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Peak(s):  Grays Peak  -  14,270 feet
Post Date:  06/12/2008
Modified:  07/09/2008
Date Climbed:   06/08/2008
Posted By:  stevevets689


 Lost Rat Couloir, and a Minor Tragedy   

Peak: Grays
Ascent Route: Lost Rat Couloir
Descent Route: Grays-Torreys Saddle Glissade
RT Distance: 7 Miles
Gain: 3,040 Feet
Participants: stevevets689, Tweak


EDIT: My camera was found three weeks after this climb, hence the following pictures. Thank you, Carl!

To view the rest of my most precious photos ever, please visit my online photo album at

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Our ascent route is in green, descent in red

In memoriam of the finest camera I ever owned, I write this trip report. May my descriptions do it justice. It will be missed.

In the last few months, I have gone through several major life changes… Changing schools, drastically changing majors, involving myself in a new and loving relationship. An unfortunate side-effect of all this has been decreased activity in the mountains. My last venture above timberline before this one was in March to the summit of Quandary Peak. I was long overdue for another climb, so I combined a trip to Denver (which was also overdue) with an outing. About a week before the trip, I contacted my friend and climbing partner, Josh (Tweak), and we decided on the Lost Rat Couloir of Grays Peak. This would be a first snow climb for both of us, and I was more excited than I had been in a long time. Little did I know that fate was working against me…

On the day before the climb, Saturday June 7th, I was driving on northbound I-25 in Denver to go see a friend when I ran over something on the road which put a five inch gash in one of my rear tires. I came to a stop on the left side of the highway and went to change the tire, only to discover that my wrench was only designed for my jack, not my lug nuts. I had to call AAA to change my first ever flat tire, and barely made it to Big-O Tires to buy a new one before they closed. Somehow this only put me one hour behind schedule to meet up with Josh.

We grabbed some food at Chipotle and headed up I-70, arriving at the Grays Peak Trailhead with just enough light to look at the next day's route. We hiked up the trail a little to take a couple pictures and then returned to the trailhead. Next we sought out fellow 14ers.com forum member, Kiefer (Skasgaard), who I knew was going to be at the trailhead. He pointed out an open campsite next to his so I moved my tent there and we sat around a fire he had going, catching up on each other's lives. After my first and second ever Blue Moon brews and much talk, we hit the sacks sometime around ten.

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Grays and Torreys on the day before. The Lost Rat Couloir is the obvious path of snow going though the high cliffs left of Grays' summit

It was a chilly night. As far as I know, I got no real sleep at all; I only rested, barely bordering on the verge of dreams before rolling over uncomfortably for the umpteenth time. My watch was set for 3:40 AM, but when 3:30 rolled around at last, I figured that I could better use those 10 extra minutes for getting ready. I had noticed a faint pitter-patter on the outside of my tent so I figured there was a drizzle of rain outside. On came the precip layer, and I opened the door to my tent to see… snow? What? Not just on the ground, but falling from the sky? The forecast had said "high of 47 with a 20% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon." I don't see snow in there anywhere. Oh well, I guess we'll see how bad it is when it starts getting lighter. We bade Kiefer goodbye (he decided to return to the frontcountry that morning) and set off once we were ready.

A while later, Josh and I were hiking behind a large group bound for the Dead Dog Couloir on Torreys Peak, and it was still steadily snowing. In the semi-dark of the early morning we could barely make out the surrounding ridges for a while, but they disappeared, leaving only the trail and surrounding snowy tundra for our observation. We passed by the Torreys group and continued along the well beaten trail, chatting away the darkness.

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Visibility along the trail

Before long we arrived at a large sign with information about Grays and Torreys, along with a topographic map of the area. Somehow, this sign cued us to look around a little more, especially now that it was getting lighter, and we saw an old road which I had read about in Gerry Roach's book. We were slightly beyond its merge with the trail, so we cut through willows and crossed a small creek to reach it, and started the 1.5 miles we still had to go to reach the base of the snow climb.

