I knew I could be encountering some windy conditions in the mountains when I walked out to my car in Lone Tree, CO at 02:45 and encountered a fairly strong breeze. Regardless, I headed to the trail head at that point. I drove up the Stevens Gulch access road with no problems in my Subaru Outback. As mentioned in other spots the road may be tricky to navigate with a low clearance vehicle. I arrived at the trail head at 04:15 and was greeted by some strong winds. You could hear the wind howling through the nearby trees and rocks.
I started out at the Grays Peak trail head at 04:30 under a moonless starlit sky. The moon had set behind the mountains as I was driving through Highlands Ranch, CO on C-470. I could see at least one other hiker's headlamp high up on the standard route up Grays Peak. As I was hiking solo I really took my time to enjoy the surroundings as light started to fill the sky. The standard route trail was nearly completely dry. All the lower patches of snow that were on the trail two weeks prior, when I had skied Dead Dog Couloir, had completely melted and dried up. As I hiked under Kelso Ridge I found some snow patches to test and found them to be frozen solid. By 06:15 I was nearly halfway up where the trail crosses the flat rocky water run out area and begins to climb to the southwest. It was at this point that the wind got the best of me for the first time. A strong gust came down over the ridge and knocked me to my hands. I decided to take some shelter in the rock outcroppings on the left side of the trail going up as I was making too fast of progress for how hard the snow was. I'd rather burn some time in a sheltered area versus exposed to the elements at the summit. Working against the snow softening up was a thick group of clouds that kept billowing up in the east and blocking the sun's rays on the snow that I planned to ski. To add to that, the wind was not helping either as it was keeping the snow surface cool.
At the trail head, blinded by the flash
First light on Grays and Torreys
Grays Peak and Lost Rat Couloir
Beautiful sunrise hitting the mountains
Morning sun on Grays Peak
Route becomes more visible
Sun finally above the mountains
I spent about 30 minutes sitting in the rocks protected and had a conversation with the three hikers who's headlamps were visible earlier in my approach. I got some feedback from them that the winds were the strongest they've ever experienced on the summit. As I was getting chilled sitting idle I decided it best to get on my way as the sun was now higher in the sky and hitting the snow slopes very well. I met up with 14ers user "mitrik" soon after I started hiking again. I found out that he had intended on skiing Torreys' Dead Dog Couloir and was planning on achieving the summit via the saddle between Grays and Torreys. We hiked together for a while discussing skiing and our past backgrounds. It was ironic to find out that he posted on the same thread that I started earlier in the week and that he grew up in an area in NY where I spent three years of my life. It was good to have his company as once again the waiting game was coming into play. The snow was extremely firm still with maybe the upper 1/2 inch starting to soften by 08:30. We were about 50 yards from the saddle at this point and decided to find some rocks to rest on as we were still fairly protected from the wind blowing from the west at this point. We spent a good 45 minutes there and gave the snow some time to soften up the upper 2 to 3 inches. At this point we set out for the saddle where I headed up Grays Peak and he went towards the summit of Torreys.
Bowl between Grays and Torreys
Torreys East face
By 10:00 I made it to the summit of Grays and snapped some photos of the surrounding peaks and the south side of Grays looking into Horseshoe Basin. The snow on the south side of Grays appeared to be continuous from the peak to the unnamed lake above Grays Lake from the best that I could see.
At the summit of Grays
Horseshoe Basin with the unnamed lake and Grays Lake
South Ridge of Grays
Out towards Breckenridge
At this point I had enough of the wind on the summit and hiked back down with all my gear to the highest skiable line off of Grays. I hiked back down three switchback sections before I reached continuous snow. At that point I geared up and prepped for my descent. You can see a video of my descent from the saddle low point into the bottom of the bowl here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ybpo9Jf6H44). I've excluded the video of skiing the saddle as it was primarily a traverse with a couple nice turns thrown in. The line I choose from saddle into the bowl went along the rock wall on the Torreys' side and through a chute. The snow was absolutely excellent corn; it was like making turns in butter. As I approached the bottom of the chute I opened it up in preparation on carrying enough speed to make it to the trail head. The 50 feet of walking from my stopping point to the trail consisted of post holing knee deep at many spots so I was glad I carried some speed.
Bowl between Grays and Torreys
Back on the trail I met up with "mitrik" once again who had just skied Dead Dog Couloir. From the looks of things he had made some great turns and experienced great conditions until the runnel approximately 2/3 the way down. At that point navigating the runnel become tough as the alternate line on skiers right that avoids the runnel had now melted out. He mentioned that there was a lot of debris in and around the runnel that made it tough to ski through.
Dead Dog Couloir
We made it back to our vehicles by 12:00. The trail conditions on the way out were nearly all dry with just a few wet spots where water was flowing. Overall, it was a great morning out in the mountains. I snapped one last photo of Torreys on the way out at the Grizzly Gulch intersection.
Torreys Northwest face
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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