Skiers: solo (for most of the day)
Date: May 9, 2010
Route: Northeast Face
Elevation Gain: approx. 3,400 feet
Vertical Skied: approx. 3,200 feet
RT Mileage: 10 miles
For the last couple of weeks I had been eying a ski descent of Grays Peak. After a few warm days last week following an extended period of winter-like weather, the snowpack had stabilized back into a spring-like state, and with nice weather in the forecast, Sunday looked to be the perfect time to go for it. My roommate, James, and his dog, Juno, decided to join so after a few hours of sleep, we left our house in Denver shortly before 3 a.m. on Sunday. We made it about halfway up the road from I-70 to the summer trailhead (about a mile and a half short) before the road became mostly snowbound. Some vehicles had made it farther up, and some of them were stuck, including an FJ Cruiser near the trailhead that may be stuck up there for a while.
Anyways, we began hiking around 4:15 or so. The trip had a few bumps in the road early on. Juno, James's Siberian husky, had an encounter with a porcupine... and lost. We spent the about 15 minutes or so pulling quills out of the poor dog's face, but luckily we were able to get all of them out and he was good to go after that. A little ways before the summer trailhead, we had been hiking on continuous snow long enough to throw our skis and skins on just before sunrise. Unfortunately, James's day came to an early end shortly after passing the summer trailhead. He was borrowing his brother in law's AT gear and started to get some nasty blisters and had to call it a day. Luckily he was cool about it though and had no problem hanging out and enjoying the nice weather while I continued up. I pushed on without him, with Grays and Torreys Peaks coming into view shortly after sunrise.
Grays Peak (left) and Torreys Peak (right)
Ascent Route (red), Descent Route (blue)
The snow was continuous pretty much the whole way up with only a few exceptions. As the sun rose, it was turning into a beautiful day.
A group of three climbers I ran into later were starting up the Dead Dog Couloir on Torreys as I worked my way up Grays.
Climbers in Dead Dog Couloir
I skinned along a small ridge that connects to Grays before making my way onto it's northeast slopes.
Ascent route (red), Descent route (blue)
Northeast chutes on Grays
I ran into a couple of other backcountry skiers, Andy and Christine, that morning. I was able to get a picture of them as they were making their way up the Dead Dog Couloir for a ski descent.
Andy and Christine in Dead Dog Couloir
The snow was in good condition as I skinned across Gray's northeastern faces. It was a fairly breezy morning, so some of the snow had blown around a little, but not enough to be concerned about. The top few inches of snow were soft, but not slushy or wet at all. Things were looking good, even though I was slowing down quickly at this point. The views were great on this beautiful day, though.
Looking back towards Kelso Mountain
Skinning across the northeast face
After making the surprisingly tiring traverse, I reached a point not far from the saddle between Grays and Torreys where I decided to throw the skis on my pack and bootpack the rest of the way up. There was a glissade runnel I followed up before finding some old bootpacks. I hiked up this face and stayed a little below the ridgeline on continuous snow the remainder of the way to the summit.
Remaining route to the summit
I was exhausted by the time I started this bootpack and my progress the rest of the way up was very slow. I suppose I'm not in the best mountain climbing shape at the moment (at least with ski gear!). I kept pushing on, though, as I knew my persistence would be rewarded (besides, the best way to get in shape for this kind of stuff is to just do it). I made it to the summit at 10 a.m. and collapsed in exhaustion/relief for a few minutes, enjoying the solitude and the beautiful, sunny Colorado day.
Taking a quick breather on the summit
Summit views... this one looking north
Looking back down towards Steven's Gulch
I was actually on a snowy patch maybe 15 feet below the summit, so I left my gear there and walked the rest of the way up to the "official" summit. Then I called my mom to wish her a happy Mother's Day, and quickly got ready to ski down.
Ready to make some turns!
The ski descent was a blast! So much fun it's all I've been thinking about for the last day. Anyways, I guess I didn't technically ski off the summit since I was about 10-15 feet from the highest point, but whatever, I don't really care about that. I made one turn off the "summit" before carefully crossing between a few rocks, but then it was much more open beyond that first point. I skied down the ridgeline, following where I bootpacked up before traversing skier's right to hit one of the northeast chutes I had crossed. No action shots obviously, since I was up there alone, but I did my best to get some shots of the descent route.
Looking back up at the first pitch skied from the summit
I traversed over to the first chute on skiers right, where the snow was in great condition, and decided to drop in. This pitch was a bit steeper, too, and a fun line to ski. The snow was fantastic... perfect spring cream cheese.
Looking back at my tracks down the northeast face
Just below the rock on the bottom left of the previous picture, I kept my momentum going and made a long traverse over below the Grays/Torreys Saddle, and made some more turns in the bowl below this saddle and worked my way towards the base of Torreys Peak. The snow was still great, and the entire ski descent was turning out to be so much fun!
Looking back up at some of my tracks
Right as I was skiing below Torreys Peak, I saw Andy and Christine exiting the Dead Dog Couloir on skis. I met up with them shortly after, and we all shared our excitement about the awesome spring skiing conditions. Congrats to the two of them on a ski descent of one of Colorado's classic steep couloirs! Unfortunately, they had dropped their camera in the snow and it had stopped working, so I took their picture with my camera.
Dead Dog Couloir on Torreys Peak (for those not familiar, the obvious line dropping down just to the right of the summit)
Andy and Christine, with the sweet line they just skied in the background
They returned the favor and got a shot of me with Grays in the background.
Looking back up at my descent route
I skied the rest of the way down with Andy and Christine. We had to take our skis off for very brief sections a couple of times, but for the most part it was a continuous descent until not far from where we parked. As it turns out, skiing down the mountain is much more enjoyable than hiking down! Near the summer trailhead, I ran into James and Juno, who were out for a walk. Luckily he had enjoyed hanging out and enjoying the nice weather, so I didn't feel quite as bad for leaving him behind. We skied a good ways down the road, strategically avoiding dirt patches, and had less than half of mile of hiking left to the car once we had to take the skis off.
This turned out to be a truly awesome day in the mountains. A stellar ski descent in beautiful weather, and making new friends with a couple of fellow backcountry skiers, it was a good day. It was a bummer James couldn't make it up, but luckily he had enjoyed spending the day in the mountains anyways.
We did have a funny tourist encounter on the drive back. We stopped at the Georgetown rest area on I-70, where a bunch of tourists with Florida license plates had also stopped. One husky gentleman noticed the skis on top of my car and gave us a look of disbelief and said in a thick accent, "Y'all been skiing!?!?" And James said, "Yeah, we just hiked to the top of Grays Peak and skied down" The guy just kind of stared at us, then got back in his car, looked back at us and said "Y'all are serious ain't you!?" then shook his head and drove off. We could barely contain our laughter.