As soon as we could see a rock face to the south, we started scanning for the Lost Rat Couloir. Due to the lack of visibility, we had no way of knowing that we had not yet gone far enough except for the speed at which we had arrived where we were. We quickly realized that we still needed to follow the road for a distance and continued on, but kept watching the slopes for the Lost Rat. Finally, as the road brought us to some huge heaps of talus, we could see our route. At first we could barely make it out through the falling snow but after a bit of crumbly rock hopping it became clearer to sight.

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Talus before reaching the Couloir

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Josh in the maelstrom

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First light?

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Ah, there it is

Sometime after sunrise (we think) we arrived at the base of the Lost Rat. We were standing in a large, flat snowfield under the Grays Peak-Mount Edwards saddle, surrounded by cliffs and snow filled gullies, now enduring fierce and gusty winds. In front of us, the Lost Rat soared upwards. We could see old debris from an avalanche at the bottom, and I started to really think about the fact that it was still snowing, but only an inch or two had accumulated over the last few hours so I wasn't concerned. We stopped for a while for a bite to eat, and pulled out the snow climbing gear. Since this was our first snow climb, we opted for wearing harnesses and clipping to our ice axes via a length of webbing, rather than just leashing them to our wrists. I put on my $25 used 12 point crampons for the first time, and with heavier feet than before we continued across the flats.

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Beginning the climb in some old avy debris

The Couloir swept upwards gradually. We walked through the old avalanche debris, noting how old it looked. The slope increased in a smooth sweep, and before long we were in the 30 degree range. Rock walls rose up on either side; the basin began to fall away. We climbed on, trudging in the crusty snow and bearing the wind. As we ascended, we noticed the sun trying to break through the clouds. The visibility improved bit by bit and we could make out McClellan Mountain to the northeast as well as Kelso Mountain to the north.

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Josh battling up through the weather

By the time we reached the "dogleg" where the Couloir angled slightly to the left at around 13,200 feet, the sun was still obscured but the basin below was completely visible. The angle steepened and our progress slowed. I learned to be thankful for the cloud cover because we were moving slowly, and the clouds kept the sun's rays from heating the snow too much. Each time I looked behind me and down, I felt a rush from the sheer height and steepness of the terrain. We plodded upwards.

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The "Rascal" over the dogleg

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Well, HE'S making progress

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The upper half of the Couloir

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A B&W of Mount Edwards from the Couloir

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Now it's getting steep…

Nearing the top of the Couloir at 13,600 feet, the angle increased in a final sweep. There was a very tiny cornice overhanging maybe six inches over the top of the Couloir, so our main obstacle was simply the angle. The obvious line curved to the right, but it was further to the top of the ridge that way. I decided to simply cut along the side of the very steep portion straight ahead of us, and topped out of my first snow climb in what I would like to believe was a more stylish fashion. Josh followed suit.

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The top of the Couloir

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Looking down the Couloir after topping out

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Mount Edwards with Evans and Bierstadt in the back

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Josh above where we topped out

We stayed at the top of the Couloir for a while, taking in the now very open views and much increased visibility. I stashed my ax and we continued up Grays' northeast ridge. The final 800 vertical feet to the summit took less time than the 800 vertical feet before that, which resided in the Lost Rat. We were on snow for almost the entire ridge.

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B&W of Torreys from the summit ridge

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Ninja climber?

On the summit at last, I had the notion that I could now check off the box for the 3,000 foot rule on my 14ers list. The summit of Grays Peak seemed much more memorable this time than the last time I visited it back in July of '07 en route to Mount Edwards from Torreys Peak. We sat up there for a while, talking to a couple who were enjoying their first 14er summit. I took some pictures, stowed my crampons and got my ax back out. We began our descent behind a couple skiers, who started from the summit. 200 feet lower, it was time to begin our fun. I sat down and began the longest glissade of my life so far onto the slope between Grays and Torreys.

Maybe a quarter of the way down, I saw it… something shiny tumbling down the mountain off to my left. I thought about swerving to intercept it, but pushed the thought aside. I was having too much fun. I left the matter at around 13,700 feet and sped up.

