After lurking around in the shadows of the thread and watching the trip develop, I finally chimed in to see if joining would make a difference. Bill (Glacierfox) was receptive to having another body added to the party and we agreed to meet at the Mammoth lot at 5am Saturday.
Everyone knew we were off to a good start when car after car showed up exactly on time. We ended up with 8 total in a few cars and headed up to the Bakersville exit. After some ride swapping at the bottom of Stevens Gulch we set off to see how high we could get on the snowy road. Brent (Stereo311) and Brad led the charge in front of Bill, TJ (Forbins_Mtn), and myself in Bill\'s truck. Andrew followed behind us with Andy and Dan in his Subaru. Brent was able to get up to just below the “Private Land 1.4mi” marker. After a couple of tense moments sliding toward the uphill ditch, then the very downhill road edge, Bill decided not to push any further than the Grizzly Gulch turn-off. The guys behind in the Subaru didn\'t have much luck with traction and ended up hiking in from further down.
Lofty goal from afar - photo: TJ (Pete)
After we got parked, everyone re-introduced themselves and somehow “Pete” was brought into the mix. After we decided that “there was no Pete” we had some good laughs and a team name was given. Team Pete was underway. We made quick time of the last 1.5 miles to the summer TH with great conversation and even better laughs. It would be a good day.
The trail was lightly tracked, but not trenched so the group took turns post-holing through knee deep fluff as nobody brought snowshoes up from the cars. They would have been helpful, but with the team of 8 taking shifts leading, the deep snow wasn\'t too terrible to manage. We hit the mining cabin at the base of Kelso Ridge and stripped our crampons as the ridge looked windblown enough that it was mostly rocks.
EPIC shot by TJ of the group on approach. My new wallpaper at work.
Early scrambling - photo: Brent (Pete)
We set off up the base of Kelso through the blustery wind, but soaked in sunlight pouring down from almost crystal clear blue skies. It would be a good day. Somewhere around 12,500\' we spotted some nasty looking clouds to the north that appeared to be blowing in with the stiff gusts. That potential storm combined with huge wind along the upper ridge -as evidenced by the 100 yard spin drift plumes rocketing off into space- warranted a conversation about bailing vs. pressing on. A few of the group decided they didn\'t feel comfortable with conditions and turned back. The 5 of us that remained still felt relatively good about the climb and decided we would keep a northern eye peeled and press up to the white wall, which we set as our "point-of-no-return" committal zone. While we were discussing options and bail out plans, we were joined by Mike who had come to climb Grays and taken a wrong turn while following our tracks. This addition bumped us up to 6 heads now and I think everyone felt good to have an extra mind working the route with us. It would be a good day.
Joined by Mike (red) at a food/planning stop - photo: Brent
The route was slow-going, and a bit sketchy in spots, but the elevation ticked away until we found ourselves staring at our options up the white wall...An icy outcropping (summer route), the narrow chimney just to the right of that, or a very loose looking STEEP mixed gulley traverse to the right. None of them looked particularly appealing and we opted for the chimney (which in hindsight was likely the nastiest of the options). Dan and TJ squirmed their way through and soon it was my turn. I set up through the narrowest squeeze at the base and quickly realized that I was in a bit of trouble. I was wearing my big bag loaded with heavier than necessary load for training on climbing technical scrambles with the added backward leverage. The larger bag would not allow me to turn my body in any way that would allow me to canyon shuffle up through the almost hold-less first tier of smooth, icy rock. After several failed attempts at contortion, brute force, and trying to think happy thoughts to fly like a lost boy, I opted to ditch the bag and haul up after. I unloaded and pulled a length of paracord from my lid. Once free of the cumbersome sack, I was able to shimmy up the 10-12 meter pitch. Brent and Mike ascended shortly after, leaving Andy at the precarious base with my pack. I made several attempts to toss my paracord loops down, but they instantly blew out and sailed out to the side of the chimney in the strong gusts. After a few shots at looping an end around small rocks, I finally managed to get one down to Andy. Fortunately, he was paying close attention, as the wind didn\'t drift this one. He managed to duck at the last second, and the plum size rock missed his face by inches. Not only was he stuck in a ridiculously uncomfortable section in order to guide my pack over jagged outcroppings, but I was trying to hit him in the face with rocks...now I was REALLY not feeling very good. It took a few attempts to finally get the pack up and over the last jagged rock, where I hauled it up quickly with Andy following close behind. As it turns out, one of his crampons had popped loose on him mid climb making for some very awkward footing. Andy won the \"Badass of the day\" award for this effort and I am truly sorry for putting him in that position.
Touchy chimney squeeze - photo: Brent
Once all were accounted for at the white wall point, we took a food break and hid from the wind the best we could to soak up some warm sun and let our nerves settle. From there, it was back on the grind knowing that the hardest section of the route was over. The scramble to the knife-edge went smoothly even through some of the touchier spots.
Icy traverse onto a loose, steep gully (not a fun view looking back between your legs here) - photo: Brent
One of many snowy ledges - photo: Brent
Kick. Step. Kick. Step. - photo: Brent
I was leading at this point and crossed the knife edge (now a 1\'-2\' wide snow bridge) with Mike just behind me. When he was mid-way across, I told him \"there\'s the infamous knife-edge\".
\"Where? You mean this?!\" was his surprised response...it was arguably the tamest section of the entire climb. After what we had already been through, it would have gone by me completely unnoticed, had I not been across it before...who knew?
Knife-edge??? - photo: TJ
The remaining scramble after navigating the white rock above the knife-edge was a straightforward slog straight up a fairly grippy snow slope with beautiful cornices at climbers left, falling off into the abyss of Dead Dog couloir. I summited at 3:45pm about 5 minutes before Mike. We were soon joined by Dan and Brent, with TJ not too far behind them. TJ let us know that Andy was taking his time and making every step count - a wise choice after so much effort to get this far. I stayed on summit for 15-20 minutes before I wanted to get down out of the cold, dry wind. My knee was giving me issues and I knew the descent would be painful so I wanted to get an early lead. Mike was kind enough to lend me his trekking poles which made a world of difference. I was ready to be off my feet at this point. That, combined with the poles to soak up most of the stress with my arms allowed me to set a blistering pace to the bottom. Bill had turned back early in the climb with a chest cold wreaking havoc on his energy, and was waiting with the truck. Not wanting to attempt the slick drive back down in the dark, he left the Grizzly Gulch turn out and headed down to the highway. After a few texts to confirm he was at the lower parking lot, and a few to let my wife and parents know we were safely off the mountain, I strapped on my headlamp and resumed my race to the bottom. Andrew, who had also turned back early had gone to (I assume) Georgetown while waiting and returned with a tray of hot coffees...That was a WELCOME treat. Brent, Dan, Andy, and Mike soon joined us in the lot. After sorting out who\'s gear was who\'s, we said our goodbyes and headed back to the Mammoth lot.
Solo on summit - photo: Me
Nine great guys putting forth an outstanding team effort. One spectacular route to the top of an amazing mountain. A blue sky full of sun.
It was a good day.
Mike, Myself, Dan on summit - photo: Brent
TJ rocking ice guitar on summit - photo: unsure(?)
TJ, Myself, and Bill (grinding on through a chest cold) - photo: Brent
Andrew, Andy, Myself, Brad, Dan, Bill. (Mike behind in red) - photo: Brent
Brent proudly showing off team name - photo: Me
Brent on summit with Stevens Gulch, Grays, Beirstadt/Evans, and Pikes - photo: Me
The final Pete (Andy) arrives on summit - photo: TJ
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):