| Climbing the Dog and Skiing Gray's in July
It’s no secret that this has been a very different year for the Colorado snow pack, so I was excited to read last week that other 14ers members had been able to ski down Gray’s Peak from just below the summit. More so, was the fact that Dead Dog Couloir was still in. So, when John (Aconcagua08 ) and I were trying to figure out what to climb, this went straight to the top of the list. While I had climbed it once before, this is one of those routes that can’t be climbed too many times.
It had everything, we could climb a classic route in mid July, and ride off Gray’s East Slopes which would be a first 14er ski/snowboard descent for both John and I. Plus, with its short approach, it would be doable without having to trim back my 16 mile Saturday morning run. It would be like a Peanut Butter Cup, everything you could want in one happy little package.
We met up at the Stegosaurus lot at 8pm on Saturday night and made our way up to the Bakerville Road. I was amazed at how nice the road was, the giant rut that forms every year is non-existent and we made it up to the trailhead in no time, albeit in a downpour. John had borrowed a friends CRV, and I brought a tent that I had thought I might set up just behind the vehicle, but with the rain that went right out as a reasonable option.
We made our best of it, and got a somewhat (understatement) uncomfortable evenings sleep, and for once was not at all sad to wake up and get moving. We were on the trail by 4am with a full moon and no need for headlamps. With our heavy packs, it felt good to reach the bowl below Dead Dog a little less then an hour later, with the moon still glowing happily just above the Saddle connecting Gray’s and Torrey’s. Our route up, and our planned descent route was fully in view. We felt good as we got ready to start up.
John aproaching the ponds below Torrey's, looking at our intended ascent and descent routes under the full moon
John heading up the middle section of Dead Dog
Crossing the bowl, John and I commented on the fact that the snow was not as icy as we expected, but as soon as the slope steepened, all of that changed. Since, John and I were in the lead, him with a snowboard on his back, and my skis and the plethora of camera gear on mine, I felt like I was moving at a crawl as we had to kick every step into the increasingly hard snow.
I have an issue with my left foot that causes my toes to experience really intense pain when I have to front point for a long time in plastics. My AT boots were no different. Over half way up my foot began hurting, and within 15 minutes was searing pain. John, patiently waited for me as I made my way up slowly, doing my best to minimize the pressure I put on my left foot.
I had noticed a couple of climbers catching up quickly, including Adam (realhillboarder) and his friend Jason (jrsundevil06). They heard John and I discussing the issue I was having with my foot, and were nice enough to offer me ibuprofen if I needed it, but knowing from experience this wouldn’t help I thanked them and kept moving.
At this point we were climbing parallel to the runnel, and we came up on one of the few areas we could cross reasonably. For a good portion of the route, the runnel is between 4-7 feet deep, so having a section where you would only have to downclimb 3 feet, and climb back out 4 seemed like a great opportunity. I crossed behind John,, and felt safer knowing there was an enormous trench between me and any rock fall that might come from the Northern wall of the couloir.
Adam (Realhillboarder) as he passed on Dead Dog
John making his way up Dead Dog nearing the top, with the runnel to his right
John making the exit move, with the knife edge to climbers right, on the other side of the white rocks
As soon as everyone was across the runnel, I offered to let Jason, and Adam me, knowing full well that my foot pain would keep me moving more slowly then I would like. Following the 3 others I was able to manage the foot pain better, as I wasn’t having to pound my left foot into the snow nearly as hard. Even then, I found myself having to climb with my right leg dominantly, and I was feeling it. We opted for the lower exit by the white rocks, given my foot pain, and the fact that the snow looked really bad headed up the summit direct variation. It was the first time for me to exit on that side, and was short and sweet, climbing below the knife edge on Kelso, exiting just to the up ridge side of the white rocks. 10 feet below the exit, my foot started throbbing un-controllably again, but being so close to the exit, I pushed through it, topped out and proceeded to sit on the snow next to the white rocks for what felt like 10 minutes until it passed.
