Route: Dead Dog Couloir
Elevation Gain: 4,393'
Vertical Ski: ~3,000' plus some extra snow patches on the road
Adventure Seekers: Scott Nate and I
When I got a casual invite to join my winter backcountry ski partners for an adventure on Dead Dog, how could I refuse? I know I need to get more comfortable on the steeps, and the only way is to ski it. Though 14er steep isn't exactly like resort steep. No nice fluffy managed by ski patrol. Lots of rocks and other "natural" features to make the surface variable and rough. Though Scott is the master of snow timing, and I can always use some more experience in that. How often do these opportunities roll around? Very rarely.
Good thing we started off from Boulder at 1:30am on Sat, as the excitement for the approaching ski would not have allowed more than a few hours of sleep anyway. I usually choose the "baby steps" method of increasing the difficulty of my skiing. This would be a bit of a jump. Still within in my ability, but today would be about survival skiing, not elegant "resort style" skiing. Big difference.
We rolled up to the trailhead at about 3, and instead of just parking, we continued up the road a bit. Everything went well until Scott had to back down the road a bit to find parking, after we found that we couldn't go up any further. That's when the unconsolidated snow at the side of the road got us. Stuck! Oh well, deal with it after the ski!
The road was icy and had plenty of dry patches. So we ended up carrying our skis most of the way up. Around that weird new building on the left, both Nate and I had enough of carrying skis, and switched to skinning. At the summer trailhead we plodded across the bridge with our skis on, and sounded like a herd of goats crossing. Waking up our camping neighbors! The trail was mostly snow covered with plenty of post-holes to maneuver. The sun started to cast its rosy glow on the peaks as we got our first glimpse of Grays.
Alpen glow on Grays on the approach
I'd like to say that the snow is continuous to the base of the climb, but no. Plenty more opportunities to carry the skis today! Or cautiously skin across the tundra...
First rays on Torreys, as Scott skins across the tundra
We took a short break near the base of the couloir to transition into climbing mode and to eat some snacks. I chose orange slices and "Shimmering Pink" frosting, yum! Meanwhile Scott and Nate were eating chocolate, cheese and fancy lunch meat. Yup.
During our break, the only other 3 climbers of Dead Dog showed up and passed us. Of course they weren't carrying an extra 15 or more pounds of ski gear, so one would expect them to be a bit faster.
The first section of the couloir is fairly mellow, about 35 degrees by my measurement. You can already see evidence for the forming runnel by the abused snow in the center, and by the rocks hidden in the snow. Part way up this first section, a bunch of rocks came whizzing past us at ~8/9 am. A little scary, as even the ice chunks hurt when some sizeable chunks hit my leg.
First good view of Dead Dog
Starting up the apron
Some gnarly snow yuk in the just starting runnel
Nate and I climbing, Photo Credit: Scott
Side view of Grays on the ascent
Midway up the couloir, it steepens to around 40 degrees. The snow gets a little less rough, but still highly variable. Nice soft snow right next to ice hard blocks. Not sure who's booter we were following, but it was horrid. Worst we've ever been on. It was like someone 4' was switching with someone 6'6", either tiny baby steps or quad busters. Thankfully Scott started making his own steps that we could follow, as either option was tiring!
It was such a hot and sunny morning, at this point we figured we'd only have a short time at the top, before the snow would be soft enough to ski. I was regretting wearing my fleece and gloves for the climb at this point.
View up from middle of the couloir
View down from the middle of the couloir
Nearing the top and at the dog leg in the couloir, it was obviously getting a bit steeper, and my inclinometer was reading 45 in places. The clouds were getting a bit thicker and the wind picked up a bit near the top, guess the only rush to the top now is to let the calves rest from their marathon!
The dog leg in the couloir, almost there...
Starting to look steep!
View to Evans and Bierstadt
Looing down from the top, as Nate makes the last steps
Top o Dead Dog at 10:45, less than 7 hours after starting from the car in the morning. Not too shabby! We dropped our packs an proceeded to laze about at 14,000'. Eat, drink, put on more layers as we waited. Guess I should take some beta photos of the peaks to the NW. Golden Bear looks good, Hagar has some lines left, but poor Pettingell is done for the season most likely.
