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Route: Dead Dog Couloir
Elevation Gain: 4,393'
Vertical Ski: ~3,000' plus some extra snow patches on the road
Adventure Seekers: Scott Nate and I
When I got a casual invite to join my winter backcountry ski partners for an adventure on Dead Dog, how could I refuse? I know I need to get more comfortable on the steeps, and the only way is to ski it. Though 14er steep isn't exactly like resort steep. No nice fluffy managed by ski patrol. Lots of rocks and other "natural" features to make the surface variable and rough. Though Scott is the master of snow timing, and I can always use some more experience in that. How often do these opportunities roll around? Very rarely.
Good thing we started off from Boulder at 1:30am on Sat, as the excitement for the approaching ski would not have allowed more than a few hours of sleep anyway. I usually choose the "baby steps" method of increasing the difficulty of my skiing. This would be a bit of a jump. Still within in my ability, but today would be about survival skiing, not elegant "resort style" skiing. Big difference.
We rolled up to the trailhead at about 3, and instead of just parking, we continued up the road a bit. Everything went well until Scott had to back down the road a bit to find parking, after we found that we couldn't go up any further. That's when the unconsolidated snow at the side of the road got us. Stuck! Oh well, deal with it after the ski!
The road was icy and had plenty of dry patches. So we ended up carrying our skis most of the way up. Around that weird new building on the left, both Nate and I had enough of carrying skis, and switched to skinning. At the summer trailhead we plodded across the bridge with our skis on, and sounded like a herd of goats crossing. Waking up our camping neighbors! The trail was mostly snow covered with plenty of post-holes to maneuver. The sun started to cast its rosy glow on the peaks as we got our first glimpse of Grays.
I'd like to say that the snow is continuous to the base of the climb, but no. Plenty more opportunities to carry the skis today! Or cautiously skin across the tundra...
We took a short break near the base of the couloir to transition into climbing mode and to eat some snacks. I chose orange slices and "Shimmering Pink" frosting, yum! Meanwhile Scott and Nate were eating chocolate, cheese and fancy lunch meat. Yup.
During our break, the only other 3 climbers of Dead Dog showed up and passed us. Of course they weren't carrying an extra 15 or more pounds of ski gear, so one would expect them to be a bit faster.
The first section of the couloir is fairly mellow, about 35 degrees by my measurement. You can already see evidence for the forming runnel by the abused snow in the center, and by the rocks hidden in the snow. Part way up this first section, a bunch of rocks came whizzing past us at ~8/9 am. A little scary, as even the ice chunks hurt when some sizeable chunks hit my leg.
Nate and I climbing, Photo Credit: Scott
Midway up the couloir, it steepens to around 40 degrees. The snow gets a little less rough, but still highly variable. Nice soft snow right next to ice hard blocks. Not sure who's booter we were following, but it was horrid. Worst we've ever been on. It was like someone 4' was switching with someone 6'6", either tiny baby steps or quad busters. Thankfully Scott started making his own steps that we could follow, as either option was tiring!
It was such a hot and sunny morning, at this point we figured we'd only have a short time at the top, before the snow would be soft enough to ski. I was regretting wearing my fleece and gloves for the climb at this point.
Nearing the top and at the dog leg in the couloir, it was obviously getting a bit steeper, and my inclinometer was reading 45 in places. The clouds were getting a bit thicker and the wind picked up a bit near the top, guess the only rush to the top now is to let the calves rest from their marathon!
Top o Dead Dog at 10:45, less than 7 hours after starting from the car in the morning. Not too shabby! We dropped our packs an proceeded to laze about at 14,000'. Eat, drink, put on more layers as we waited. Guess I should take some beta photos of the peaks to the NW. Golden Bear looks good, Hagar has some lines left, but poor Pettingell is done for the season most likely.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
Nice job to all 3 of you! Great pics too - they make me want to ski that line even more! I like the ”what to do after skiing dead dog? Spot and cal the bf” laying down pic! That's how you know it was turns well earned!
I never get tired of seeing Torreys with snow. Climbed Dead Dog last year and thought it was a blast. The pictures don't do the steepness justice. Congrats!
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