Partners: Brian, Ben, and Jason
Route: Ascent of Torreys via Dead Dog, ski descent of East Face to South Paw
Stats: 6.5 miles, 3,000′ climbed and skied, 5 hours RT
As the search for good skiing becomes more and more desperate, short, bang for your buck lines close to home tend to become more and more appealing. After seeing late week photos of Torreys from Stevens Gulch, it was evident the recent storms had improved coverage/conditions tremendously. With this in mind, Torreys was an easy decision.
Jason Fruh, his friend Ben, Brian Miller, and I motored up to Stevens Gulch, making quick work of the road with Jason’s lifted 4 Runner. The road is passable for SUVs and cars with moderate clearance, but I wouldn’t take a Prius up there just yet. We geared up and started as a group of four from the upper lot. The standard route was skinnable all the way to the wooden trail sign a few miles in. There was also a great alternative that cut through the center of the valley, which provided supportive, continuous snow all the way to the same sign (we skied this route on the way out).
Near the Kelso Ridge turnoff, we decided to throw skis on our backs and boot to the base of Dead Dog. With crampons on, we started up a well defined staircase; evidence that this route saw considerable traffic the day prior.
As can be seen in the previous photo, the apron and lower couloir was/is chock full of avy debris. There looked to be some decent snow skier’s right in the couloir, but it was clear to get it in good condition timing would be of the utmost importance. It’s getting to be that time in the season where hitting it 30 minutes early results in a frozen, chunky mess and hitting it 30 minutes late results in a wet, mushy mess.
The climb went quickly thanks to the booter; we reached the 3/4 mark in about an hour and a half after leaving the valley floor. In an attempt to get a feel for the snow on the East Face proper, we jogged left out of Dead Dog early and climbed the face to the summit.
The final few hundred feet took some time as we had left the booter to kick our own, but besides the fact that we were racing the clock the climbing on the face was very enjoyable.
On the summit, we knew we had to turn it around rather quickly as the face was getting hot. Brian and I took a short break, said goodbye to Jason and Ben (as they had their sights set on skiing Dead Dog), and dropped in.
The top turns were steep, but the snow was nearly perfect (despite being a tad grabby). We each linked a few turns down to where we exited Dead Dog on the way up…
…and then made the final decision to continue on down the face. The East Face of Torrey’s is complex and committing. There are several good options to cut through the mid face cliff bands, but without some form of strategy it would not be difficult to get cliffed out. From our position we could see a prominent gully a few hundred feet down and to our right. We had looked at this gully earlier in the morning and thought it looked like a decent option, so we made a few more turns and then traversed skier’s right above a rock band.
We made several hundred feet of jump turns in the main chute between Dead Dog and South Paw. The snow through here was still in the transition phase between powder and corn, and as a result was a tad heavy for our liking. I think in another week the snow on this face will fully settle and compact, on this day however it was a real chore. All that said, it was still a lot of fun.
The route appeared to end in a cliff, of what size we weren’t yet sure. We scooted on down a little further to take a look.
To our delight, we were just looking at a small (roughly 4 foot) air over an ice bulge out onto a nice apron of snow. We each edged our way down, pointed em straight, and had a nice, soft landing into a speed checking slalom turn.
Another traverse skier’s right across a large snowfield had us into the lower section of South Paw. Here the snow transitioned into straight up corn skiing.
We made nice, big turns all the way down the apron…
…where our adventure came to an end. We arrived at the valley floor just in time to watch Jason and Ben skiing out the apron below Dead Dog. They had taken the east face direct entrance into the couloir and reported good skiing in the upper half of the chute. Nice job guys! After regrouping and downing some fluids, we skied back to the car. As I mentioned earlier, continuous snow paralleled the creek all the way back to the bridge on the west end of the parking lot. The entire descent from the summit to the car took less than an hour and a half.
All in all we had a great time on this line. Steep, challenging, and complex, it is not a route to be overlooked by its more popular neighbors. There are multiple variations that can be skied when the face has good coverage, we only pieced together one of them.
Aside from the East Face, Dead Dog and South Paw are still in great climbing condition, though I’d say the skiing conditions in Dead Dog are deteriorating quickly. A public service announcement: make sure to hit these routes early!
Thanks for reading…