On June 2nd Kevin Kelly and I decided to go climb Kelso Ridge on Torreys Peak. After Kevin rented the proper equipment from REI (Ice Axe + crampons = $14), we hit it. We left the Highlands Ranch area at about 4:00am and got to the trailhead at 5:30. We were on the trail by 5:45. The normal trailhead was actually not accessible, as there was an avalanche earlier that season that was covering the road in debris. We ended up starting down about ¾ of a mile below the actual trailhead. The initial hike was easy going. We passed about 15-20 people with skis getting ready to ski the north face of Torreys. The sun was just peeking over the peaks behind us as Kevin and I got to the saddle between Kelso peak and Torreys peak. This is where Kelso ridge began. From reading reports we knew that up high on the ridge near the summit there were a lot of steep and dangerous cornices that we had to navigate around. We had mentally prepared for this for a few days and felt ready for it.
The first portion of the ridge is about a half a mile of navigating around class 3 and class 4 towers. Many times we were climbing a lot of vertical rock. I’ve never climbed anything so steep with such a heavy pack before. Just in case we needed to rope up for a few sections, I was carrying an ice axe, a second ice tool, 2 snow pickets, a 30 meter rope, a small rack of 5 cams, 5 slings, a harness, belay device and a few biners. I was also carrying a couple extra jackets and gloves in case the weather got bad. In any event, things were heavy, but the climbing wasn’t too bad. We just threw it into 4wheel drive in a few sections and got through fine. As we were going, there got to be quite a bit of exposure. To the south of the ridge there was about a 1000 foot drop at an 80-85 degree angle, and a steep slope to the north of the ridge. During the towers section we ran into a solo climber. Colin was from Tennessee and had come out to start training for an Alps trip he has planned for the latter part of July. Because he had just gone from 500 feet to 10,000 feet in a matter of 12 hours, he was a little slower than Kevin and I, but a strong climber just the same. We started talking and ended up joining up with him for the rest of the trip. This was his third attempt at the Grays/Torreys group, and he was pretty determined to succeed. Luckily the weather was great and we had no problem cruising up the ridge.
There were a few sketchy sections before we got to the snow cornices near the top of the ridge, but they weren’t really an issue with the ice axes in tow. The last half-mile of the ridge was covered in cornices, however, so we decided it would be best at this point to throw on our crampons for the rest of the climb. I led all of us from this point on, breaking all the trail and cruising up the steep sections. After all, this was Kevin’s first 14er and Colin was still acclimating. We got up a few hairy couloirs and finally got to the crux of the climb. At this point we were about 100 vertical feet from the summit with about 2000-2500 feet of exposure on either side of us. We had to traverse around a final tower on a knife-edge of snow on the ridge. Right at the tower crossing the snow was at a steep 60 degrees or higher. At this point it was about 9:00am and the snow was starting to get a little soft. Thus, our crampons got less and less purchase on the melting snow. I crossed the crux no problem though, and Kevin and Colin were soon to follow. Not too long after we were on the summit of Torreys, joined by the 20+ skiers who had trudged up the normal route and were about to start their descent. It was a little too bad having to share the summit with all those people, but it was fun all the same. I think that was my 5th ascent of Torreys.
After soaking up the view we ran over to the top of Grays and then were headed down. We were back to the car by about 12:30. Overall it was a really fun day. I was a little disappointed in Kelso ridge though. From what I had read, it was supposed to be really scary and difficult as a snow climb, but from my perspective, it really wasn’t all that bad at all. Hopefully this isn’t me being naïve, but based on my experience, it was well within my acceptable level of risk. There wasn’t a single point during the climb where I felt uncomfortable. It was definitely a good learning experience though, and a great way to start out the 14ers season.