Peak(s):  Torreys Peak  -  14,267 feet
Torreys Peak  -  14,267 feet
Torreys Peak  -  14,267 feet
Date Posted:  05/22/2021
Modified:  07/05/2021
Date Climbed:   05/15/2021
Author:  JacobW
 Torreys Triple Crown, Third Time's the Charm   


21033_13
Will's drone photo of the sunrise from above Grays and Torreys. Check out Will's instagram.

Prologue: The Triple Crown

For those who are unfamiliar, the idea of the Triple Crown is to ski the three most popular ski lines on Torreys in a day. This means skiing Dead Dog, Emperor, and Tuning Forks, as well as summitting three times, in a day. The order that makes the most sense to me is to do Dead Dog first, since it's east facing and warms up first. Then, do Emperor and Tuning Forks since those will be later in the day but are somewhat protected from the sun by being north-facing. This results in a very full day, at elevation, skiing some of the best ski-mountaineering lines on the front range. It's a personal test of acclimatization and endurance. If you're doing it right, the skiing is fairly trivial compared to the elevation challenge.

I've been skiing in Colorado's backcounty for 12 year, it's my favorite thing to do because it enables a very freeing way to explore the mountains. While I truly enjoy the pursuit of bigger and more aesthetic lines, I still feel an immense level of fulfillment just from getting to spend time in these beautiful places, no matter the objective. My partner in this endeavor is Sam, a fellow mountain-enthusiast and long time ski partner. Sam is usually into the kind of skiing that stays off your average backcountry skier's radar. He seeks out lines that are too steep, too involved, or too fleeting for most people to think possible. So, for him, this is a fairly straight-forward objective. We've actually attempted the triple crown before, 4 years ago. It was Sam, me, and our friend Tommy. Sam ended up falling ill and bailing after Dead Dog. Tommy and I made it through Dead Dog, Emperor, and then booted half way up Tuning Fork, post-holing the whole way, before surrendering to exhaustion. Tommy and Sam tried again, two years later, and that time completed the triple. You can hear more about that day here. I didn't try the triple crown again until about a month ago, when I gave it a shot with Brian, a very experienced but new (to me) ski partner (Brian will actually come up again later in this report). Brian and I completed Dead Dog on schedule, and then met up with a party of 6 friends to ski Emperor for our second lap. While the company was welcome, it slowed our pace considerably, and by the time we finished skiing emperor, it made more sense to ski out with the others and try again another day.

Conditions this time around couldn't look much better. In the weeks leading up to this go at the triple crown I'd been skiing 14ers as much as possible, even sleeping on the summit of Grays a week before. Conditions have been fickle this spring, strong inconsistent winds, mixed with warm spells have kept the snowpack from locking up as much as usual. CAIC even upgraded an east-facing wind slab to a persistent slab about a month ago because it continued to cause avalanches days after the last wind event. When Brian and I were on Torreys to attempt the Triple Crown earlier in the spring, the north faces were in terrible shape. That day, Emperor was filled in enough to ski, but very firm, and Tuning Fork looked to have barely enough snow to ski. Leading up to this day however, it was clear that the north faces were now filled in. When I skied Grays a week earlier, the north face offered over 1,500' of powder skiing. With high confidence that conditions were good and an excellent weather window approaching, Sam and I decided this was the weekend to go for the triple crown again.


21033_01
Torreys East Face at sunrise

Part 1: Alpine Sunrise (Dead Dog)

A 3:40AM alarm, damn. Not the earliest wakeup of the season, but hardly welcome. Especially considering that Sam and I had only slept a fraction as well under a Leer topper in the back of my Tacoma as we would have in our own beds. We still had to consider ourselves lucky since this was the first weekend that it was reasonable to drive up to the Grizzly gulch turnoff on the Stevens Gulch Road, meaning we could sleep in an extra 30 minutes. It took a few minutes to accept the reality that it was time to put on pants and wriggle out of the sleeping bag. After that, crawl out of the truck, put boots on, get the skis out, and start moving. We left the car at 4:10 AM and started skinning up the Stevens Gulch road.

The road was about 50% skinable. It started patchy, then got to be mud for the steep section by the 6 Trees cabin, then was bare for a large section just after that, then returned to mostly snow-covered. We hit the Grays TH in a little under an hour and went under the bridge to continue skinning along the creek up towards Grays and Torreys. I prefer going up the creek in the winter for several reasons: First, it's usually snow covered and free of brush, so it's obvious and easy to follow even when it's dark. Secondly, there's been a few very notable avalanches that have come off Kelso mountain and surprised (even killed) people taking the summer trail through that section and the creek avoids this. We rejoined the trail near the wilderness sign and steadily moved into the cirque under the east face of Torreys, just as the sun was rising.

