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Kelso Ridge, Torreys Peak 14,267


 Kelso Ridge, Torreys Peak 14,267
 

by David Neckels

April 03, 2002

Torreys Peak, Colorado
Feb 16-18, 2002

There were seven of us that fateful day. Seven small, insignificant measly beings, one giant mountain, and 4 tough little mountain goats. Oh yes, and two suicidal coulior climbers escaped from the mental institution.

It started as it always does, with that old familiar feeling of boredom, the kind that gets right into your pants and numbs you right in the gut. The kind that makes your eyes cross, your mouth taste funny. "We never get out climbing lately," I complained to my buddy Paul Weiss. "Well, wait until AMS," he replied. And wait we did.

Now AMS is the Boulder CMC groups Advanced Mountaineering School, which both Paul and I enrolled for. We were going to learn at last how to be tough, seasoned mountaineers. We also were going to at last get out of our winter climbing slump and get out butts back out into the high stuff.

February wore on, with classes each tuesday night and trips on Saturday. The grand finale of the class is a high peak climb, and as the date for the climb neared the class began speaking of possible peaks; "longs, man, longs it is! Right up the damn north face, man!" "Mummy peak, classic climb!" "Mt. Yale, Mt. Princeton," etc.. etc...

Suddenly I heard "Kelso Ridge on Torreys". I awoke, as if from a deep slumber. Three months of tree-line skiing had made me forget the thrill of a nice high, exposed ridge. Images of Kelso danced through my head! Rock, ice and cliff danced before my eyes.

The idea belonged to Tim Feaver, another member of the class. I bonded to the idea instantly. A small group of interested parties began to form. There was talk of other peaks, but in the end we came back to Kelso. A group formed consisting of; me, Tim Feavor, Bob Guthrie, Jim Morris, Tom Wilson, Dave Robinson, and Steve Poulsen. Tom and Steve would be the instructors, and would try to keep us from killing ourselves.

We decided to make the trip 2-3 days, so we met the Saturday morning and treked casually into the Steven Gulch trailhead. Not far up the trail we viewed mighty Torreys', with the North ridge in view before us.

We arrived early in the day and spent the day lazily putting up camp, playing with avalanche beacons, and enjoying the vistas. Before sunset Tim and I decided to venture up the Gulch a bit to get some views of possibly Torreys and Grays. We discovered a bunch of mine site ruins. Cables and old structures dot the landscape. A large tunnel shoots into the mountain. The spelunker in me wished to explore, but the side of me that dislikes thousands of pounds of rock crushing me decided not.

We hiked back to camp and everybody began to cook a bit of dinner. I tried my new bibler hanging tent set up and almost cooked my tent. I hung the stove in the center of the tent and the poles began to heat. Steve gave me a few pointers and I ended up hanging the stove near the entrance, which worked out much better.

Some of us gathered in one of the tents for brief story telling session as the night deepened. I began to be uncomfortable scrunched in the tent with so many other people, my body compressed like a pretzel. As it turned out, this proved to be a very useful exercise for the following day. We all retired for the evening.

At 4:00 a.m my alarm rang and I awoke. I fired up the stove and heated some water for a nice cup of warm cider. I heated some more water and had a fine breakfast of 'cup o noodles'. Having the stove in the tent made these morning chores infinitely more pleasant. I gathered up my gear and readied my pack. I'm not sure why it took so long, but it was 6:30 before we were all ready to go. We gathered and began the approach to Kelso ridge.

Kelso Ridge, Torreys 14,267 The path was well beaten by other hikers, so going was quite easy. We passed beneath an avalanche slope where the path of the avalanche had covered the trail. We crossed the area one at a time. Volkswagon/refrigerator sized chunks of hard slab littered the debris (I forget, which is bigger, a vw or a fridge?).

We moved slowly (lots of breaks), but finally reached the saddle between Kelso and Torreys. The day looked beautiful and I figured we would truly have a shot at making it. We stopped at an old mine shaft below the saddle and put on our harnesses so they would be ready once we needed them. We ate, drank and did all those things that you do on a climbing break. I kept getting cold as we stopped, then putting on lots of clothes and getting hot once we started moving. This is the challenge of climbing with a group; climbing solo you can adjust to your own pace, working with the group is more difficult. I think I will defer soloing up Kelso in February, however.

The beginning of the ridge is very rugged and gains most of the altitude for the climb. At the top of the first push the ridge levels out and becomes more 'traverse-like'. Soon after we began threading our way up the ridge, dodging in and out of rock pillars, we came to a snow filled step in the rock. I ended up having the fun of going up the step first. It was a nice steep snow slope about 30 feet high, with a finish stemming out of the gully on rock. This mixed climbing is my favorite, and the step was exhilirating. I worried that the whole group could make it, but everyone in the group turned out to be fine scramblers, and they all shot up the gully without any ado.

