Descent Route: Steven?s Gulch Route
February 10, 2006
Today was short but harsh. A strong low pressure system dropped out of the north along the plains and Front Range overnight, and brought with it bitterly cold temps as well as wind and light snow. I knew this was going to be the case, so I chose Grays Peak because its quick and easy. Incidentally, Grays Peak (14,270 ft.) and it's neighbor Torrey's Peak (14,267 ft.)are the only 14ers that lie on the Continental Divide, and also Grays is the highest point on the divide from Canada to Mexico
I left Aspen at 5:30 a.m. by myself, and drove the 2 hours over to Bakerville, just east of the Eisenhower tunnel on I-70. I drove 6 hours back from Snowbird, Utah last night, so this morning was tough. After parking at the winter road closure (10,500 ft.) I snowmobiled three miles up to the normal summer parking lot. The temperature at the car when I left was 3 degrees. From the trailhead at Steven's Gulch (11,300 ft.) I skinned for about an hour into the beautiful alpine amphitheater created by the flanks of McLennan Mtn., Grays Peak, and Torreys Peak. From here I found the summer hiking trail and chose to walk up it instead of skinning up the bowl between Grays and Torreys. I did this because I was unsure of the snow stability in the bowl.
I summited in 2 hours and 15 minutes, and it was so cold that I hardly spent more than 5 minutes on the summit. The views from the summit were limited to Torrey's Peak and Kelso Mountain to the north, and Mt. Edwards to the east. I was hoping to get a good glimpse of Evans and Bierstadt with the binoculars, but was unable to see them. The summit of Grays was coated with hard snow, but the snow got very sparse as I skied down the ridge towards the saddle with Torreys. At one point, around 14,000 ft. I had to take my skis off and walk about ten paces through a rock band. From that point on I was able to ski to the saddle. From the saddle I cautiously entered the big bowl that drops north-east into Steven's Gulch. I did a few fast ski cuts along the top and found the snow to be unbreakable wind-slab with a little fresh powder on top. Fortunately the slabs were smooth, and made for great turns. There is quite a bit of snow on this side of Grays right now, and the East Face (Dead Dog Couloir) of Torreys looks amazing for this time of year. I may try and come hit the Deag Dog this weekend.
Skiing out Steven's Gulch was a breeze. I took a moment to inspect the side of Kelso Mountain where a slab avalanche took the life of a teen on snowshoes earlier this winter. All evidence of that slide, including the debris pile, is now gone. It is easy to see how this accident could have happened, and it's a sad reminder of the dangers that are ever present in our mountains.I was back at the car in 3:11 and immediately fired up the heater to thaw out my toes.
Grays was definitely not the most interesting ski descent, but I had to knock one off today, and it fit the bill perfectly.
4 down, 50 to go.
p.s. The photos here aren't that great. Lots of wind and clouds!
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