Will had camped just up the road from us and left a little earlier in the morning in order to get up high and take some sunrise photos from the cirque. He brought a drone up to get some shots and was planning on joining us for our first lap of the day. We showed up just in time, he was packing up his equipment and we continued up the north slopes of Grays peak, now as a party of three. With the sun warming us up, we took a couple breaks to put away headlamps, put on sunscreen, and eat (we cooked a pound of bacon to fuel us through the day). This also gave us a chance to scope our lines for the first descent. Sam and I have each skied Dead Dog and different parts of the East Face before, so we were eager to find some variants we hadn't tried before. Sam was looking to ski the East Face proper, which escapes the exposure through a choke that was looking passable, but rocky. I was eyeing a way to work down the east face onto the big hanging snowfield before cutting skier's left into Dead Dog just above the big cliff. Energized by bacon and Will's company, we continued up the Gray's north slopes and towards the saddle between Grays and Torreys. As we got higher, and the daylight became stronger, we noticed a few other groups below us. There was a group of three getting into position to climb up Dead Dog and a group of four or five skiers following our track up Grays. The snow was looking good on north faces, so we made it to the saddle with out needing to cross any rocks and only a small section of tricky side-hilling. From there we spread out a bit as we approached the summit of Torreys via the south ridge. I was able to skin all the way to the top, arriving just before 8 AM (right on schedule). Sam made the summit a couple minutes after me and Will was about the same behind him.

21033_02
Will, approaching the saddle with a good view of Torreys' South ridge.
21033_04
Sam, booting the last bit up to the first summit of the day.

I heard some chatter over my radio, it turns out that Brian was working his way up Grizzly Gulch in hopes of joining us for a later lap. We shared the good news that we were on our first summit and he told us he would be booting up either Tuning Forks or Emperor. While Will was getting his drone in the air, Sam and I inspected the east face from above. I didn't like the snow below the cornice right off the summit, so we clicked into our skis and descended a short ways to the north to access the face from the edge of the cornice. With Will's drone in the air I skied out 10 feet or so into the face to get into position. "NOPE", I said calmly but assertively to Sam. What I was standing on was maybe half an inch of new, soft snow over hard, breakable suncrust. I had pretty low confidence that even the first turn would go well. I backed off the face, onto the north ridge again and we skied down to the entrance for Dead Dog and Emperor. When we got there we found two skiers that had just finished climbing Emperor and were about to make the final push for the summit. As we looked down emperor we noticed two or three other groups climbing up, but more importantly, the snow in that couloir look to be in prime condition. We chatted with the guys who had just climbed it and they confirmed that there was a couple thousand feet of soft snow to be had in Emperor and they were planning on skiing that then climbing and skiing Tuning Forks next. Sticking to the plan, I got into position to ski Dead Dog right as Will radioed that the drone was ready and we were good to drop. Dead Dog wasn't in the best shape, but it was skiable. What wasn't firm, was heavy. And the further down the couloir we skied the more death cookies there were which had fallen off the rocky east face into the line. Despite the sub-par conditions, Sam and I traded turns skiing down the line, entertaining the group of three climbers working their way up. The smooth, more forgiving snow in the lower section of the cirque provided some much needed relief as we finished skiing the first line of the day. We stopped and Sam dug through his pack to retrieve the bacon as I radioed Will. "If you're only going to ski one line today, don't ski that", I advised. He agreed and said that the two we had met at the top of Emperor were on the summit now and he was thinking about skiing emperor with them. We wished him luck and thanked him for joining us as we began transitioning. (This was a great situation to have radios for, otherwise Will wouldn't really have had the option of skiing something different).

21033_05
Sam, starting back up the cirque for the second lap. Grays' north slopes ahead.

Part 2: Slow and Steady (Emperor Couloir)

Our mood was at a high point for the day as Sam and I started up Grays for our second lap. The skiing in Dead Dog wasn't so bad that it wasn't fun, and now we knew that the next line held awesome snow and we learned there was at least one group ahead of us putting a bootpack up Tuning Forks. Our chances of success were looking pretty good. The spring sun is strong at this elevation and the east facing cirque was getting warm. We heard rockfall beginning on the east face as Sam and I put the jackets in our packs to start skinning in t-shirts. Sam lead up the north slopes of Grays, keeping a very chill pace. We knew from experience that the key to a successful triple crown was to keep the pace slow and sustainable. Especially at this point, now that we were finished with east-facing snow, the rest of our day was less time dependent.