Nearer to the bottom of the slope, we did some self-arrest practice in multiple positions, sometimes without our axes in our hands to start with. It came more natural that I expected, except for having to retrieve my ax mid-slide. At any rate, we arrived at the bottom of the slope and stood up. I took a few paces and looked back at our roughly 1,000 vertical foot glissade. I had to get a picture. I reached into the pouch on my left backpack strap where I always carried my camera… but it wasn't there. Instantly I realized what I had seen tumbling higher up on the mountain. I looked up, and realized we would have to re-climb maybe 700 vertical feet before we could even start looking, and then the odds were staggering against me. There was little point in trying. I was crushed. My graduation present, my great Olympus Stylus 770 SW, gone forever. There was little else to do but turn around and start back to the car.

Josh and I didn't talk for some time. When we did, it was mostly commenting on how Dead Dog Couloir looked, and other unrelated matters to lighten the mood. We found Grays Peak Trail again and followed it down and out most of the way, until we were off trail, a detail I barely took notice of until it came to whacking through willows and little creeks for a half mile. Apparently we weren't the first nor last to do this. We arrived back at the trailhead and Josh's Jeep, and I was already feeling a bit better, aided by the relief of being back down. I packed up my camp and threw everything into Josh's Jeep.

As we bumped along down the rough road, I silently contemplated the climb. Overall, it went extremely well. My first snow climb, my first glissade of any real measure, some good self-arrest practice… under other circumstances it would've been one of the best days in the mountains I've had. It was too bad that, through a poor decision on where I was carrying my most expensive and emotionally valuable piece of equipment, the day was tainted. There was nothing I could do but concentrate on the positive aspects, and grin and bear the negative. I'm sure someday my camera will be replaced, but for now, all I will have to remember my climbs by is memory. Maybe in the scheme of things, I will learn to soak in the beauty of the mountains even better than before.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
 


  • Comments or Questions
dcbates80911


My condolences...     2008-06-12 22:37:38
Hey, I met you up there.

Lauren and I glissaded down from Torreys to meet you in the bowl where one of you asked if we had seen a camera. Sorry to hear of your loss. We had watched you ascend lost rat on our way up. Did you wear you 14ers shirt (like you said in your Friday post)??? I had my hat on my stowed poles until I could wear it.



Nice report.

By the way, here is a picture Lauren took which shows the two of you with Grays on the descent. Figured you would want something. Which one is you??? In the red shell or white helmet???



Kiefer


good & bad     2008-10-22 04:35:57
Man, I‘m sorry to hear about your lost camera, Steve. That really sucks. Not only is the equip gone but so are the pictures.
But despite the weather that morning, you certainly had a good outing for your first snow climb.
What did you think of LR as a first couloir for someone?
Really good write-up, good trip report. I still can‘t believe you and Josh made it after your tire debacle!
Perserverence!
It was good seeing you again.


BillMiddlebrook


Lost Rat     2008-06-13 14:07:23
First snow climb ever?? What a bold choice to pick Lost Rat! As you found out, it‘s pretty steep. Today, it was bullet-proof snow on the ascent and a fall would have been tough to stop.
Congratulations and nice TR! Oh, and sorry to hear you don‘t have photos - yet.


stevevets689


Thanks     2008-06-13 16:59:47
For the picture, Bates. I‘m in the red shell. I was wearing my 14ers.com shirt under it but didn‘t feel like going through the hassle of taking my shell off and stowing it. Trust me, if I had seen Bill, it would‘ve been off in a flash. Hear that, Bill? I‘d strip for a GPS! Oh and what do you mean by ”yet”? I hope someone finds my camera, and if no one does I‘m going to go looking, but I have serious doubts.
Kiefer: I think it‘s a fine choice for a first snow climb, as long as the person knows what they‘re up against. It‘s steep and you quickly find out that it‘s tough to take any real breaks. I‘m still pretty glad we chose that and not Dead Dog.



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