descent route: Northwest Couloir into Grizzly Gulch
members of trip: Grant Lewis and Zach Taylor
Torreys Peak 14,267'
photo- A look at Torreys Peak from Grizzly Gulch. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009.
It was almost mid-June and good snowboarding was starting to become scarce in Colorado. We had just had a cold front move in and snow on the high peaks over the last couple days. I knew of one place we could probably go that would still have enough of a snow base to allow us to enjoy the freshies. It was the northwest couloir on Torreys peak. Torreys is a peak that I know well and have climbed many times by different routes: Kelso ridge, Dead Dog couloir, northwest couloir, and the south slopes. I called up Grant to see if he wanted to come. He was up for it so we drove to the trailhead on the night of the 12th. We set up camp beneath the summer parking lot. We were able to go all the way up to the summer trailhead. There were quite a few others camping out too. We got up a bit before sunrise and headed up the standard south slopes trail on Torreys.
We began to climb up the the northern slopes of Greys peak and contoured around to the Greys/Torreys saddle. We continued up to the summit of Torreys where there were quite a few climbers and skiers hanging out.
A group of three skiers were preparing to ski off the east face and into the Dead Dog couloir. This route was directly east facing and had been radiating in sun for several hours by now.
They were discussing how to slope cut to trigger a wet avalanche
so that they could ski the bedsurface down. This did not sound like the best idea to me but I kept my mouth shut. The group seemed fairly experienced. I did call Grant over to look down at the wet slushy face. I told him about how that slope was primed for avalanche and why I would not ride it that day.
We then continued down the north ridge to the top of the northwest couloir a couple hundred feet beneath the summit.
I will get back to our story in a minute as an avalache accident happened on the other side of the mountain minutes after we left the summit and I want to touch on this here. I was able to hear the story later as both parties involved were aquaintances of people I knew. The first of the party of three skiers slope cut across the top of the east face of Torreys and successfully triggered a wet avalanche that slid on the old snow-new snow interface.
Unknown to this group of skiers their avalanche quickly slid down the face and into Dead Dog Couloir hitting a group of four climbers/skiers that were climbing up the couloir at the same time.
All but one got out of the way. The victim was carried down the couloir and over cliff bands. He was fortunately only buried to his hip and ended up alive but with a pretty nasty knee injury.
When the three skiers skied down and came upon the party with the injured person they quickly administered first aid and helped evacuate the victim.
Looking back at the accident neither party should have been on that slope. The skiers on the summit even knew it was going to avalanche and dropped in anyway. This was a hot, east facing slope, exposed to early sun, that had fresh snow on it and a steep pitch.
It was very obvious from the beginning what would happen.
Meanwhile, Grant and I dropped into the cold shaded northwest couloir. It was impressive the change of snow conditions from the east face. We had great fluffy, light powder turns down the upper part. This turned into a funky crust for a bit and eventually corned up at the bottom as we descended out of the 3,000' plus line into Grizzly Gulch. We hiked out and back to where the Grizzly Gulch road intersected with the Stevens Gulch road and hitched a ride back to the parking lot to retrieve my car.
I had ridden this line before and I will ride it again. It is onof the classic snowboard descents of Colorado. Over 3,000' of continous 40 degree fall line riding. Beautiful!
photo- Grant Lewis descending the northwest couloir of Torreys Peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009.
photo- A look at the northwest couloir and Torreys peak from just above treeline in Grizzly gulch. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009.
photo- Zach Taylor descending the northwest couloir on Torreys peak. photo by Grant Lewis, 2009
photo- Grant Lewis dropping into the northwest couloir of Torreys peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009
photo- Grant Lewis climbing the lower slopes of Greys and Torreys in Stevens Gulch. photo by Zach Taylor, 2009