With the slow pace, we didn't take many breaks as we worked our way up Torreys the same way as before. The group of 4 or 5 we had seen following us earlier were skiing the north slopes of Grays from the saddle. This further confirmed that the north-facing snow was skiing great. We made it to the summit for the second time at 10 AM (again, right on schedule). This time, however, there were 8 other people there before us. This was a bit surprising since we hadn't seen anyone else taking the summer trail up Torreys (the way we had gone). Instead, they had all climbed up Emperor. With a quick peek down the north face, we learned there were at least 6 more groups coming up the upper parts of the couloir. Not being fans of crowds, Sam and I decided to quickly transition and head for Emperor, putting off our summit snack for the bottom of the line. I radioed Brian again and he told us that he would wait for us to ski down to him, just at the junction of the two entrances for Emperor. We skied to the main entrance for Emperor Couloir, right off of Kelso Ridge and were amazed at the number of people climbing up. We couldn't see everyone at this point, but there was probably 20 parties climbing up. Being aware of the climbers below, we waited until the closest group was out of fall line and Sam started skiing the top part. There's a large roll that looked like a pretty touchy wind slab at the top center of the line. Sam mentioned that, if there weren't 50 people below us, it would be smart to ski-cut that. I agreed and we skied the top section purposely avoiding that roll instead. The top section had an inch or two of hard wind slab. Despite our best efforts to not affect the climbers coming up, the small plates of slab we broke off at each turn seemed to hone in on climbers as they rolled down, occasionally getting direct hits. No one seemed too upset by this, but I Sam and I still apologized as we passed people. I still don't understand why so many people prefer to climb up that couloir (or Dead Dog). Most of the time, you can skin all the way up the summer trail, which seems faster and far safer. On this day, we were the only skiers to summit Torreys via the summer trail, everyone else climbed couloirs (I just don't get it).

Sam and I continued to trade off turns skiing. I found a narrow, steep way through the choke that also avoided the bootpack which was pretty fun. Right after that, we found Brian, waiting for us in a protected area on the skier's right. He also commented on the ridiculous number of people there were climbing up. From there on, the couloir isn't very steep and the snow was awesome, so the three of us just made wide turns enjoying the powder for a few thousand feet.

21033_14
The author, skiing powder on Emperor

Once we started getting into Grizzly Gulch we spotted tracks that lead skier's left towards Tuning Forks. With a little bit of rock hopping, we skied over to the bottom of the next couloir and took a long break, trying to mentally and physically prepare for the hardest part of the day.


21033_07
Caption Here

Part 3: The Never-Ending Slope (Tuning Forks)

From previous experience we knew that climbing Tuning Forks would be the crux of the day. It's a 2,500' boot pack, and no joke after already summiting Torreys twice. For this reason, we took a long break at the bottom of it. Brian was patient with us, he didn't need the break but still waited while we finished the bacon and debated ditching some gear. In the end, we ended up carrying all the gear and put the skis on our packs to started booting up. Luckily for us, there was a pretty well-set boot pack already. We slowly made our way up this, trying to keep the pace sustainable. We watched a couple groups ski down, confirming once again that the snow was in really good shape. This goes on and on. The day is pretty warm at this point, however Sam and I are back to wearing our soft shells. It seemed like a good governor to dress a little warm, and then just keep it mellow enough to avoid sweating. The boot pack kept to the left side of the couloir and into the climber's left fork, taking a few questionable paths through rock and occasionally switchbacking. As much as we complained about the choices made by the group that set it, we were glad it was there. Clouds were slowly rolling through since we were now into the afternoon. It even snowed on us for a couple minutes before clearing up again. After almost 2 hours of climbing, Brian starts mentioning that he'll need to turn around soon to make it back in time to avoid a puppy disaster. At 13,400', he switched back to skis, pointing out that he was quite pleased with the day despite doing 3/4 of two different big lines. We thanked him again for his company, and asked that he keep us updated over the radio as he descended. Back to just Sam and I, we continued the slog.

