Descent Route: Dead Dog Couloir
February 27, 2006
Home from a great trip to Bella Coola last night, and right back at it today with a wonderful descent of the Dead Dog Couloir on Torreys Peak in the Front Range today. Left the house at 5:30 a.m. on a clear and balmy morning, and met my friends Lindsay Yaw and John Webb from Boulder at the trailhead at 8:00. We fired up the snowmobiles and drove up the road to the summer trailhead, stepping into the skis at 8:30.
Since I skied Grays Peak a couple weeks ago and had a close up view of Torreys East Face, I have wanted to get back here. The East Face is totally filled in with great snow, and the plum line on the face is the Dead Dog Couloir. We skinned into the basin below the face, and conditions looked perfect. My only concern was the layer of dust which covered the Colorado mountains during a storm last week. Evidentally the dust was churned up out in the Great basin or Utah desert and deposited by wind over the Colorado peaks. This dust layer is not only unsightly, it also creates a nasty layer upon which new snow has a hard time sticking. As we climbed up the south end of the East Face, I did a very quick hasty pit/ shear test and the new snow on the dust layer came out quite easily... not a good sign.
Perfect days on the 14ers are hard to come by, and today would have been perfect if it wasn't for the persistent 30-40 knot wind that ripped down Stevens Gulch and swept the summit ridge. Climbing with your face buried in the collar of your jacket is a pain in the ass! Thankfully the temperatures were quite warm, so the wind chill wasn not to brutal. We made it to the summit and got out of the wind below a small wind drift. I'm always impressed with the amazing views one gets from the tops of our 54 14ers. I could see no less than 16 14ers from the top of Torreys, from Long's Peak in the north to Pikes Peak in the south, the Ten Mile Range (Quandary, Lincoln, Bross) Mt. of The Holy Cross, and the Elk Range near Aspen in the distance. Right next to Torreys is Grays Peak, which now has less snow than it did when I skied it two weeks ago. Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt look even worse, with no skiable snow at all on their flanks. Come on Mother Nature!
I wasn't sure if we would get a shot at the Dead Dog, but from the top it looked pretty good, once you got into the couloir. The upper 200 feet was wind loaded (on top of the dust layer) and as I dopeed in off the summit and did a few ski cuts, I got a few small pockets of snow to break loose and move a bit. But it was just the top foot of snow that moved, and traversing into the couloir gave better and more stable conditions. The three of us skied from safe zone to safe zone, one at a time, and then skied the entire bottom half of the couloir non-stop to the bottom of the bowl. We skied out Steven's Gulch and were back at the sleds in 3:50. The Dead Dog Couloir is a classic 14er ski descent, and I was psyched to get it done in winter conditions.
Regarding the snow conditions on the 14ers right now... the wind has wreaked havoc on our precious peaks, especially in the southern ranges, where there is little snowpack to begin with. Realistically, this project will be hard to finish without some new snow sticking to the mountains this spring. And for those of you that are out and about in the backcountry, beware the dust layer!
Thanks again to Lindsay and John for joining me. Time to go to bed and get another one done tomorrow.
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