John taking a break after taking off his points
Adam and Jason gearing up to descend Dead Dog
I was happy to know that I was done with any possible kick stepping for the day, and climbed up to where John was pulling off his crampons. Adam and Jason had climbed up the 50 feet to tag the summit and were on their way back down to the top of the couloir, where we chatted for a bit about the climb, and our separate descent plans. They geared up and headed down, while we started up the last bit to the summit of Torrey’s.
For their Trip Report detailing their descent of Dead Dog follow this http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=10401#bottom
With 45-50lbs of gear on my back, that last loose scree slope really sucked, but it was cool that we topped out to a large crowd on the summit that were wondering why we had our ski/snowboard gear. We chilled for another couple of minutes, before heading over to Gray’s. The traverse over gave us time to chat about the top half of our descent route. We were excited to see that the snowfield below the summit looked rideable, and would give us a start from about 100-150ft below the summit (that’s a total guess). Also, one on the trail, we found that it was completely clear, leading to a lot of questions about why we had all that gear with us.
When John and I got to the top of the snowfield, we decided to skip tagging the summit again before starting down. Besides, at this point we were both anxious for the descent, and both of us had tagged that summit enough times before. It was time to get to why we were here! That being said, it was tempting, as we were close enough we could make out what people were wearing up top. John and I gear up and stood looking down what would be our first 14er ski descent.
John ready to make his first turns of the day
John headed down first, making his way to where the trail traversed the snowfield. With quite the audience, I started down after him, and quickly realized I hadn’t tightened my boots enough for the snow conditions after I struggled to make the first to turns. Once I tightened them properly, It was all joy as I made my way down the steepening slope to where John was.
We had to carry our gear about 100ft down through the melted snow before we could get our gear on again. The thin snow at the top of the finger reaching up from the snowfield was very soft, with a deep runnel running down skiers right of us making moving down that section interesting to say the least. John hit it first, getting his legs as soon as he cleared the thin finger of snow, speeding to the bottom of the headwall. As soon as he was clear, I clicked back in and started down. Not knowing jump turns yet, I carefully made my way past the Runnel. As soon as it opened enough to make turns, I let loose. The snow felt perfect, and it was amazing, as I skied down, feeling like it was nothing but the mountain, myself, and the wind as I made turn after turn , reveling in every second.
I passed John wanting to get up the other side of the shallow bowl at the bottom of the headwall, and as soon as I came to a stop, I looked up at the trail that was now above me, and realized we were clearly the trailside entertainment. The lines that made been moving steadily up the trail before I started my run were pretty much all stopped. With the popularity of these mountains, especially as first 14ers, it must have been a curious sight for people watching skiers in the second half of July. Aside from the attention our whoops of happiness as we finished our runs would have drawn… we were probably being a tad over-excited.
John coming across the flats in the bowl below Torrey's
We made quick work of descending the last little bit to the ponds at the base of the bowl, where I had stashed my shoes, and John his poles. It felt so good to pull my ski boots off, but at the same time I was dreading the carry down the trail. We chilled for a while, watching 2 climbers as they worked their way up the last couple of hundred feet on Dead Dog, and proudly looked back at our line, and with admiration at Adam and Jason’s line down the Dog.
One we were hiking, I started feeling how tired my right leg actually was from all the over compensation as we climbed the Dog, but we made good time down the trail, enjoying the beautiful morning, and the cool late morning breeze.
looking back at out line, you can see the majority of it in the photo, we took the line that is the most continuous from the upper snowfield
We finished off the day watching the last half of the Women’s World Cup at the BBQ place in Idaho Springs. It was an amazing day, and I am absolutely addicted to this mountain skiing thing now. If I thought I was hooked after Loveland Mountain in June, coming off Gray’s was probably the most exciting, freeing run I have ever done. Now to learn those jump turns, or skis that turn tighter...
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