21033_08
Sam, nearing the top of Tuning Forks

The only point where the booting got tricky was at the very top of the couloir, where we had to deal with thin snow over rocks, and some wind affected snow. With the summit in sight, we made short work of this and were soon on the ridgeline. Since the bootpack stayed so far left, we were much closer to the summit than I had expected, we could even see the large cairn right off the summit from where we stood. We made the summit around 2:20PM and had it all to ourselves again. In no hurry, we relaxed and ate our last summit cookies (my mom sent some homemade molasses cookies earlier in the week, enough for Sam and I to have one on each summit). I finished off my first liter of water and we started making moves to get back on the skis. Instead of skiing the skier's right fork, we worked our way to the entrance of the skiers left one instead. During the climb, that side looked to have better snow and coverage. Right before I dropped in, I mentioned that I might not go very far, my legs were feeling the 8,000'+ of vert we had put in for the day. After about 2 turns of variable snow, it changed to consistent, consolidated powder. Sam and I kept trading off turns to ski, enjoying as much pow as we could before heeding the screams coming from our quads. Despite being late in the day, only the last ~500 feet of the couloir felt warm, which started making the skiing a bit more difficult as the snow got thicker.

21033_09
Sam, starting down Tuning Forks, a deceptively long slope.

As soon as we were out of the couloir, we started working our way east, down Grizzly Gulch, while keeping some vert between us and the snow-covered road. Quickly, we found a clearing that looked like an easy place to cross the stream and make it to the road. At this point, the snow was THICK. I stood by watching Sam make a few turns. His tracks started some roller balls, which would balloon as they rolled down the wet snow, until they reached a "critical mass" (or interia, whatever) and exploded. A fun physics phenomenon to see, but further indication that it was a good time to be done with our day.

We skied most of the way to the big creek crossing at the bottom of Grizzly Gulch, walking a couple sections. After the creek crossing, it's just a quick walk back to the Steven's Gulch road. We arrived back at the car at 3:30 PM, finishing in just about 11 hours and 20 minutes. We immediately shed packs and layers. Will was kind enough to leave us a couple beers at our car. Sam and I used these to say cheers to the day and we relaxed in the sun for a while, reflecting on the day. We concluded that it was a day well spent, and there will be more in the future.

21033_12
Not a bad spot for some apres, with the north face of Torreys in the background.


Gear List:

  • Setup:
    • Skis: 184 Line Sickday Tourists
    • G3 Zed Bindings
    • BCA scepter poles
    • Pomoca Skins
    • Boots: Scrapa F1 LT's
  • Wore:
    • 150 weight Smartwool base layer pants
    • Patagonia capilene t-shirt
    • Some sort of darn tough socks (got blisters)
    • Flylow Smythe Bibs
    • Arcteryx Epsilon SV Hoody
    • Hat
    • Sunglasses
    • Hestra ergo grip gloves
    • BCA Tracker 3 Beacon
    • 1 Voile Strap
  • 40L BCA Guide Pack, containing:
    • Shovel
    • Probe
    • first aid kit
    • ACR beacon
    • 1 ice axe (Petzl Gully, didn't use)
    • Crampons (Grivel Ski Tour, didn't use)
    • Patagonia ultralight puffy (didn't use)
    • Flylow Kane Jaket
    • 2 x 1L Nalgenes
    • Hestra fall line gloves
    • Beanie
    • Headlamp: Black Diamond Storm
  • Food:
    • 1lb of bacon, cooked to ~.5lb (shared)
    • 2 honey stinger waffles
    • honey stinger gummies
    • Taos bake bar
    • Kind bar
    • bag of gummy worms
    • honey stinger gu
    • summit cookies (thanks mom!)



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14


Comments or Questions
ltlFish99
Excellent report
05/23/2021 00:24
One of my more enjoyable days in the mountains was booting up dead dog with my alpine boots and my alpine skis on my pack. Enjoyed an extended stay on the summit then a wonderful descent down the tuning forks.
Thanks for posting this.


Monster5
User
Nice, Jacob!
05/24/2021 09:10
Was Antin and some other dude up there same day doing the same thing? Also Stinger waffles are gross.


JacobW
Antin
05/24/2021 11:08
Ryan, it looks like Jason was up there the day after us. He did do the triple as well, but booted up emperor to start the day.


VeraUndertow
User
Very impressive day
05/26/2021 00:07
Stoked you got to complete this huge day and ski these 3 classics in one day. As far as climbing these popular lines, I totally get wanting to climb the line you ski if possible, but maybe we should have a new standard for weekend days on these popular front range lines with easy and straightforward skin access



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