As part of our training for an attempt on Liberty Ridge this May, my group picked out some winter fourteeners here in Colorado to climb. For February, we picked the Kelso Ridge of Torrey's Peak. We successfully climbed this ridge last Valentine's Day and were very happy with the difficulty and variation the ridge has to offer in winter conditions.
Last year, we snowshoed from I-70 up to the privy and camped there two nights. This year we were able to drive all the way up to the first of two major slide paths coming off Kelso Mountain (just below the dilapidated structure). We left the car shortly after 4am and quickly covered the remaining mile to the privy. By 6:30 we had left the Gray's Peak trail and dropped our snowshoes on our way to the low saddle in the ridge. The sun was rising just in time to guide our way to the ridge.
Starting up the ridge we made good progress up to the first somewhat difficult section at a headwall below the dominant rocky face about a third of the way up the ridge. Due to exposure and the steepness of the snow and rock on our chosen path, we roped up here at about 7:30 and John led up a thin steep snow ribbon between some steep rock.
We continued on up the ridge, never leaving it by more than about 60 feet. The conditions varied between windblown powder covered scree (which is a pain), steep hard snow, and snowy rock. There was virtually no ice at all on the route and for half of the scrambling my alpine axe just dangled from my wrist.
By about 1pm we had arrived at the knife edge crux of the ridge and decided to rope up for the second time. I was tempted to lead straight over the ridge, but never having actually climbed on the knife edge, I opted to descend the more familiar variation down and to the right of the knife. Also, I was developing a doozy of an altitude headache, probably due to the fact I had just spent a week at 500 feet above sea level and was a little bit out of shape. A short descent, traverse, and four pieces of rock pro later I was setting an anchor for John and Jessica.
Jessica followed next, self-belaying on a prussic. Finally, I belayed John across to us. It was a good thing I placed a small cam at the bottom of the downclimb because partway down John slipped and fell about eight feet. He indicated he was fine and joined us shortly thereafter.
From here, it was a short climb up to the summit which we reached around 2pm. The weather had turned to light snow and clouds about halfway up the ridge and was still that way, so we didn't linger but headed off for the saddle to Gray's Peak. We were pretty tired so we just followed some tracks (first other tracks of the day) from the saddle over to the Torrey's Peak trail. This trail joined the Gray's Peak trail and by 3pm we were back at our snowshoes. By this point my headache had eased significantly.
The hike out was smooth and quick and we got back to the car just after 5pm with plenty of light left. Just for kicks, John and I raced down the road to the car, running and walking with a surprising reservoir of energy after a burly thirteen hour climb.
I never would have considered attempting Kelso Ridge in one day in winter conditions until I read another recent trip report from another website claiming to have done the same. Now I highly recommend it to anyone with the ability. It's an early start, but not having to pack in overnight gear the day before makes for a much stronger start. What a day!!
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