After a great weekend in the Crestones for July 4th, I was buzzing all week and just had to get back into the hills. Also on my mind was the fact that I hadn't gotten July turns yet, and with such a big winter this is certainly a year to try and ski every month. I read Beans TR from last weekend about "accidentally" waking up and skiing Grays, and figured this would be a perfect way to grab a couple peaks and some turns. I left Denver at 3:30am and was at the trailhead by 5:00am.
From just above the trailhead, Grays extra 3' of elevation seems to allow it to scrape the clouds.
The weather forecast for Silver Plume called for a 40% chance of showers and t-storms after noon, and with the clouds already present over the peaks I knew I may have to hustle to get both summits. I left the trailhead with my ski gear at 5:15am and was on the summit of Grays by 6:45am.
Looking to Torreys on the ascent, the Dead Dog is still in as is the couloir to the left of the summit (is this one named???).
It was a beautiful morning to the east, and I hoped mother nature would give me clear skies until 9am.
Nice sunrise looking east
During the ascent I eyed the couloir to the left of Torrey's summit, as it looked more forgiving than the Dead Dog.
Cover on the headwall below the saddle is good, and the snow isn't very suncupped or runnelled
I ran into a few locals on the ascent
Had three friends right on the trail on the ascent
The weather wasn't getting any worse as I ascended, and Torreys looked great in the morning light.
Torreys looked great this morning, though I could see there would be no skiing between the peaks
I entered the fog just below 14,000' on Grays, and summitted by myself in what seemed to be a cap cloud. I've never seen a cap cloud in Colorado before! It was just sitting over the summit, fed by the wind and cool air.
I summitted Grays alone in an odd, cap-like cloud
The view to the west would open and close constantly, and I only spent ~5 minutes on top of Grays.
The cloud would lift and lower, offering some views to the west
My "summit" photo.
There was no one to take my picture, so this will have to do!
Starting the descent off of Grays in the fog, it was a neat feeling!
The cap cloud gave an eerie feeling, almost like being in Mordor...
The best western view I could manage from Grays.
This was the best view I got from the top of Grays
Even though I could see the Sawatch, I hustled from Grays to Torreys in about 25 minutes as I knew the weather may not stay good. While traversing, I looked at the feasibility of ski routes off of Torreys. Climbers left of the summit, while it may have good lines, has very dangerous snow conditions on the edge of the ridge. This snow is undermined and the cracks that have formed between the rock and snow, or within the snow itself, are very deep. I decided then that skiing down the couloir left of Torreys summit (the one I had eyed on the ascent) was not in the cards.
The snow is very dangerous on the edge here
I summitted Torreys and was able to observe the odd, cap-like cloud coming off of Grays.
The cap-like cloud over Grays
I walked along the ridgeline while descending Torreys looking for a good ski line. It was steep going over the edge!
Looking down the face of Torreys - it's steep!
Descending the ridgeline from Torreys, I noticed that there is a cornice varying from 3-10 feet in height, basically the entire way along the ridge! My gameplan quickly changed from "ski the most appealing line" to "ski the line with the smallest, safest entry fee." Safe to say I chose an entry point with a 3' drop, as going over a big cornice onto what seemed like high 40-degree terrain did not appeal to me.
Looking at the dangerous snow conditions along the ridge.
Once I found a less intimidating entrance, I threw on the skis and was stoked to make July turns!
I used to live in Connecticut - safe to say I never used these there in July!
I didn't take any pictures on the descent as my camera was failing in the cold. The snow was soft, edge-able, minimally suncupped and not that runnelled which was a nice surprise. I skied down from the entrance just right of center and then opened up the turns on the big snowfield. The couloir at right has a HUGE cornice at the top and gaining entry to it looks very dangerous right now.
Good coverage on the headwall and Torreys
If the cornices atop these lines disappear they will be really nice, and likely in for a few more weeks depending on the weather.
I followed the snow as far as possible and it took my right to the trail. Once I had put my skis on my pack and started down, I passed hoards of people (I would say ~200) coming up. I only saw one other skier and one border the whole day, and lots of people asked me about the skiing on the descent, as if they couldn't believe I had actually skied.
The weather started clearing as I descended.
Happy after a great morning of skiing on two peaks.
One group was nice enough to take my picture!
It was good to see the weather improving as I descended, as there were some really unprepared people heading up the trail.
The weather got better and better as I descended.
I finished with an easy 45 minute walk back to the TH.
Easy walk out.
Overall this was a great morning on two low-key mountains and a fun way to get July turns. A couple things that may be valuable to those thinking about these peaks in the near future:
1. Start early and be prepared. While the skies cleared as I descended, it was very windy and cold on the summits and the tops of the mountains may have frozen overnight. If the weather had gotten worse instead of better there would have been lots of unprepared hikers up high.
2. As for the trail there are a few short snow crossings but nothing necessitating traction. If you opt for a snow climb you may want microspikes or something like this if it gets cold the night before, but for the most part the snow was soft and bootable in the morning. There is lots of runoff on the trail though, and waterproof footwear is definitely a plus.
This was my first time on a Front Range 14er, and even though I've heard about the crowds it was still really surprising to see the percentage of people that were going up ill-prepared. I mentioned the weather and wind to most people who I talked to, but some people were climbing in jeans, hoodies and sneakers, with one or two 12oz Aquafina bottles in their pockets and no packs! I couldn't help but shudder at the situation that could unfold up there if the weather took a sudden turn for the worse. This climbing season got off to a tough start, let's hope that people stay safe out there.
Any questions about these peaks and the current conditions, feel free to PM me.
Thanks for reading!