| South Paw on Torreys
When I was looking into this route, everyone I asked if they had climbed it said "where's that?" And I had asked many people who have been climbing in CO for a long time. The route was not in Dawson's book, it's not listed in the routes on this site, and I couldn't find a trip report for it on this site (at least by searching for 'south paw' for Torreys and Grays). So even though this route is on a such a popular peak, it's apparently not climbed that often. That was appealing to me.
Roach states the route is steeper than Dead Dog and is usually protected by a cornice with the typical exit to the left. I figured a low snow year was a good time to try it, given the cornice should be composed of mainly wind blown, hard snow. I figured I'd just give it a try.
South Paw on the left, Dead Dog on the right
With the forecast predicting a storm coming in about mid-day and temps in the 20s, I figured the snow wasn't going to soften much throughout the day. Murphy's Law didn't work, the storm was either late or fairly wimpy, at least in Stevens Gulch. The max temp I saw on my thermometer was 35 degrees, downright balmy! The sun was in and out behind the clouds, mostly behind the clouds I would say. By the time I left at 3:30 pm, it hadn't started snowing yet. Some wind blown snow was coming in from other areas, but it didn't actually snow in the basin all day. So much for weather forecasts.
South Paw is south of Dead Dog (hence south - paw, sticking with the dog theme).
It's shorter than Dead Dog, and at least this year, had a really large apron below it. After getting above the apron and into the couloir, the angle was 35 degrees. A little further above near two sets of rocks on climbers left that protruded into the basin, the angle was 40. Further up, I measured 45. Below the sets of rocks below the cornice, I measured 50. The angle increased only slightly immediately below the cornice. The cornice itself (at least where I decided to climb it), was fairly thin and required only two or three kick steps to get over it. Those last steps were nearly on top of each other, I couldn't see the steps below, so it was near-vertical.
South Paw with a large apron of snow below it
Close-up of the cornice
Closer on the cornice, get a good look before you enter, chose your line
The snow was in decent condition. There was generally a layer of recent snow on top of bulletproof snow below. The recent snow made a nice cushion and provided full-foot support as long as I wasn't front-pointing. It was a great way to save the calves for further up. In some areas, and especially near the top, the recent snow was thicker (maybe wind blown) and created that annoying slip surface that made it harder to bite into the bulletproof snow below, this is where front-pointing was needed to get a good hold. Overall though, the snow was pretty good, I was happy for the recent snow instead of an entire couloir full of bulletproof snow.
Almost off the apron and into the couloir
I climbed just right of the rocks just left of middle, then basically straight up from there
40 degree snow
Looking down from the same place as the shot above
I climbed almost straight up from center. Couloir is actually concave, apparent convex is from stitching
For folks worried about the cornice shedding large amounts of snow during a climb, if you stick left, there are two sets of rocks protruding into the couloir that may protect climbers below for about half of the couloir. Above that though, if the couloir sheds, you're likely to be in the way.
The couloir itself is fairly straightforward. For the exit, the cornice on the right side is overhung and you can see some layering, some thin. No way I would climb that side unprotected but other climbers certainly have more will than I. I stayed left but still on the snow. Roach says the rocks on the left can be used to exit. But at least this year, they didn't go all the way to the top. You can use them to mostly avoid the cornice, but not entirely. The cornice itself wasn't bad, not too thick, and there appeared to be many places to allow a safe exit. The steeper snow right below the cornice and the cornice itself were very solid. On the cornice, I had no fears of wedges of snow failing and sending me back down the couloir. I used my hybrid ax on the cornice to provide two 'hands', which was nice, gives an extra comfort factor getting on that last two or three steps getting over the top.
Hopefully you can see my footprints up the middle of the pic
Overall I think South Paw was a great snow climb. Due to the cornice, I wouldn't recommend trying it on a day after a questionable freeze. Otherwise, give this route a try, it's a lot of fun. Or, the next time you're headed up to Dead Dog and see too many people in the couloir above you, check out the cornice, then head left (south) and try South Paw.
Two hikers near the cornice give perspective
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):