The Crown of Torreys - Emperor and Tuning Fork couloirs
Elevation gain: 3,600
Ski line length: 3,000+
Distance: ~7 miles
Time: almost 9 hours
Route: ascent – Emperor couloir, descent – Tuning Fork ski
Partners: Boyd, Chris
There aren’t many reports on Emperor couloir that I could find, so I’ll throw one into the mix. My long-term hesitation with this route was due to understanding that it involves a great deal of bushwacking, route finding and difficult creek crossings. I was happy to discover that it wasn’t the case – the route is pretty straightforward with the 4WD road going to the base of both couloirs.
Chris’ jeep made it past the 1st creek crossing, cutting out about 2 miles from our RT. From there, it was fairly straightforward road hiking with a few easy creek crossings – the snow bridges have not melted out yet. The only creek crossing that was legitimately unpleasant was the last one, after we left the road and had to cross the ravine to get to the base of our couloir climb. There were very pretty ice formations on the water which I didn’t have a chance to take picture of since I was too busy trying to maintain balance with my poles! Whew.
With multiple summits of Torreys for most of the group (5-6 for Chris, 3 for me, a few for Boyd), we wanted to make a hike up more interesting, so we picked Emperor couloir as our ascent line.
A little bit of wind on the summit as seen in the morning (~6am)
Boyd on the approach to the Emperor couloir. We did use skins – for about 200 feet at most
Starting the climb – time to switch to crampons
Boyd is under a menacing looking cornice
Couloir starts as a pretty mellow snow climb, with just a few steep(ish) spots
After some 1,500-2,000 feet it gets more interesting though
Approaching “Gray rock” in the upper section
Weather forecast called for mostly sunny day with gusts up to 30 mph, but it turned out to be mostly cloudy. We were well protected from the wind – first on the approach in the tree line, and later in the couloir. The cloud cover was keeping the snow firm and in perfect condition for cramponing, but I was getting worried that the snow will stay too crusty and hard for the descent (as you will see later this turned out to be not the case).
In addition to an increasing angle, the upper section provided another form of excitement. I heard the familiar noise and yelled “rocks” just as I saw about 10 good-sized rocks hauling towards our group at top speed. Thankfully, all tree of us managed to dodge the rocks, some of them narrowly.
Chris and Boyd after the rock shower, shaking it off
Here came the decision time – do we take the right (supposed to be more mellow) or the left spur? The rockfall actually came from the left spur, so initially I was really hesitant about the line, but the closer we got, the more spicy and exciting it looked, so naturally, we chose that route.
Natalie just before the steep section of the climb (photo credit: Boyd)
Thankfully, we had steps in place, so it made it a bit easier. I sure did regret not bringing the second ice ax – it would have been very handy.
The slope gets above 45 degrees at this point
Boyd and Chris going through the choke
We are not out of the woods yet
Boyd is taking the lead and making good steps in 6-inch blown in powder
Looking down at the route
Boyd on the steep upper portion
We could see good steps on the left side of the couloir, but getting there would require traversing 40 degree slope with at least 6 inches of fresh powder which was not well bonded to the icy layer below. So Boyd made an executive decision to exit into the ridge, which required climbing a short pitch of 55 degree snow
Just hanging out – I really wished I had a 2nd ice ax/tool/whippet at this moment
Exiting the short, steep section (photo credit: Boyd)
The views as we are topping out
White Rocks of Kelso ridge – still snow covered
Kelso ridge and the beginning of Dead Dog
Reached the summit around 11.30am
4th time on Torreys is still the charm – I love this peak, it offers a great variety of routes
Since the snow was still very hard and crusty on the ascent, we decided to hang on the summit for a while hoping for the sun to come out. In addition, we were pretty tired and legs needed a break. We chatted with several other skiers and snowboarders, watched the people skiing from the saddle between Grays and Torreys and talked to Mike Cormier – it is the 2nd summit in two weekends that we ran into each other. Too soon, it was time to go. We started skiing down the ridge at 12.30pm.
Mike, Boyd and Chris on the Torreys ridge - Boyd is standing at my drop-in point – it looks a bit rocky, but quite manageable
The top portion of the couloir was quite icy and crusty, as the sun didn’t get a chance to warm it up
Thankfully soon I started to encounter powder
Passing clemsonmountaineer’s group on the way down
My camera battery died (took too many photos), so photos below are taken by cell phone camera.
Chris and Boyd making turns on the left spur of the couloir – we will meet under the choke
Natalie skiing (photo credit: Boyd)
I thought the rocky choke was the best part of the whole ski descent – it provided just enough excitement to make it interesting. Snow was in perfect condition – albeit not for long.
The meeting spot – my tracks coming down from the left spur, Chris and Boyd’s tracks are from the right spur
From this point on the good snow ended, and the survival skiing began (at least for skiers). Chris seemed to have a lot of fun on his wide board! Snow reached cheesecake consistency that made making turns exceedingly difficult. Despite the cloudy and windy weather, snow managed to warm up past the “silky corn” stage. It was an interesting learning experience, making me think about better timing the ski descent of a 3,000 ft line.
Boyd trying to make the best out of the situation
Skiing with rollerballs
Complex back side of Grizzly
We felt bad about “trashing” the slope for the group behind us – but very little we could do. All it took was one snowboarder to make a cut
Last turns (~1pm)
a few more
More sliding snow on the way down (Chris)
Skiing down to the road
Oops – the mess we made (photo credit: Boyd)
Somehow (pure luck) we found the bridge across the creek and easily merged with the 4wd road. We tried to ski for a few short sections, but ultimately, it was not worth it, so skis went on the pack for the 1.5 mile ride back to the car, which we reached at 2.30pm. Great day in the hills with the solid partners - a spicy couloir climb, a long ski line with some powder tucked in and, as always, some new learning experience - notably, how hard it is to time snow conditions for the 3,000 ft ski descent line.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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