrees and I did not have very much sunblock on. I will come to regret this later. I continue over to Torreys and see a baseball cap sitting on the top of the snow. I walk over and pick it up and begin to climb the last hill before you can actually see the beginning of Dead Dog. There sits drinking a beer the skier who passed us earlier, he waves. I walk over and hand him his hat that blew away and we engage in small talk. He asks me what I am here to do, and I replied, “My plan was to do Dead Dog and the traverse. What do you think about this weather though?” He replies, “I dunno man, it is pretty dangerous up there this time of day (1215) The snow up there can be like corn and really unsafe to climb on. Plus you see that tiny cloud over there? I bet you we get some weather later.” I gaze up at the summit and nonchalantly ask, “Yeah, you think it might be pretty deadly up there?” He pauses and says, “Well...one of my friends died in an avalanche there last weekend.”
At this point I did not know what to think. Everything was kind of swirling from the prior days events, worrying about Chuck being sick, and hearing about someone dieing on the exact climb I wanted to attempt. After offering condolences, I reply “Yeah, it probably isn’t safe up there anymore today.” I no more then finished the sentence when a “slow rolling” avalanche started right down the middle of Dead Dog. The exact place I could have directly walked over and climbed if it wouldn’t have been for the skier. I have a little bit of HD video on the avalanche but it is still from a ways, and is white on white. We part ways and I just end up jacking around with my crampons and Ice Axes on the side of Kelso’s ridge; climbing up and down it a couple times. I had a lot of fun and wore myself out pretty good. I tried to stay pretty low hence the snow being a little soft because it was so late in the day. I was pretty wet from all the melted snow but the weather was about 70 degrees up there and the sun was shining. I had broke my watch off earlier the day before and had not really kept track of time except using my GPS every now and again. I looked back North and could see some large clouds moving in, and they were not white, light, or airy looking. These were some bad dudes.
Since I had climbed so high on Kelso’s ridge I decided to just maintain the elevation and walk the rest of the way back along the edge of Kelso. The snow was actually pretty nice for walking on and I did not slide or posthole at all with my snowshoes even though it was 1620. I get to the part of the Kelso that overlooks the bridge and the trail head. That storm is getting ever closer and I am the last soul on the mountain. I decide to hustle down the long slope with my shoes, slightly jogging. I sure made good time, and it actually felt pretty good. Except once I hit the snow with the warmed up bushes underneath, I sunk 3.5 feet in and did a frontward somersault because I was moving so quickly and my back was so heavy. I got stuck in the snow and had to not very gracefully wrestle my way to standing. I eventually found Chuck chillin’ in the tent and exhaustedly sat down and took my gear off. This is where I realized that my helmet cam housing had come off my helmet and my ice axes were somewhere back on the 4 miles of trail. To tired to turn back and look I just chalked those babies to the game and we jammed to music and ate some MREs the rest of the night, really good stuff. The storm that rolled in did not produce any precipitation but good god did it produce some of the fastest winds I have ever been in. We were in between some trees that were kind of blocking some wind. You would hear the wind hit the tops of the trees at night and spiral all the way down to the tent where it would be as loud as the stereotypical “train” sounding metaphor. We woke up and had a bit of breakfast then started down the trail. As we were walking we saw more rocks had fallen on the trail and there were now several trees littering the snow covered path. Some of the winds snapped basketball sized trees at their base...pretty crazy stuff even for a Kansas tornado man. We made our way down to the car and drove back to Denver for some food and a really good Tapas bar near REI then made our way back to KC.
In reflection I learned a lot from this trip and so did Chuck(and lost two Ice Axes and my helmet cam housing ). For the most part you just gotta be healthy and hydrated if you are going to attempt something this strenuous. And of course we both broke the 1st tenant of backpacking...Pack Light! Hayzeus Cristo did we bring the entire kitchen sink with us. We were over prepared. Doesn't matter how light anything is when you have 35 things. We shot ourselves in the foot there, but it was definitely a good lesson to learn--even if it was the hard way. We picked up quite a few things by trial and error (mainly error) and truly enjoyed the bittersweet experience.
On the drive back to KC we discussed coming back the next weekend and giving it one more shot. We returned to Colorado the following Friday (6/3) and started hiking up the Bakerville trail once again about 0900 6/4. This time we were doing things a little different. Packing lighter and hydrating like crazy day prior, we hit the trail but this time took Grizzly Gulch to Kelso’s ridge and we planned on camping at the base of the ridge on the east side. The trail leading up to the trail split was bare road. A lot of the snow has melted. Now once you get on the GG trail the snow does come back and with a vengeance. We stopped half way up the trail and ate an MRE for lunch around 1215. We crossed the creeks just fine and then headed East up the “trail” leading to Kelso’s ridge. This is where things got interesting. We were snowshoeing most of the trail, it was pretty good and packed even after lunch....
Taking a Break on the way up Grizzly Gulch 6/4 1030....and neither Chuck or I did much post-holing. But we were getting a little tired of just snow shoeing so about a quarter mile going up towards the pass over the ridge we decided to just climb towards the top of Kelso’s up on the rocks. It was pretty snowy though the areas with trees, 4 foot drifts in some places. Climbing up the rocks was not so bad with crampons and our trekking poles. We crossed maintained a high elevation all the way to the pass over the ridge, following the contour of the side of Kelso.
Grizzly Gulch with Torreys in the background 6/4 1200 6/ We arrived over the ridge about 1600
The pass on Kelso's Ridge 6/3 1500 and set up camp rather quickly and made some dinner via Jet Boil. There were patches of grass over the ridge in the bowl between Grays and Torreys.
Torreys 6/3 1750 We found a low spot with no snow and popped the tent there.
