Date: December 22, 2009 (first full day of calendar winter)
Partner: Ryan Scollard
Route: Ascent of Kelso Ridge, Descent of South Slopes
After a disappointing last minute cancellation of some ambitious plans we had for the Elks, Ryan and I began searching for an alternative that would still serve to get us off the couch. In calendar winter it`s not uncommon for a last minute weather/CAIC forecast to prompt reevaluation the night before a trip, and unfortunately often times the “consolation” plan is much less interesting than the original. Upon searching for other options we noticed the Front Range was going to get hit last by the oncoming storm, the snow looked to be delayed for just long enough to get in for a quick winter jaunt. Neither of us had a calendar winter summit of Torreys under our belt, and after being stormed off of Kelso Ridge almost exactly one year prior, our consolation plan was quickly decided upon.
Surprisingly we were able to get a passenger car to the Grizzly Gulch road fork as the entire thing was very well packed down. Note that as of 12/22, an all wheel drive vehicle would have been able to reach the summer TH with ease. Ryan and I were reluctant to sport snowshoes at first, but then we reasoned the terrain just past the summer TH could be problematic without them. Turned out there was much less snow than we expected so we ended up stashing our shoes near the bridge just past the parking lot.
The weather was holding quite nicely; warm temps and blue skies, not a breath of wind. The notorious avy prone South Slopes of Kelso were a non-factor on this day, there just wasn`t enough snow up there to create any noteworthy danger. Normally I would have insisted on swinging well wide of Kelso but the standard trail served us just fine given the conditions. We were basking in the sun and making lunch at the base of Kelso Ridge an hour and a half after leaving the car.
We spent a long time eating and talking, neither of us were interested in having a time schedule on this day. With full bellies we geared up for the ridge. Early on it looked to be somewhat of a bore, a lack of snow certainly deprives this ridge run of what it could be this time of year. Crampons stayed in the packs the whole day.
Kelso Ridge is the epitome of a “choose your own adventure” route, Ryan and I had fun trying to mix things up when we could.
Both of us were moving uncharacteristically slow, but it didn`t really matter. It was just slow and steady, with plenty of stops along the way to soak in this beautiful winter day.
Ryan and I were the only people on Torreys all day, just another testament to how true solitude on even the most popular Colorado peaks can still be found. All it takes is a winter weekday with Christmas around the corner.
Upon surmounting one of the final false summits, we were greeted with an ominous view to the west. The storm that we knew was to arrive at some point in the evening was just closing in around the Mosquitoes. Our pace to the summit quickened as a result, past the knife and white tower and we were on the summit in no time. Dead Dog looked primed and ready to slide…
We took another short break and photographed some of the surrounding peaks. Things are bone dry in the Front Range right now.
The storm hit on our descent, temps and visibility dropped. We made sure to swing wide around the saddle cornice, which is fairly large right now with some obvious wind-loading below it. Once off the saddle the descent down Grays was primarily on frozen talus. We hiked out the road in the dark, bantering about who knows what, and capping off a fun winter summit at 6:00pm. For those who want an easy winter ascent of Grays and Torreys the time is now. Thanks for reading!