Peak(s):  Gray Wolf Mtn  -  13,602 feet
Date Posted:  05/24/2022
Date Climbed:   05/22/2022
Author:  Camden7
 Deep Snow on Gray Wolf   

Background: in 2 weeks I will be flying to Peru for some high altitude mountaineering with my dad. I am also working on the Centennials and beginning to consider the Bicentennials. To get some fitness and some summits, we have been doing some peaks on the front range… Square Top 2 weeks ago, Kelso Ridge last weekend, and this weekend we were planning on Thunder Pyramid in the Elks. But it was not to be… the weather looked terrible and we didn’t want to deal with travel, or new snow in the route, so we stayed close to home to weather out the storm. On Saturday Morning the heavy snow had broken a branch and crushed our Subaru. Still wanting to get in some training, we hopped in the van (thankfully not flattened) and drove up to the Guanella Pass road closure at Naylor Lake above Georgetown. Knowing that Mt. Evans was Ground Zero for the storm, we had no expectation of summiting, especially with a foot of snow at 10,800 and certainly more higher.

Ascent: We started hiking really late, around 7:15. Overnight, another 3 inches had fallen on the previous days 12. The road went pretty quick despite breaking trail, and by 35 minutes in we had reached the last switchback to the right, and we left the road at 11,350, entering the huge, willow choked, flooded, and snow-filled basin separating us from the base of Grey Wolf.

Morning on the road - the snow covered trees were lovely, the Sawtooth impressive, and the weather already questionable.
They really got a lot of snow. For comparison, this is the Sawtooth 2 weeks ago. yeah I know how crooked the picture is...
And here is this weekend. The brown is willows, not dry ground.

After leaving the road, the snow and willows were challenging but manageable. At 11,400 feet, there were about 16 inches of new snow. After about 15 minutes, we encountered a wall of thick willows and decided to drop into the trees. Here the snow was deep and going was slow with downed logs, but at least there weren't willows. We climbed northward, aiming for the basin to the southwest of unranked UN 12,980ish, the western false summit of Grey Wolf. After crossing South Clear Creek, we reached this basin, and found ourselves in the center of a maze, a half mile from the nearest ground free of willows. we proceeded to bushwhack (in 20 inch deep fresh powder) through the willows and by the time we reached the clear ground at 12,000 feet the head of the basin we had wasted nearly an hour moving half a mile and 400 vertical. No good. To make matters worse, the willows were full of lightly frozen ponds and swamps that we had to avoid. Anyway, we then climbed the snow slope to the small saddle east of the basin and south of the false summit.

our route through the lower basin. Green arrows is our route up, blue or route down. The switchback in the road is the green loop on the far left. The red point is a nice looking tent spot. The right photo shows a pond and at least 3 willows, taken between the 3rd and 4th green arrows.

Once on the minor southwest ridge of UN 12,980ish, we angled northeast across the gradual slopes. This would likely be talus and embedded rocks when dry. After, joining the main ridge, it is another 1.5 miles and 1,000 vertical to the summit. This was mostly uneventful, but took ages because, as I mentioned earlier, the Evans Massif was Ground Zero, and the upper slopes of Grey Wolf were adorned with 28 inches of new snow. Also, the storm really kicked up, and we completed this last bit in windy, white-out conditions with heavy snow. By the time we summited we were exhausted and new the way out would be a slog, especially considering we had no intent to retrace our route through the willows.

21638_03This shows just how long you still have to go after reaching the tiny saddle (located where the two paths come together again)

A brief break in the storm (~90 seconds long?) reveals the view to the summit from just past false summit 13,500. Here I have found a rock to stand on under the snow, so it was only 14 inches deep where I am standing., but much more a few feet in any direction.

From the summit, a couple breaks in the fog afforded views into Hellhole and Chicago Creek. Very cool.

On the way down we returned to the tiny saddle, then took a different route down.

My diagram.

Our route down was better. Like, way, way, way, way, way better. And I wanted this route info to be available online, that is why I posted. We continued between the two minuscule points (represented with X's) that form the southern end of the tiny saddle (# 1 on diagram). The purple arrow points towards the summit.. We descended the 40* couloir (#2) between the two points, a nice weakness in the cliff band. It was slick with the new snow, but earlier in the season when it is consolidated with winter snow, or later when it is melted out it would be good. this key weakness allowed easy transport between the upper mountain and the minor ridge separating north and middle branches of South Clear Creek. The traverse from the gully over was somewhat tenuous with some willows, some tricky creek crossings (when under 20 inches of powder at least), and some annoying cross hilling. Don't go too high, it is unnecessary and wont put you out in the right spot. #3 designates a series of large meadows, these are key, as they avoid the difficulties presented by rocks and trees to the east, and willows to the west. Some mild bushwhacking and easy walking along the treed ridge lead us to the center of the valley, where the middle fork of the creek cuts through. It was pretty marshy here, but with the snow we were able to stay above it mostly. Crossing the creek would have been really hard but we lucked out and found a spot with two large rocks coming together at the sides of the creek. We then gained the treed ridge on the other side of the creek and followed it until we reached #5 and the reason we didn't go this way in the first place. A long band of dense willows block the way of tying back into the road. They were not as bad as what we encountered in the upper basin that morning, and they are not as long, but still enough to encourage our routing around them earlier that day. As it turns out, we would have saved at least an hour had we just pushed through them. The route we followed in the morning has a large descent, then a tough traverse through the forest crossing many streams (#6), the very wet and tough route-finding at #7, and the thick willows and deep snow at #8. Hopefully this information is helpful for anyone climb Grey Wolf from Guanella on snow in the future.

Just wanted to say that I am sorry for not posting a trip report in a long time. First year at high school has been busy and I haven't been up in the mountains a lot, and when I have I haven't had any helpful info to share. this summer I will hopefully do a better job of keeping up with my trips, but I will be out for a while because, as I said earlier, I will be in Peru. Good luck out there everyone!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Well Written!
05/29/2022 05:41
Such a well written trip report. All the best to you in your Peru adventures!

Really nice
05/30/2022 14:46
trip report!!

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