Peak(s):  Torreys Peak  -  14,272 feet
Grays Peak  -  14,275 feet
Date Posted:  01/22/2023
Modified:  01/23/2023
Date Climbed:   01/21/2023
Author:  123tqb
Additional Members:   BuehlerOW


  • Date: 21 January, 2023
  • Peaks: Torreys Peak, Grays Peak
  • Route: Kelso Ridge
  • Mileage: 13mi
  • Vertical: 5000ft
  • Time: 10hrs
  • Partners: Owen

Having looked at the weather forecast, Owen texted me that he thought we should be leaving Boulder at more like 3:45 instead of our planned 5:15. The predicted conditions made it look like if we out too long, we might get caught in whiteout conditions, which is probably smart to avoid on a route that involves mixed terrain, exposure, and howling winds. It was going to be COLD the next day, and we needed to be prepared.

Looks... chilly.

We were honestly quite surprised to step out of the car at the trailhead and feel, well, not cold. It felt pretty much like any other day of backcountry skiing, but we knew that the tables would turn once we were actually above treeline. We started skinning up the road on our way to the Grays Trailhead, maybe even a little too fast for our own good! Owen and I were on the cross country team together in high school, so we can push each other to a pretty good pace if we feel like it. We started up the road at around 5:30, and we were already to the bridge by 7:00. We had expected to be the only ones on the route today, but we encountered two guys hiking up the road once we were near the trailhead who said they were out for an exploratory day and might also do Kelso. We didn't end up seeing them later that day, but it was nice to know we weren't that crazy!

We were in Stevens Gulch by sunrise, perfect for avoiding the huge avy slope.
Alpenglow on Torreys.

After crossing the bridge we followed the summer trail for a few minutes before ducking out left to avoid the avalanche runout off Kelso Mtn. The snow was a mix of soft fluff and hard as a plank, but it was all thin enough to make the skinning effortless. We heard quite a few whumpfs, enough to remind us that Colorado is a dangerous place to be this time of year! As we had guessed, the wind began to pick up a bit above treeline. At the transition point (just below the Kelso-Torreys saddle), Owen decided he was going to use hand warmers, starting in his gloves but eventually for his feet too, since he had to switch from ski to mountaineering boots. I had decided to stick with my ski boots for that reason, but in the end needed to borrow some warmers for my own fingers, which just wouldn't warm up! Bringing these turned out to be a huge help, and honestly I don't think we could have continued as far as we did without them. Note to self, there's a new piece of winter kit.

Torreys with Kelso Ridge now in view on the right.

Leaving our skis (and Owen's boots) behind, we started up the ridge. The first part of the ridge was an easy hike, and serves as a good chance to get used to crampons on a mixture of snow and rock. I had first attempted wintry Kelso Ridge the year prior, but didn't have success due to a partner having gear issues (a theme throughout my mountaineering tales, it seems). I was familiar with everything up to a platform at about 11,800' from this past experience, including the first Class 3 crux.

Starting up the beginning of the ridge.
Owen crossing a slope we thought would be smart to do one-at-a-time.
Owen starting up the first crux.

Both Owen and I were fairly new to mixed climbing so it took some confidence to make the moves, but once we were through it we agreed it was well within our abilities. Somebody had left a brand-new-looking rappel anchor at the top of this first crux (consisting of a piton, cordelette wrapped around a rock, and a screwgate). We thought about bootying it, but figured it was better off remaining there for the next party to bail. Between here and the point I had turned around at last year, there wasn't much above Class 2. We took a quick break, remarking at how good (*ahem*, I meant not horrible) the weather was, before continuing up the steepest part of the ridge. With the exception of one optional Class 3+ section that we only discovered to be circumnavigable after we had already done it, there wasn't anything too hard until somewhere around 13,600'. There was a slab that needed to be climbed, and it was covered with a questionable amount of snow. Upon testing, the snow was solid enough that we felt we could reasonably climb it, and looking back it was probably something around Class 3 - Class 4.

If you don't look silly, it's not mountaineering.
Definitely some spots with exposure along the route.
The majority of the ridge was made up of moves like this over zero exposure.
Headed up our optional difficulty. Go around climber's right from the base to avoid.
Heading up the slab. Not super secure.

From here it was basically a walk up to the knife edge. The knife edge itself had about two butt-scoot moves before it was covered in enough snow that it could be stood on. Compared to the other two cruxes (the short gully and the slab), this was a breeze. As we headed around the White Tower and came out on top of Dead Dog Couloir, the wind really started to kick in. Before summitting Owen and I decided to put on our puffy jackets, because it was getting brutal up there. Now covered up as much as possible, we summitted Torreys at 11:50. Expecting the worst, we took our photo and kept going over the peak down towards Grays.

A quick butt-scoot.
The condition of the knife edge and White Tower in January 2023.
Owen went up the White Tower, I just went around.
If you can't tell, it was a little cold.

Upon descending, it was suddenly nice! Completely unexpected for us, since this ridgeline is usually hammered by wind. The wind all but stopped and the sun nearly poked out between the clouds! We decided to take advantage of the situation and ate a snack before continuing on to our next peak. We hit the saddle in no time, took off our crampons, and headed up Grays now. It was pretty much step-by-step at this point, as it had already been a big day without tacking on another summit. After some time we both made it to the summit, and promptly headed down the summer trail back towards our skis.

Almost to the Grays-Torreys saddle.
Me nearing the summit of Grays, exhausted.

Yet again, the winds decided to kick in. We had both been super satisfied with the conditions thus far, so of course that all had to change. Powerful, cold winds came right at us, to the point that we held up our hands to block it from hitting our faces. Coupled with the fact that we were now slipping and sliding the whole way down the mountain without crampons, the descent proved to be a suffer-fest. We both went pretty much silent all the way to the ski stash, where again the weather eased up. We took our sweet time transitioning and skied down the creek, not stopping except to step over the plentiful rocks up top. At least the skintrack out was fun!

Fierce winds right in our faces.
And so Torreys disappeared as fast as it came.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
what a great trip report
01/24/2023 08:02
Good report, sounds like a great trip guys. I apriciate the detail.

Nice pics
02/02/2023 12:32
Cool pics, nice work!

Great job
02/03/2023 08:05
Gentlemen! Kelso is not a walk up any time of the year. Good training for Rainer this summer, O!

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