Golden Bear and Hagar
Citidel and Pettingell
I-70 pano, Photo Credit: Scott
Hagar close up, Photo Credit: Scott
Cupid looking skiable, Photo Credit: Scott
Gore Range Pano, Photo Credit: Scott
I was getting a bit chilly, so I decided to go up the last few feet to the summit, to check things out up there. The nearby peaks look so dry, only further to the west does the snow out pixel the rocks.
On the return to the top of Dead Dog, the climbers on Kelso Ridge finally crossed the crux. Both groups we saw, chose to circumvent the knife edge and the white towers by crossing the top of Dead Dog. At least we had some entertainment and company! More entertainment was staring down at the wonder breads (red, blue and yellow jackets) down low on the Emperor couloir. They weren't moving, and appeared confused wandering around on the ridge with their skis. Eventually they slowly and awkwardly retreated down the couloir, after waiting as almost long as we did. Scott and Nate were getting a little silly being at altitude for this long. Especially as Nate wanted to try my glitter pink frosting. Haha
Grays looking dry
Guyot and company
The knife edge on Kelso ridge, and the option both groups used instead of crossing the rocky crux
Must try the frosting... Photo Credit: Scott
Glitter Tongue! Photo Credit: Scott
And still we waited.... The clouds were keeping the snow a bit too cool. None of us wanted to ski something that steep without adequate warming. So we entertained ourselves in various ways. Some nice, others, not so much. Though I'm sure Scott thought 'worm sign' was highly amusing. Not to those down wind though!
Eventually the sun came out a little and started the warming process. It was getting high in the sky and the angle wasn't going to do much pretty soon. After a frequent test of the snowpack, Scott declared the couloir as good as it was going to get. It was go time. I had been very good at suppressing the thoughts on skiing something this steep for a while now. 3 hours on top of a steep couloir is like icing the kicker, way too much time thinking about it.
Nate starting down the couloir, Photo Credit: Scott
Scott dropping in first, as Nate and I watch
Nate skiing upper Dead Dog
After the first few very awkward jump turns, the jitters in the legs went away. I would like to say my skiing was elegant, but that would be a lie. It was survival skiing. But I stayed upright on my skis, no falls. Eventually, my weaker left jump turns were getting smoother, and it was starting to get a little fun.
Me skiing middle Dead Dog, Photo Credit: Scott
What I really thought of skiing Dead Dog, Photo Credit: Scott
Nate skiing, Photo Credit: Scott
Scott in the Middle of the DD
Nate skiing the middle section
Once we got to the last section, it was just avoiding the rocks before heading out on the apron. The apron was the best/easiest part of the day. Finally I could make some elegant carves as we head back down to where we had transitioned earlier.
Smiles abound, as we're mostly down!
Scott ripping the last section
There be rocks hiding! Photo Credit: Scott
Me skiing the rock free, ice free, awesome corn of the apron! Photo Credit: Scott
Nate wisely avoiding the runnel rock zone! Photo Credit: Scott
Looking up couloir as Nate choses the runnel free path
Nate ripping past us on the apron, with Grays in the background
Once down, we all collapsed. We just stared back up at the couloir in amazement. We skied that? It looked so much harder now, than it did this morning! We took a very long and well earned break. My legs were tired from ~1.4K of jump turns!
A look up at what we had just skied, WOW!
What do you do after skiing Dead Dog? Collapse and SPOT the boyfriend!
Once we were thoroughly rested, we shouldered our skis on our packs and wandered over to where the corn and mashed potatoes were to be served. We managed to find a mostly complete snow route down in the stream valley all the way to the summer trailhead. Just had to keep the tips up to swim in the slush!
Parting shots of Grays and Torreys
Torreys in the afternoon light
Grays and the incomplete Lost Rat
Skiing the corn! Photo Credit: Scott
Scott enjoying the uber snoodling!
Back at the car, the real work began. So out came our shovels! We dug and dug, and Scott got more and more entrenched in the snow/ditch at the side of the road. As soon as Scott resigned to call an AAA tow truck, 3 trucks/Jeeps/etc showed up with a tow strap. The truck had gotten stuck too, so were well practiced. So now at 6:30pm, we were finally heading home. Lots of waiting around, and digging, making this a fairly tame epic of a day!
Tired after a long day! Photo Credit: Scott
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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