This was to be the second fourteener for my climbing partners, and I was psyched for climbing Kelso ridge. We left Denver around 6:00 on Saturday evening and within an hour were at the trailhead (or so we thought). On the way up I-70 we encountered rain which made me very unhappy.
We arrived at our muddy trailhead, and the conditions were such that they mandated the use of a tent. We quickly set it up, cooked dinner under the freezing rain, and hit the sleeping bags. We were hoping that the weather would be much better in the morning.
We woke up and were incredibly surprised to find a good three inches of snow on the ground. This was the first weekend in September. Still hopeful that the weather might clear we quickly ate breakfast, packed up camp, and ready our packs. We figured out that we weren’t close to the trailhead that we were supposed to be at (grizzly creek), and therefore decided to drive up to the Steven’s Gulch Trailhead and climb Kelso Ridge from there.
At the trailhead we were greeted by a forest service rep who told to use extreme caution and maybe reserve the summit for another. The conditions had deteriorated significantly and it had started to snow again. Though we hadn’t expected the winter conditions with which we were faced, we had come prepared for cold, and looking around, we saw that we were probably the best equipped hikers there. Most of the other climbers around us were headed up the mountain with no much more than jeans or shorts and sweatshirts. Anyways, we started our way up the trail amidst the blowing snow from the storm. The snow hadn’t accumulated very much, but it was very slippery on the trail. After about a half hour we reached the point where we would have left the trail had we climbed Kelso Ridge. Because of increasingly worse conditions, and old soccer injury that Greg had contracted two weeks earlier we decided to skip Kelso Ridge and stick to main trail. We had pretty much resigned ourselves to the idea that we wouldn’t summit. We continued hiking and entered into the steep walled basin under Torrey’s east face. This section of the trail was nice because we were hiking along a wall which partially shielded us from the blasting wind. The strength of the storm had greatly increased and the visibility had gone down to the point where we could only see the steep mountain walls, the plunged below us into the basin below. The trail over the talus was also extremely slick and we had to be extremely weary of not slipping off the edge of the trail.
We continued to climb protected by the headwall up to almost 13,000 ft. We had met people who were coming down who all told us that the wind ahead was extremely bitter and cold. At this point that trail started climbing above the sides of the basin onto the north slopes of Gray’s Peak. We switch-backed our way up the mountain up to where we crested a ridge just above 13,000 ft. This is where we really felt cold, as we were blasted by the ferociously strong winds. Standing up was a major struggle, and the driving snow bit coldly into our faces. This is where we decided that we should turn around for the day. However, being teenagers, we were hungry, and having lugged all of our cooking gear up the mountain we wanted to put it to use. We therefore decided that we should cook some ramen noodles to warm us up. We found a nice a rock pile that provided some protection from the blasting winds complimented it by building a retaining wall with our packs. We placed my stove at the top of a hole in between two rocks. Lighting it was a chore, but once lit we were able to get some water going. However we were too cold to cook enough quality hot water to make ramen and just sipped on the warm water before heading down the mountain. The descent was uneventful, but we were glad to get back to the car. It had been much colder than any of us expected. All in all, it was a lot of fun, and a great experience for my continuing mountaineering education.
Two weeks later I was climbing Evan’s west ridge and talking to another climber who told he had been caught in the same storm on the Crestone Needle; bad to place to be caught in a blizzard. This storm, the first major one of the season hit the whole state and killed three people that I know of. Two kids died at St. Mary’s Glacier when they got disoriented, they were dressed in shorts and t-shirts. Another guy, dressed in the same way died on Longs. These incidents just go to show that you have to prepared for the worse, even at the beginning of September.
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