Saturday, July 6, 2013

Grays Peak and Torreys Peak

As late as mid-week I still hadn't settled on a location for my overnight trip to the mountains. One consideration was to do a long loop around James Peak from Heart Lake, but I had been there only a week ago and you can get too much of a good thing. Another possibility was Quandary Peak south of Breckenridge, but I wanted to spend more time in this location over several days and pick off more than one peak. The Mount Evans-Bierstadt trip was ruled out because the connecting arete is impossible for a dog. I settled on a trip to Grays and Torreys.
Grays Peak left and Torreys Peak right from the ridge on Kelso Peak

I pitched camp just above the trailhead at 11,400'. It was late afternoon and it was cool in the breeze and sprinkles of rain were falling. With 5 hours of remaining daylight I decided on an evening run up Kelso Peak. At 13,100' this is no slouch, but it didn't look particularly difficult and at 5 miles it was just the job to warm up for tomorrow.
Summit of Kelso with Grays and Torreys behind

Livvy and I left the rain behind and as we gained altitude it felt a little warmer. We reached the trail split in about 30 minutes and reached the col where the west turn takes you up the Kelso ridge of Torreys Peak. We turned east and scrambled over rough rock ridges to ascend a series of rising grassy knolls. The view back along the Torreys ridge was spectacular. We reached the very windy summit in about an hour. It was free of snow although a large drift was lingering on the east slope just below the summit.
Early morning sunshine illuminates Grays peak (Torreys is poking above the right ridge line)

I didn't want to return the same route so struck directly down the steep hillside before intersecting with the Grays trail and jogged back to the campsite. It was cold overnight with heavy rain but this cleared around 3am and we woke around 5.30am to face the day.

I had already worked out a plan for the trip. I knew it would be extremely busy on a Saturday and I also knew that most hikers would leave between 4am and 6am so that they could summit before noon. I knew it would be easier running up by them than trying to dodge them on the way down so I thought a 6.30am departure would see me overtake them all on the way up and then only face the stragglers on the way down. It almost worked.
On the summit of Grays with Torreys in the background

Livvy and I ate breakfast in the cold valley as the sun touched the mountain tops. We saw a steady stream of hikers walking up the trail...what seemed like several hundred of them...seriously. I packed up as much of the camp as possible and left the tent to dry out in the morning sunshine. I slipped on my running shoes and wearing shorts and teeshirt jogged over the footbridge to join the trail. The first 3/4 mile is deceptively steep and I slowly jogged past lines of hikers. Reaching a long gradual incline we picked up the pace and by the time we reached the trail split we took last night we had overtaken 135 people (yes, I counted them!!).
Descending Grays

Hitting the lower slopes of Grays the ground steepens considerably and we alternated between steady jogging and fast walking. We had no difficulty passing many more hikers as, by now, most of them had been walking for between 90 minutes and an hour (we had been moving 40 minutes) and were either sitting by the trail taking refreshments, or were standing catching their breath in the altitude. Just above the point where the direct ascent of Torreys cuts across to the right there is a large granite pinnacle near the trail - we passed 45 people sat resting in this one place.
Summit of Grays from the summit of Torreys - lots of walkers and many more ascending

What remained was just steady, steep trail to the summit ascending in a series of switchbacks. It wasn't difficult, but once above 14,000' it required significant effort to keep the pace high. There were only 2 people on the summit when we arrived and they had started at 4.30am. It had taken us about 1hr 25 minutes without stopping - not particularly fast, but we had passed over 240 hikers. The descent of Grays and the ascent of Torreys wasn't remarkable. The trail was rocky but well worn and I knew there would be hikers who had chosen Torreys as their first (maybe only) peak and we began to pick them off one by one.
On the cold, windy summit of Torreys

It was particularly windy and cold on the ascent of Torreys and I stopped to put on my waterproof jacket. It still only took 15 minutes to ascend to the summit and as I looked back across to Grays I could see many more people had reached the top. In the far distance towards the west I could make out Holy Cross mountain and more closely the peaks above Breckenridge. The lake at Dillon looked pure blue in the morning sunshine.
View down the ridge to Kelso Mountain with the trail visible in the valley below

Before descending I removed my jacket - anticipating rising temperatures - and picked my way down the steep, loose trail. At the col the trail cut across a steep snow slope before reaching the switchbacks on Grays. My calculations weren't perfect - there were still many people ascending. In fact, many of the people we were passing on descent we had previously overtaken on our way up - and many of them didn't look in great shape. But they were well spaced and it wasn't difficult getting by them. The most awkward people to pass were those who had given up and turned back - a number were wearing iPods for reasons I don't understand and they didn't hear us behind them. They were annoying.
Crossing the snow slope on the descent

It was a pleasant run back to the camp. Two fourteen thousand foot peaks in a little over three hours was a great morning. I am now planning the next trip.

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