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The Emperor Couloir- Torreys Peak, CO

4/13/24
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Posted by skistache on 4/15/24 9:08am

It's finally spring, which means Colorado is (briefly) open for business when it comes to sending big lines. The snowpack out here is relatively healthy, melt-freeze cycles are in effect clearing out persistent weak layers, and, if you get lucky, the wind might even die down and offer pleasant conditions. Aside from dangerous snow, the cold and wind are the toughest challenges for long backcountry days in the Rockies. 

With a favorable avalanche and weather forecast, the 13th looked like the perfect day for a big objective. I chose the Emperor Couloir, a big, 3k+ north-facing descent that's visible from the highway, and starts off the top of Torreys Peak, one of the most popular 14ers in Colorado due to a short climb and easy access from the Denver metro. The approach was a bit of a slog, almost 5 miles of tedious forest road skinning up to the bowl nestled between Grays and Torreys, where the skintrack begins climbing more steeply up the well-traveled summer trail. This part was very slow- between work travel and vacation, I haven't been running much in the last few weeks, and nothing will punish you for that more than skinning uphill at 13,000ft!

The overall climb was simple, and luckily the winds were relatively calm the entire climb up. I watched one group bail on the Dead Dog Couloir, an east-facing couloir off the summit of Torreys, (and then pass me on the final approach despite my 500ft head start), and another group ski the Dead Dog (and then pass me despite a 700 foot head start). The group that skiied the Dead Dog then quickly transitioned and descended the Emperor Couloir- but not before telling me that they were then going to boot right back up and ski the Tuning Fork just adjacent, for a 1-day elevation total of 9000 feet, nearly all of it climbed above 12k! 

After taking in the gorgeous views for a few minutes, I transitioned and cautiously approached the Emperor entrance. It's certainly intimidating from the top, and the first impression is that you are inches away from tumbling thousands of feet down into the chasm below, which is not far off the truth. The first bit involved some side-slipping with rocks jutting up through consolidated snow, and a slow knife-edge traverse down about 200ft in elevation to the proper start of the couloir. It's not particularly narrow, but the top is steep- definitely around 45 degrees, so the first few turns we tentative. Snow in the shade was actually not bad- typical windpacked light powder, with plenty of resistance to push off of, but prone to flaking in small chunks, so just crusty enough to prevent really smooth turns. Slough wasn't bad at all, and as I descended lower in the couloir the temperatures warmed and the smooth snow on the sides of the couloir took on a warm mushy characteristic. 

The apron was a quick and smooth blast, with easy turns on increasingly manky snow. A 2-ish mile skin on forest roads brought me back to the main road, where a quick transition was enough to jet the last few miles down fast packed skintrack. Total roundtrip was in the 12 mile range, maybe 4800ft elevation total, and a big objective crossed off the list. The reward? Endless satisfaction forever when I get to point to a massive line from the freeway and smugly state "I skied that" to anyone unfortunate to be in the car with me. 

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2024-04-15 16:08:56