Hiking towards Kelso's Ridge
My plan? Wake up at 0350 to make sure we were at Dead Dog by 0500. My watch alarm got clicked off and we ended up waking up around 0420 on 6/5. We actually ended up eating an MRE breakfast (good idea) and get started up Dead Dog around 520 by the time we walked over there. In the initial part of the climb the snow was fantastic. Crampons kicked in and stuck well and our ice axes were doing the same. We started with a good head of steam, all I was wearing was Smart Wool long underwear - top and bottom, and Pagonia long-john bottom, and Mountain Hardware pants, Underarmour cold top, REI breathable hiking long-sleeve, and finally my North Face shell jacket.
A hour fifteen minutes into the climb I am soaked and am quickly drinking my 3L of water. I can’t stop sweating profusely and have to stopat 0645 to tear off my underarmour. We continue the climb and kind of just pinged from rock to rock. And older gentleman with skis blew past us like we were standing still (which we may have been). He continued all the way to the top of Dead Dog but we never saw him again after that. We see a suitable rock to stop, hydrate, catch our breath and so forth but it is kind of off the main route to the right. We go over to the rock to perch and I find out once we get there that it is just a plate on the side of the mountain, no sitable surfaces. Unfortunately going to this particular rock also put a bunch of other rocks in between us and the main route and it was 0720. We start to cross back over to the main route, scaling the rock patches and we get to the large patch next to the trail about ¾ up and things got a little hairy. The sun had been up since 0600 and was heating up the dark rocks. The snow around them? Worse then corn, we were swimming up there. I was post holing to my waist and when I swung my Ice axes My arm penetrated to the shoulder. This is where the probability of us summiting started to suffer in my mind. I said I would never quit because I was tired or scared, but only when it became to dangerous to continue and it really started to seem unsafe. At one point both crampons post-holed to my waist and I reached out and stuffed my arms in the snow hugging basically water. There was nothing to hold on to and I was nervous I was going to fall back down the couloir. But, after swimming across the worst climbing snow ever we finally made it back to the main route where the snow was surprisingly good for climbing.
Image #7 (not yet uploaded)
Once back on the main trail we beelined up the middle, with two other climbers tailing us. We get to the top part where we crossed back over the couloir on that “catwalk” like part of the climb. I did not look down here. I am absolutely terrified of heights. I cannot even clean out my own gutters without getting really uncomfortable. I was wearing some REI gaiters, but my crampons shredded those bad boys, just rags on my legs. I'm learning though! At 0810 We get to the part where you can see over Torreys and you have that final stretch of beeline up to the summit. The other two cats trailing us went farther left and did not even touch the zigzag route. We all end up hitting the summit around the same time. Two really cool guys from Colorado and another KU alumni that lives in Salina, KS.
The summit of Toreys!
The summit was amazing and we got some good footage up thereClick Me. Asked the other two hikers if they were doing Grays as well and they said no. Chuck and I started down the traverse between Torreys and Grays and man was it WINDY. My jacket held up pretty well, but that stuff was relentless. We breaked behind a large rock on the traverse up Grays to eat lunch at 0900. (A buffalo chicken wrap in a plastic shell from the store that my genius partner stuck in the cooler, where ice melted and completely soaked the chicken and totilla. Who here likes waterlogged fried chicken?)
The traverse up to Grays
The Two PeaksT
Nevertheless I got some calories and we beelined all the way to the top, straight up the rocks with crampons. It was a good mix of the trail being visible, snow, and large rocks. Just be very careful of getting to close to the cornices. They are super huge and dangerous, watch for your buddies as well. Two sets of eyes are better then one. We were up on the summit of Grays by 1020 and met a wonderful gentleman from Quebec who was down here Burning through something like five 14’er a week or something awesome like that. We drop our name in the canister and get to the other side of the summit after some pictures. Then comes one of the coolest guys I have met on the mountain. IVO! A fellow Fouteerers.com member; we have a good conversation on the summit.
The summit of Grays
Chuck and I head out and start walking again around 1115 down the ride of Grays leading back to our tent. Be careful descending down the ridge as well. More dangerous cornices lurk every so often on the trail. We got back to the Tent around 1210 and eat some bars and make some snow Gatorade.
We pack up and start or descend back, this time packing our camp back via Steven’s Gulch. We walked high up on the ridge around Kelsos and ran into some rocks that we had to descend down to get around. Most of the trail at Stevens Gulch will still require skis or snowshoes but the snow is starting to at least show signs of melting. We continue high on Kelso about 1000 feet up from the trail and get to the ledge that over looks the trail head pretty far from the trail itself. We start descending and I mention to Chuck that this is the same route that I took last weekend. As we continue walking around 1440 I notice some snowshoe prints that have steps with a good distance between them. Almost as if someone was running...I follow what I thought was my trail from the past weekend for about 1500 ft and end up finding both Ice Axes still stuck in the snow. Yes! One week later they were still there. I wonder if I can find my camera housing? Its a clear box in the white snow...Yes I can! I found that sucker too about 50 yards down my prints. I found all my stuff I lost from the previous weekend.
We continue down the trail that is still mostly completely covered in snow with small patches of dirt starting to show and the creeks are running well with all of the snow melt. We snowshoed basically until the large burnt out building on the west side of the road. There we took off our snowshoes and just started walking in our boots and poles. We met three skiers who did some good alpine earlier that day on the way down, real cool guys. After the chat we continue to the parking lot and get to the car around 1620 . We then drove to Denver to eat Mexican food in celebration.
It was glorious.
I really did learn a lot from these trips and I feel pretty proud of what Chuck and I acomplished. So much of my preparation can be attributed to some of the post on this website. I studied many of the resources provided on here and am so thankful that we have such a fantastic resource and great people.
Thanks for reading if you got this far, I hope you enjoyed!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):