June 9, 2007 -Dead Dog Couloir
Dead Dog Couloir had long been on our tick list and the offer of 2000+ feet of 45 degree snow seemed to mesh perfectly with our need to get in some altitude as part of our training for our upcoming trip to Bolivia. We left my place in Cheyenne at 2:30 and had a clear shot all the way to the Stevens Gulch trail head. There were a few snow hummocks but nothing that required anything more than the clearance of a pick-up truck, i.e. no 4wd needed. We parked the truck, repacked our gear and noted that there were two tents pitched in the parking lot and at least a half dozen trucks there already. We were clearly not going to be the only two people limbing this popular route.
We got away from the parking lot at about 5:30 and made our way up the trail that G and I have each been up no less than three previous times. We had both been up Grays and Torreys by the Cottoneers routes as well as the Kelso Ridge. I'd been up Torreys via a spring snow direct route to the saddle separating the peaks as well, so we knew what lay ahead on the approach. We had some clear trail segments but I would guess a bit more than 50% of the approach was on a well packed snow trail. I was comforted to see that herd path was not a morass of post holes and I hoped that meant that the temps had been staying low. I harbored no thoughts that the snow in the couloir would be hard for any great amount of time past sun hit, but I knew we would find frozen snow when we got the base of the climb.
We arrived at the base of the couloir and settled onto a large boulder with another group of two who had arrived at the parking lot at the same time as we did. They had their sights fixed on the same route and we exchanged good natured banter back and forth as we all readied for the ascent. At about 7 a.m., we all set off, first cutting some wide z tracks across the avalanche fan before we entered the narrower confines of the couloir proper. The sun was well up and though the snow was hard, it was not neve and there was no doubt that it would deteriorate with each passing minute. Honestly, it was not going to go to heck in five minutes but we knew that we needed to make a measured ascent and spend little if any time lollygaging about on the way up.
There was a pair of climbers ahead of us and they were not making very good time as they were hugging the right side of the couloir, with good reason. The upper reaches of the peak were in the warm sun and frozen rocks were coming down the snow slope on a regular interval. We spotted the inbound missiles and fortunately, all four of us were able to dodge them with relative ease. I'm glad nobody was hit, as one in particular would have caused some serious damage to anyone it hit.
The snow was soft but taking nice side steps. The group ahead of us was attempting to front point their way up the slope but at 45 degrees it was just too shallow for that game and they were just killing themselves with their efforts. We opted for more efficient sidesteps and at about the three quarter of the way point, I was able to pass them and kick proper steps for those behind me. One of the two that I passed, continued to try to front point into my nice steps, much to the ire of the trailing climbers. I made it to the split at the top of the couloir and aimed straight ahead to rendezvous with the outcrop of light rock, signifying the terminus of the couloir and juncture with the Kelso Ridge route. I rested for a few seconds and then trudged on up about 50 more vertical feet to reach the summit of Torreys Peak.
The remaining five climbers joined me on the summit and we all chatted a bit and took the opportunity to add layers, rest, drink, and discuss among ourselves if this was the end of the climb or if any of the three groups of two would move off and climb Grays in the distance. In the end, none chose that option and we all moved down the connecting ridge toward the saddle between the two peaks. We climbed up the flank of Grays enough to pass the saddle cornice and then we took a semi direct line to the valley floor, sometimes on foot and sometimes via a glissade. Once off the steeper snow, we found a grassy patch to rest for 20 minutes or so and then we wandered down valley to the parking lot, about 2 miles distant. We arrived back at the truck at 11:10, having been out for just a bit under six hours.
Dead Dog is a classic snow climb not to be missed. There are steeper routes in the neighborhood but we got what we wanted, a good calf burn and the opportunity to get above 14k as part of our training effort.
See also Grays in the winter . . .