| Lost Rat Couloir, Kelso Ridge
Saturday we climbed the Lost Rat Couloir on Grays and Sunday we climbed Kelso Ridge to Torreys.
I met Prakash Friday evening at his place and we drove to the Steven's Gulch Trailhead. We parked about 1.5 miles from the trailhead and set up camp for the night.
Day 1 – Lost Rat Couloir, Grays Peak
Approximately 10 miles, 11 hours, 3100' gain.
This was my first couloir climb.
We left camp a little after 5am and made our way up the road to the trailhead. The patchy snow drifts soon became more consistent so Prakash went ahead and put on his skis. We were soon up to the trailhead and on the standard route. The winds were picking up as we reached tree line and visibility was in and out for much of the first couple miles.
Early look at the basin. Lost Rat is barely visible on the left.
We were moving along quite well when we realized we should have left Grays Trail and turned west before reaching the little rib that the standard route follows. Instead of backtracking, we decide to traverse this section and head straight for the couloir. It added just a little bit of challenge and time, but it was fun and made the day more interesting.
Prakash traversing the southeast side of the rib.
A look back at our traverse. The normal route to the couloir stays low and away from the slopes.
It was after 9am by the time we made it to the base of the couloir (12,070'), much later than we wanted. But the couloir was protected by the clouds and the winds were blowing enough that we felt snow was safe for a climb. We changed into our crampons and started making our way up. This was SO MUCH more fun than all of the meandering snowshoe climbs that I've done before! Straight up and straight to the point!
Looking down the couloir with Prakash following my tracks.
Me enjoying the climb.
We continued to monitor the snow conditions and did a few shear tests here and there. Both of us felt very comfortable about continuing on.
As we approached the top, we decided to head towards the right and avoid as much of the cornice as possible. We got onto some rocks and did a little bit of scrambling before emerging out of the couloir at 13,600'.
Nearing the top. Most of the cornice was to our left – we went up to the right and climbed the rock out of the couloir.
From here it's pretty much a straight shot to the summit of Grays. However, I had the dumb idea of traversing over to the standard route and following that the rest of the way up, figuring it would be easier. Not only was it longer, but it was very annoying following the switchbacks across Grays' north face. I just don't like traversing the sides of hills in my snowshoes, I guess. I'd definitely suggest staying on the ridge from the top of the couloir to the summit.
View just out of the couloir to Grays' summit. I'd recommend getting up on the ridge and following that to the summit rather than joining up with the standard route.
We were up on the summit around 1:30 and enjoyed a little rest time and some food. After finishing my traditional half-smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I started the descent down the standard route while Prakash skied down the saddle between Grays and Torreys.
Prakash enjoying the fruits of his labor.
Nice ski lines.
The descent down was pretty uneventful. As we left the basin, the sun was finally shining on the couloir and you could see our tracks up.
Lost Rat Couloir at the end of the day.
The snow was getting slushy this late in the day and I post-holed a couple times down to my waist. Does anyone else feel like they're playing a real-life game of minesweeper trying to avoid those surprising post-holes? I met up with Prakash back the trailhead and we walked down the road to our campsite, arriving just after 4pm. What a great way to start the holiday weekend!
Day 2 – Kelso Ridge to Torreys Peak
Approximately 10 miles, 12 hours, 3100' gain.
I've wanted to do the Kelso Ridge as a mixed climb for some time now, and I figured doing the ridge now would be a good compliment to the previous days' couloir. We left camp after 5am and started heading up the road. It seemed a bit warmer today and the forecast called for mostly sunny skies… sweet! Prakash was hauling his skis up again in hopes of getting a ski descent of Torreys. I left my snowshoes back at the Jeep knowing the trail would be pretty packed down today.
View from the trailhead with the morning sun hitting the mountains.
We followed the standard route into the basin and then left the trail towards the saddle (12,380') between Kelso and Torreys. We were up there around 8:30am and took a break.
Approach to Kelso Ridge.
Kelso Ridge – some nice mixed climbing!
The ridge just after the saddle starts out pretty mellow, but soon starts to gain elevation with some intermittent scrambling.
The start of the ridge behind us.
We started out with just our boots, but quickly switched over to our crampons. For the most part we stayed on top of the ridge all the way up. We scouted around some of the towers for safer routes, but in the end staying high seemed to be the best bet. And I must say, doing it as a mixed climb was great because we didn't have to deal with loose rock and scree, but there was enough rock to do some nice scrambling.
I took the snow line up while Prakash chose to stick to the rocks.
The first tower that we came to we decided to go up and over. Prakash tried going around on the north side, but he couldn't see what was beyond some rocks.
Climbing up the first tower, one of my favorite sections. The snow was holding and the rock was pretty solid.
Prakash climbing out of the chimney section of the first tower.
"The standard route is over there if you need to bail Prakash."
Looking down the north side of the ridge.
Some steep but short sections of climbing.
Prakash crossing a snowfield before going up the small gulley towards the right.
Me following suit.
Nearing the top of the gulley. Some loose rock, but if you search hard enough you can usually find some solid hand-holds.
Hints of the summer trail showing.
For a while the ridge mellowed out and we did some class 1 and 2 hiking.
Nearing the knife edge, the white rock ledge, and Torreys' summit.
The knife edge wasn't bad at all... almost a disappointment that it wasn't any more technical. But we were glad that it was safe enough to cross.
Me hanging out on the knife edge.
Our last challenge was the white rock. Staying low on either side meant dealing with some steep and possibly wet, loose snow, so we stayed right on top. There was some good exposure, but the rock was solid.
Prakash crossing the white rock.
White rock to the summit.
Enjoying the exposure with the knife edge behind.
The last hundred vertical feet or so took us right up to Torreys' summit. We summitted around 2:30. The wind had picked up and the skies were overcast, so our stay there wasn't long. I started my way down while Prakash looked for some decent ski lines. I was most of the way down into the basin when I decided it was time to take my helmet off… of course I drop it and it slides ALL the way down to the base of Dead Dog! I really didn't want to go that way since I didn't have snowshoes and had no idea what the snow was like down there. As I chased my helmet down I turned around and thought I saw Prakash down and not moving. After about 10 minutes of yelling his name and looking for movement I quickly got worried and raced back up as fast as I could. Halfway back up he comes from out of nowhere wondering why on earth I am climbing up this mountain again. Apparently what I thought was him was only a rock. Probably a pointless story, but nonetheless it was enough to scare me and remind myself to always bring emergency phone numbers.
Back down to the Jeep around 5pm, packed up camp, and headed into Idaho Springs for some real food. We were quite exhausted, sunburnt, and dirty… but what a fun weekend! It was great to finally use my crampons for something other than aerating my yard, I'm ready to get out and do more couloirs. Prakash, thanks for taking me up Lost Rat and for a lot of the pictures in this report. Good times.
I thought Lost Rat was a great couloir for first-timers, and I highly recommend doing Kelso Ridge as a mixed climb.