| Tuning Fork Ski
Dave (Dave B)
With stellar spring snow conditions continuing in Northern Colorado, five of us got together to ski a classic 14er line on the first day of June. It turned out to be another awesome day in the mountains with a very enjoyable group of people. Tuning Fork offers something that very few (if any) other 14ers in Colorado offer... a 3,000 ft. line of continuous snow.
Tuning Fork Couloir on Torrey's Peak seen from the summit of Pettingell Peak on May 25
Torrey's Peak seen from the Grizzly Gulch Road turnoff
After we all met at the trailhead, we began hiking at 7:30. This is a much later start than normal for a spring ski descent, but cold overnight temperatures, a fairly chilly daytime high in the forecast, and the fact that Tuning Fork is a northwest facing aspect and receives a late sunhit... all contributed to us being able to "sleep in" and start late.
Additionally, clouds were hanging out on the high peaks all morning which further delayed the warm-up... this turned out to be a good thing, since we managed to do an awesome job of losing the route and wasting quite a bit of time getting back on track. As it turns out, the route should have been pretty easy to follow, as we discovered on the way back, and considering there were 5 of us... it's pretty sad and comical that none of us knew the right way to go!
At any rate, if you're looking to do this route, well first of all read the route description more carefully than we did... and stay right and low at the beginning... we turned left and stayed high and ended up on the lower slopes of Kelso Mountain above Grizzly Gulch... where we were supposed to be. Once we figured out where to go, we descended a steep hill full of mining debris to reach the river, then made a slightly dicey crossing of the river, and finally back to Grizzly Gulch Road. Who doesn't love a little adventure before the real adventure begins?
Slightly sketchy creek crossing after we got off route
Eventually we made it back to the road, which we followed the rest of the way toward the base of the couloir. There was a brief open area leading up toward the base of the couloir that we could've taken... instead we hiked through the woods for a little while longer, before turning left and bushwhacking a short way through the trees to the base of the couloir. From here, we switched over to crampons and prepared for a 3,000 foot snow climb. As a side note, we never even used our skins. There was only a short distance where skinning would be possible, so for anyone planning to head up there, it's probably not worth the weight... especially as the snow continues to melt in the valley.
Hiking through Grizzly Gulch en route to our line
Grizzly Peak... eye-catching couloir to the left of the summit
Tyler leading the way as we begin our ascent
The climb up the couloir was actually a lot of fun, but also pretty exhausting once we neared the top... hit that wall 500 ft or so short of the summit where fatigue and altitude took over. Up until that last push I felt like we made solid time, but the last push took forever. Major props to Blake for breaking trail more than the rest of us.
There was a good six inches of fresh snow in the couloir from Thursday's storm, but fortunately it had bonded very well to the lower layer. We stayed on the climber's left side of the couloir on the way up, and reached the crux of the climb about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up... a steeper and icier section to the left of a rock band... it was a pretty fun section to climb really, but would not have been fun to ski due to the thin cover and icy conditions.
Dave, Blake, and Tyler setting the bootpack
Sarah and Tyler
Heading up the crux of the ascent
Sarah and Tyler
As we neared the summit, a few of us took turns breaking trail, but ultimately Blake was the strongest climber of the group and led the final charge to the top, reaching the summit at 2:00 (LATE! - but the snow conditions were holding up fine due to NW aspect, cool temps, and lingering clouds). A group of three we met at the trailhead and their dog were getting ready to snowboard down, after ascending via the standard route up Steven's Gulch.
Dave, Sarah, and Tyler... getting close to the summit
Blake leading the final charge to the summit
approaching the summit
The summit views were outstanding as expected. Torrey's Peak was the first fourteener I ever climbed, back in 2007, one year before I moved to the great state of Colorado... at the time, I don't even think I knew that people skied these peaks, much less that I would stand on its summit with a pair of skis six years later... one of those crazy/cool things to think about.
While it may be one of Colorado's most crowded 14ers and far from one of its gnarliest, I would argue that Torrey's is actually one of Colorado's finest high peaks in terms of variety... not many peaks out there offer a pleasant walk-up standard route, an awesome and exposed class 3 ridge scramble on good rock, and at least three classic ski/snow lines (4 if you count the east face). That's just my opinion anyways.
chillin' on the summit of Torrey's
Looking at tracks down the east face... conditions looked great!
Entrance to Dead Dog Couloir
Grays Peak view
Citadel and Pettingell Peak view
Summit County view with Holy Cross seen way in the distance
We skied directly off of the summit toward an entrance on the skier's left side of Tuning Fork. We decided this based on the fact that we encountered more icy conditions with plenty of rocks poking through on the skier's right side as we neared the summit on our ascent. We encountered a variety of snow conditions throughout the 3,000 ft. descent, with the top half being the most enjoyable. The first few turns were slightly on the hardpack end of the spectrum, but the snow quickly improved and we enjoyed nice, soft turns until about halfway down.
The bottom half was kind of a mess, as the ~6 inches of new snow had warmed up just enough that it had become very heavy and was sloughing off quite a bit on every turn. The skiing was certainly more difficult through this heavy slop, especially since our legs were already tired, but overall, in spite of the bottom section, I would say it was a very enjoyable descent, and a much longer line that you usually get in CO.
Here are some pics from the descent...
Turns off the summit toward the entrance to Tuning Fork
Dave at the top of Tuning Fork
Once we reached the valley again, the rest of the hike out went by pretty smoothly, although we had several creek crossings to negotiate... all of which were manageable. The sun had come out in full and it had turned into a pleasant afternoon... an afternoon that became even more pleasant once we reached the cars where there were Dale's Pale Ales waiting.
another creek crossing
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):