After failing to summit Torreys Peak on Mother's Day, Nic and I took naps then went back to the drawing board. We now knew for sure that we would have to start skinning near I-70. This meant for a very long approach before we would start making our actual ascent up the mountain. In short, we couldn't waste any energy fumbling around on our skins on steep icy sections or having our feet sink 2 feet with every step while trying to bootpack. It was decided that we would use crampons in skin mode to make the ascent as easy as possible.
So I ordered myself a pair of Voile Splitboard Crampons and then we reassessed our approach. At first glance it makes sense to skin passed the west side of Kelso Mountain and then ascend straight up Tuning Fork to the summit of Torreys. This was the most direct route and seemed like a no-brainer. But then I started looking at the different built in CalTopo layers a little closer and came to realize something. Most of the ascent up the west side of Torreys was between 30 and 50 degrees. At those angles, not only is the ascent strenuous but it also keeps you in avalanche terrain for an extended period of time which is not ideal even with a fairly stable snowpack.
As I looked at the map some more I realized that skinning around the east side of Kelso Mountain and ascending up the north side of Grays before turning up the east side of Torreys only exposed you to terrain in the lower 30 degrees and for a much short time. Although this added 2 miles to the approach, it was way more mellow and manageable and, most importantly, safer. When Nic and I discussed the plan we decided that we might as well knock out summiting Grays Peak while we were at it since we would be near the top anyway. So the plan was set. We would skin around the east side of Kelso Mountain, summit Grays Peak via it's north face, follow the saddle northwest to the summit of Torreys, descend Tuning Fork on the west side of Torreys before following the skin track back out to the car via the west side of Kelso Mountain. Not only would I be summiting my first fourteener but I would be summiting two in one day with Grays Peak being the tallest in the Front Range at 14,278 ft and Torreys Peak ever so slightly shorter at 14,275 ft.
Our full route was no easy undertaking as it would be 12 miles round trip with a 4,500 ft difference in elevation. In order to give ourselves plenty of time to complete our objectives we set our alarms for 3:30 am. We left Nic's in Denver around 4:15 am and got to the trailhead at 5:10 am. By 5:40 am we were geared up and started skinning. By 6:20 we arrived at the split between Grizzly Gulch Rd and Stevens Gulch Rd meaning we were going at the same pace as a week prior. At around 7:50 we got to the trailhead for the ascent to Grays(denoted by the faucet although there is no running water there). There is an outhouse for you to relieve yourself which is a good thing since the 1.4 miles prior have private property on both sides of the trail.
Around 10:20 Nic and I arrived at what I will call the lunch rocks(denoted by the picnic table) where we stopped for a 15 minute break to eat and rest a little bit before starting the steeper portion of the ascent. Right around here is when the it started snowing a bit. The forecast called for some light precipitation and low visibility for late morning and early afternoon and then it would clear up so we weren't concerned. I threw my crampons on and we continued our ascent. It wasn't long before the snow picked up in intensity and around 13,000 ft we were in an all out blizzard.
Although the snow was more intense than forecasted we figure it would clear out quickly so we pushed on. It was a pretty warm day so I was in just a tshirt with my jacket strapped to my pack and only one extra layer in order to make room for extra water and snacks. Expecting the snow to clear any minute, I stayed in just a tshirt so that I could throw on my dry layer once it did. At about 13,700 with winds whipping and the snow not letting up I decided to throw on my dry layer and jacket before I became hypothermic. While we were stopped we heard a thundering noise followed by rumbling after rumbling. Visibility was down to maybe 50 ft at this point so we couldn't see what was going on but we knew exactly what we were hearing. The snow was releasing on all of the peaks around us causing powerful avalanches.
Although we were only a little over 500 ft short of our first objective, we knew it was time to pull the plug. So at 12:30 we switched out of skin mode and turned around(denoted by the skull and crossbones). In the time it took me to get back into snowboard mode the visibility improved a bit but the wind and snow continued. We started our way back down the way we came up going one by one and only a few hundred feet at a time to stay within sight of each other. I followed Nic's tracks as we did our best to stay on as mellow terrain as possible but with poor visibility we ended going right across a rollover.
Nic made it over without incident but as I crossed it just 2 minutes later I suddenly felt like I was floating. I had no idea what was happening and as I quickly looked around I saw what the problem was. There was a crown that was about 20 ft wide and maybe a foot and a half tall that I was drifting away from. I was caught in an avalanche. Luckily we were in pretty mellow terrain and it only slid about 30 ft. It didn't even knock me off my feet but it was still enough to send a chill down my spine.
I caught up with Nic and explained what had just happened to me. We took one more look at our CalTopo maps to make sure we wouldn't have any more issues on the rest of the descent back to the car. Before taking off we looked back up at the east side of Torreys to find that every chute had released. We realized how lucky we were with our route choice. Had we tried the same route we did the week prior we would have been in very dangerous terrain at the time of the storm.
From that point it was smooth sailing. We were able to ride all the way back down to the car while only have to unstrap and hike a few spots along the way. The way out was quite nice actually. It wasn't the steep couloir we were aiming for but it was a nice wide open descent in a picturesque landscape. Although we came short of summiting my first fourteener for a second week in a row, I am not disappointed. We gave it our best shot and this time the decision to turn around wasn't in our hands. I will chalk it up as another learning experience and I'm not sure if it'll be sooner or later but I can guarantee that I will be trying it again.