Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Dog is not Dead...

Tsali, the wonder cat, is doing great in the LeClair household.  But "the dog" otherwise known as the Dead Dog Couloir off of Torreys Peak was simply an amazing snow climb.  I started climbing couloirs (i.e. a deep gully on mountain sides filled with snow) about 1.5 years ago for my Basic Mountaineering School class.  My first exposure to them was the Cristo Couloir off of Quandary Peak.  Since then, I've climbed the Lambslide Couloir off of Longs Peak as well but the Dead Dog Couloir had begun to intrigue me this year.

I have climbed Torreys Peak (14,267') via the standard route probably about 3 times now and although it is a very scenic mountain paired with neighboring Grays Peak (14,270'), it's probably not a mountain that I would actively choose to return to unless it was by a more technical approach.  Several weeks ago, I started formulating a plan to climb the Dead Dog towards the end of May 2010.  By months end, the snowpack has consolidated fairly nicely and the chance of point releases/wet slides are minimal - at least in the early morning hours.  I discussed my plans with 14er climbing partner, Alan Arnette, who planned to join us after his Little Bear Peak climb the day before as well as my ESRI co-worker, Kevin Hodson.  Two additional friends from the CMC, Greg Sherman and John Krhovjak, whom I've hiked with before had expressed an interest as well.  The plans were set in motion....

My alarm went off at 3 AM in Westminster, CO and I awakened to quickly eat some cereal, brew some coffee, and grab my pack to meet folks at the Morrison Park-n-Ride by 4 AM.  We wanted to be on the trail by 5 AM and at the base of the couloir by 6:30 AM in order to take advantage of hard snow.  As it turned out, Alan was unable to join us due to a "wardrobe malfunction" (his double plastic boots broke) so the remaining 4 folks drove to the summer trailhead and began to hike in.  The air temperature was in the high 30's and the snow on the trail was hard from the night's freezing temperatures - perfect!  We arrived at the base of couloir by 6:30 AM and started to get ready.  We put on our crampons, grabbed our ice axes, ate some food, drank some water and started up the couloir.  There was some wet slide activity from previous days but this was not too much of a worry - the snow was firm least until late morning.

The Dead Dog averages about 45 degrees most of the route up and steepens to 50 degrees for the last 100-200'.  We took about 1.5 hours to ascend the 1200' to the summit ridge and stood on the summit by 8:20 AM.  The views were simply amazing - a lot of snow is still on the high mountains although it's melting quickly.  We could see Breckenridge Resort 20 miles to the west as well as numerous other 14,000' mountains nearby.  This is one of the things I live for!  We enjoyed the summit for about 20-30 minutes and then began our descent back via the standard route to the trailhead.  Kevin had brought his tele skis so he skied down the couloir with another skier while Greg, John, and I glissaded 1200' down from the saddle between Grays and Torreys.

We were back at the 'yota by 11 AM and in Denver by 12 PM - perfect - we avoided the Memorial Day Weekend "rush hour" soon coming down I-70!

This weekend, my friend/lover/companion, Karen, is visiting this weekend for a weekend of concerts at Red Rocks, visiting with friends, hitting a festival or two, and catching up on lost time.  Climb on my friends! 

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