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Ascent Route: Kelso Ridge
Descent: standard Torreys
Elevation Gain: 3,100'
No guts, no glory: Darrin (kansas), Kelly (moon stalker), Nick, and me
Elsewhere in the area: KeithK -std route, Scott (edlins) - Kelso Mtn
With the weather forecast and fresh snow, it was unknown what we were climbing, and by what route. It was a drive to the trailhead, start hiking and figure it out, kind of day. Nor did I have much intention of writing this TR, until much later and just below the summit. So this will mainly be a conditions report, as it was too cold and windy to take the camera out too much.
The road and trailhead were free of snow, but the wind and temps told us what kind of day it would be: a cold & miserable @*#$%. Hiking up the trail, the snow went from barely there, to present in a dusting, with areas of ice. The first views of Grays and Torreys confirmed that higher up would be even more snow to contend with.
Photo credit: Keith
We hit the turn-off to Kelso ridge, and headed up. On the saddle, the wind hit us full force, and we all added another layer, and geared up for the assault. We didn't get up too far, before a group of two guys came down. They were not confident that they could down climb any of the snowy class 3 sections, so they turned around before it got too bad. We followed their footsteps, until there were no more. Another climber caught up to us, Nick from Kansas, and he asked to join our group. Whereas, Keith deciding he didn't like the looks of the snowy ridge or wind, decided the standard route would be his day. We would hope to meet him on the summit.
Once we had our final group settled, we soon found out how exciting this route would be with the ice and snow. In places the route was simple, as the trail was obvious, other places we got a bit off route on our way. But as I hear, being off-route builds character. It also allows for a variety of route choices. Kelly chose a solid class 4 scramble, while Darrin found the class 2 switchback right next to her. Gold star to Darrin. Later the reverse was the case, as Kelly found the better way. So we had some choices lower down, where snow hadn't accumulated too much.
Roughly half-way up the ridge, the snow was much thicker and it began to limit our choices of route. We tried skirting the ridge top, but found snowy loose gullies to traverse a bit too sketchy. We used our axes, as the snow held just enough. I also used the pick for some mixed climbing uses as well. So we went back to the more exposed ridge top, where at least the rocks were blockier and less snow covered. We were above the class 4 crux, before Kelly (who has done the route twice in summer conditions) could point it out. Not too bad considering the snow covering all the familiar moves.
Now our only obstacle remaining was the knife edge. Kelly mentioned having twice "walked the edge", but on this day, that would be a no-go. The knife edge was snow and ice covered and the only safe method was the ol butt scoot - squeeze play. With Darrin going first, he finally learned to brush off the snow off the rocks to be able to find the hand and foot holds. This would be key on the knife edge and around the white tower.
By the time I had gotten to the knife edge, most of the snow was gone, and I could reasonably cross it. Was even able to stand in a few places, which was helpful - as this knife edge is not flat like Capitol's, but rises in elevation. The last move is difficult, if you don't find foot holds to stand, as Kelly found out the hard way.
With the limited space around the knife edge, and going around the white tower, we had to help only those in front or behind us. The traverse off the knife edge and around the white tower involved some tricky spiderman moves. Grab hand hold, twist and lower to foot holds below, jump or carefully weight transfer over a gap. While sliding down off the knife edge, my radio fell off. I thought I had lost it for good. But thankfully, by the time I got lower down, there it was on a nice snow pillow. Phew!
Once above the white towers, we only had the final pitch up to the summit. Not easy with the thicker snow, but much easier than anything we had just been through. Not sure why or how, but the conditions never really bothered me today. The ice and snow sure made the scrambling difficult, but I was never too concerned. More aware of how careful I needed to be, in the exposed sections. I also had chosen the perfect layering scheme for the weather, which had me perfectly comfortable temperature-wise. This easily may have contributed to my level of comfort on the route.
We got to the summit 5.5 hours after we started. No speed record today... After a quick summit photo, and congratulating Nick on a great accomplishment (he only has ~12 14er summits, and nothing in the snow). We all wanted down and out of the wind. At least now, we had a nice trail to follow, all the tough sections were out of the way. Keith didn't like the wind, and due to the difficulty of communicating via radio about where we were on the ridge (which we were not sure how far we were), he turned around at the saddle.
The clouds and falling snow billowed around us, and while Grays Peak looked so close, no one wanted to entertain my partial desire to tackle that summit today. Beer and food would await us in Idaho Springs, and seemed a more worthwhile pursuit. The trail back to the Gray's trail was good, as the snow was soft and mostly untrampled. That would change at the trail junction. Now all the snow is fairly compacted and kinda slippery. This was the only place that micro spikes would have been useful.
Once we made it down, we headed off to beer and food (our only food of the day - as we didn't break at all on the route), and hear whether Scott found his friend's ice ax that was lost on Kelso Mtn from last year (Still lost). It was a successful, challenging and good day in the mountains.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
I'm impressed. That knife edge gave me some pause even when it was completely dry. (I might have joined Keith on the standard route.) I love snow hikes but haven't tried anything like that with snow! Great pictures to show just how spicy that route was that day. Good shots of the goats too.
sounding trip! I have always wondered what this would look like in winter conditions, and your photos were the perfect addition to previous reports, and help flesh it out. Glad you guys had a safe, albeit cold sounding trip!
Gold star to you, Otina! You guys have sure done some fun stuff this year. You'll have to hit more winter summits since you're comfortable on that stuff! So Darrin, how many trips and how much gas $ have you spent driving to and from CO this year? Seems like you're out here every weekend!
Or hungry. Or thirsty. Something like that... I was going to summit Torreys at all costs, until I realized that I didn't NEED to!!!
Great report, and congratulations once again on executing that route. Brrr.
Still can't get enough of Darrin's... sense of humor.
That looks like a good trip, I tried to summit Torreys in a blizzard last feb and was unsuccessful having to turn around at 13,700 ft due to avalanche danger (we also had to route find due to the storm - near white out several times and we never saw our summit). We are planning another attempt this coming Feb so I'd like here some greater detail on the more technical sections if you don't mind . . . my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
new found respect for that knife edge 10/13/2010 19:06
Before that trip, I always thought the knife edge on Kelso was over-rated. I now realize it can be hairy in certain conditions. I don't know how you got a grip on that thing, every time I tried, I slipped. I ended up adopting a catepillar move to get across that hump and get up that last part. Increasing body contact was the only way I didn't slip! Oh well, I got across, even if it wasn't graceful. We deserved that summit! Great report as always, the pics give a sense of the cold and windy conditions. djkest: Temp was about 25 every time I looked at my dinky little thermometer, since I forgot my better one. Wind got up to about 30, maybe 40 sustained. No real gusts, when it blew, it stayed strong for a while. It did seem to die a little more as the day progressed. Since I forgot my meter, I can't be sure, but after measuring wind over the past two years, I would like to think I've gotten better at estimating it.
Bill - We have an open itinerary this winter, so we should try to plan something! Any ideas?
jtrenary1 - With more snow, the various sections will be rather different than what we saw. The knife edge should hold more snow, and be easier to cross. This route was the CMC Boulder's final exam trip from a few years ago. Some even use it to train for the Himalayas!
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