May 23rd, 2004
I had already climbed Grays Peak twice before, so I decided the Lost Rat Couloir would provide an exciting alternative to the standard route up Grays Peak. I also wanted to introduce Amy to snow climbing and get her comfortable with using an ice ax and crampons since we have some pretty tough peaks on the agenda for this summer. We left Boulder at 4 a.m. and arrived at the Steven Gulch trailhead at about 5:30 a.m. There was a group of about 7 just departing as we arrived and they said their destination was also the Lost Rat Couloir. We quickly put on our boots, gaitors etc. and began hiking about 5:45 a.m. The wind was blowing and it was a chilly morning. We quickly caught up to the larger group and they were reluctant to move aside and let us pass. Finally we had an opportunity to dash past them on a snowfield, and we didn't see them the rest of the day. I wanted to get in front of them so they wouldn't be climbing above us in the couloir and slow us down. The sun began to rise and Grays and Torreys were soaked with alpenglow.
We followed the standard route for 1.5 miles until the large sign board at 12,000 feet. From here we left the trail and began heading directly for the Lost Rat Couloir. It is about another mile to the bottom of the couloir from where we departed the trail. The photo below shows our ascent route up the Lost Rat Couloir.
We reached the bottom of the couloir around 7:00 a.m. and got our snow-climbing gear ready. We strapped on the crampons and put on our climbing harnesses and tethered our ice ax to our harness. The couloir is shown in the photo below and the route ascends directly behind me for 400 vertical feet before it doglegs to the left.
After we had all our gear ready to go, we began ascending the snow and using our ice ax to self-belay. The couloir looked much steeper on the approach than it really was and the lower section of the couloir doesn't have many obstacles to worry about. Amy is making her way up the lower section of the couloir in the photo below.
The snow was prime for snow climbing and our crampons were getting great purchase. I had Amy diligently plant her ice ax as deep as she could into the snow, take two steps, then repeat the process. In the photo below she is climbing in the middle of the couloir.
We realized very quickly that this was going to be a strenuous endeavor as we searched for a comfortable pace that didn't leave us gasping for air. When the couloir doglegs to the left it gets a little steeper but nothing too bad. Roach rates this couloir at 40 degrees. The photo below was taken about 2/3 of the way up, and shows the remainder of the route.
We kept plugging away, onward and upward. I kept looking back to check on Amy, and everytime I did, I couldn't believe we were on Grays Peak. There wasn't a soul in sight and the climbing was spectacular. It was a truely alpine feeling that usually isn't associated with Grays Peak. Near the top of the couloir the snow gave way to some loose rock and scree, but wasn't much of a problem. This photo was taken from the exit of the couloir.
We took a small break after we climbed out of the couloir to remove our crampons and climbing harnesses. It was about 8:45 a.m., so the couloir took about 1.5 hours to ascend. We had both been up Grays Peak before, so we had to convince ourselves we should proceed to the summit and not just head down, since we really just wanted some snow climbing experience. The photo below shows the remainder of the route to the summit from the top of the couloir.
We definitely were feeling the effort from the snow climbing and proceeded to the summit much slower than our normal pace. The trail faded in and out under snowfields as we continued upward at what seemed like a snail's pace. We reached the summit at 9:30 a.m., taking almost 4 hours for the ascent. The wind was blowing up top so we snapped some summit photos and dropped off the ridge to take a break and get out of the wind. Torreys Peak can be seen behind me in the photo below.
Suprisingly, we had the summit to ourselves while we remained on top for about 30 minutes or so. We could see several people making their way up Torreys, and also a large party heading up Grays standard route carrying skis. I had already climbed Torreys twice before, and Amy had already climbed it, so we decided to descend. We took our time down the standard route, heading down the snow whenever possible. We tried glissading a couple times on the face of Grays, but the snow was too hard and bumpy and was a painful experience. From below the Rascal, we decided to glissade back down towards our ascent route and leave the standard route. The snow facing east was much softer and provided an awesome glissade back to the bottom of Grays Peak.
Amy is standing at the bottom of our glissade path, which has become one of my all time favorites. We put the ice axes away for good, switched back to our trekking poles and began crossing the basin back towards the trail.
The photo below shows our descent route.
Connecting the snowfields through the basin we made it back to the standard trail and arrived back at the trailhead just before noon. This brought our roundtrip time to just over 6 hours. This route was really fun and is a good introductory snow-climb. Overall the whole day was a complete blast and one of my all-time favorite days in the mountains. Who knew Grays Peak could be such a blast?
For my trip report up the standard route on Gray's Peak Click Here.