The ridge turned out to be a series of beautiful class 3 scrambles. There were a series of small problems where left, right, or over the top turned out to be the solution. The ridge was pretty forgiving, and none of the pillars turned out to be ugly towers like some ridges (little pawnee traverse comes to mind). Very soon after crossing the step we realized that turning around would be a nightmare. While back in the warm bar, traversing back down the ridge had seemed quite feasible if we needed. However, obviously the time between all the autumn climbs and the planning session had made at least me forget exactly how horrible downclimbing is. Very soon after the first step we were commited to the route, as the easiest way down was over the summit.

Near the top of this first steep section of the ridge we looked across onto the face of Torreys and saw an insane little billy goat clinging to the edge of a cliff. How he got there, why he got there, or how he would get off were all in question. I would not go to where he was (even if I could) for any sum less than $5 million.

Behind the goat two climbers were working there way up 'Dead Dog Couloir'. Wait a minute, 'What the hell!!?' All I know is that Paul and I wait till at least late May and late June for some couloirs. Did these guys know something I did not? Were there not car sized chunks of avalanche less than a mile away? I had to ask around just to make sure, but the general concensus was soon the only sane one, basically that these guys were complete idiots.

After several hours we finally topped the steep section of the ridge and came to gentler ground. We traversed along the ridge, now about level with Kelso mountain to the East.

After a long but quick series of gentle slopes, we begin to get close to the upper reaches of the mountain. A rock step above us approaches. This step is apparently the routes 'crux', according to Gerry Roach, but I don't think anyone in our group would agree by the time it was over.

We reach the supposed crux, a 30 foot high wall of nice, easy class 3ish rock. It reminded me of the homestretch on Longs, maybe slightly harder. We top out and traverse a bit further, and suddenly the mountain closes in.

The slopes to the right suddenly begin falling away. The slopes to the left had been rather harsh for quite some time. Suddenly we find ourselves with less choices. The knife edge draws us in slowly, inexorably. Those of us in front suddenly find our selves sprawled across the knife edge, with 2000 feet of air at our tippy toes to the left (Dead dog couloir) and a nastly steep drop of 4 to 5 hundred feet to our right.

Our leaders suddenly halt before us. It is a long story, but the gist is that we are suddenly in front of a quite terrifying stretch of rock. The only way past appears to be going straight over an outcropping, making a difficult class 3-5 move above 2000 feet of air. Here suddenly we defer the honors to our veteran climbing leader, Steve P. After all, out of respect we should let him lead this, the funnest part of the climb, right? Surely our terror at this stretch of climbing has nothing to do with our deference, right?

In the end, Steve leads the pitch, drops below the rock to the right, and strings a fixed line for us to follow. Meanwhile we sit completely contorted on the rock for about 30 minutes, utilizing the practice from the crowded tent the night before. I revel in the fact that sure death lurks on each side of me. The fixed line traverses across a face that was not terribly difficult rock, but it was covered in snow, and the results of a slip without the rope were positively fatal.

Kelso Ridge, Torreys 14,267 We gather at the far end and look to the summit. Several goats stand on the summit wondering what the big deal is, why the rope, and what is the hold up? I wonder if the crux of the climb will be a game of 'king of the mountain' with three sharp horned goats.

We all cross safely, and Tom reverse leads across the pitch, bringing the rope. We trudge up to the summit, and I make what I think was the hardest move of the day, stepping across from the snow patches onto the loose rock on the last few hundred feet to the summit.

The summit is beautiful, and the feeling of pride in our accomplishment is overwhelming!

Standing on the summit gets very cold, as we wait for each member to arrive. Once everyone is present, we go through the obligatory 500 permutations of photos, each person in and out, for every camera. By the end of it I have on my wool sweater, my down coat, my wool hat, and my complete face mask. We finally begin the descent, which takes us to the saddle between Grays and Torreys, and then down the face of Grays.

To the west towards Breckenridge the sky is absolutely unearthly, as a front moves through and drops a few flurries on us.

We fly off the moutain, and by 5:00 p.m. we are back in camp. Tom and I pack up and head out. We arrive in Boulder at 9:30 p.m. and I arrive home at 10:30 p.m.

These are the times we live for!! The addiction sets in; it grabs you and pulls you ever deeper, each trip wilder than the last! And you will never get enough, never!! As the memory of the last trip fades, anticipation of the next eats you inside, until you consumed in your entirety! Forgotten are the memories of those plastic boots eating your feet away at the 12th hour of trudging. Gone are the memories of the sweat, the blood. All that remains is the feeling of elations, the memories of the views and the pride of accomplishment!

My destiny is not my own, I am helpless against the mountain's draw. My sirens live not in the sea, but in the snow encrusted ridges far above the clouds...

Oh, forget it, I guess I have to get back to work now before I get canned ...



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