Torrey's Peak - Dead Dog Couloir

3 Jan 2005 - by Peter Gray

On 1 January 2005, I attempted the Dead Dog Couloir on Torrey's Peak with my friend Susan. After climbing 3/4 of the couloir, we quit due to the nearing sunset. We began the climb too late and were defeated by deep snow the only worsened with elevation. We were unwilling to summit in the dark and descended knowing there was neither time nor energy to complete the climb.

After a day of rest, we attempted the climb again on 3 January with valuable experience. We left Golden, CO at 5:00am. Due to deep snow on the road, we parked about 1-mile short of the trailhead and began hiking at 6:00am. From the previous attempt we knew the snow was hard for the approach so we left snowshoes and hiked with only boots. By 8:00am we reached the meadow at the base of the 30-degree snowfield, which leads to the couloir. We proceeded up the majority of the snowfield with avalanche beacons, and mountaineering axes. Near the top of the snowfield an icy layer near the surface necessitated crampons. While paused, we dug a snow pit to check the avalanche conditions. The layers looked identical to what we saw on 1 January; not superb stability but solid enough to not release a slab in our opinion. We roped up and began simul-climbing with no belays. Most of the couloir is at a 45-degree angle. The top snow was relatively soft that day and we felt that any fall could easily be arrested or stopped by the other climber without too much danger. Based on our experience two days ago, we wanted to climb fast and felt very comfortable climbing without protection. Nonetheless, we carried snow pickets incase the snow changed. We climbed with 30-meters of rope between us and coiled the other 30 to reduce drag on the leader. After 20-minutes of climbing, a definite whoomp from a settling layer forced us to pause. After digging another quick snow pit, we determined that the snow layers had not changed and continued. We reached our previous turn-around point in approximately 1.5-hours thanks to firmer snow and a well blazed trail from the previous attempt. Above the turn-around point, leading was fairly easy with shin deep snow. Approximately 9/10 of the way up the couloir, snow conditions became impassable, however. It consisted of powder on top of completely unconsolidated sugar snow. Besides fearing the avalanche possibilities in the new snow, we were unable to tunnel through the waist deep junk. I trenched my way to some nearby rocks hoping to escape the snow. Climbing the rocks with crampons proved to be very difficult and because I failed to bring any rock protection, the first belay station was very tenuous. Thankfully, the bad snow and rock section was a short distance but it took an excruciatingly long time until we gained the Kelso Ridge. Once on the ridge, it was a 2-minute hike to the summit. Following lunch, we descended the ridge to the top of the couloir. Using a solid belay station on the ridge, I lowered Susan a full rope length through the junk snow until she reached a good base. I then joined her and we plung-stepped down the coulior to the meadow.


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