Grays Peak (14,278 ft) and Torreys Peak (14,275 ft), Bakerville, Colorado
Journal of a Mad Hiker (Part 1, continued)
|Hike Stats||Date: June 22, 2002|
|Torreys Peak: 14,275 feet||Base: 11,230 feet||Vertical Rise: 3,045 feet|
|Start: 09:30||Summit: 12:30||Return: N/A (to Grays)|
|Grays Peak: 14,278 feet||Base: from Torreys||Vertical Rise: ~600 feet|
|Start: 12:45||Summit: 13:15||Return: 15:30|
|RT Dist: ~7 miles||Conditions: sunny and clear, slight snow on top|
When I left Phoenix, I had originally planned to hike only 4 fourteeners, and then spend some time in Boulder with friends. Unfortunately they couldn't make it, so I decided to do another hike and bag some more peaks. (I know, I must be crazy to do so a day after that marsh at the base of Bierstadt.) I wanted to do a triple-peak hike across Lincoln (14,293'), Bross (14,172'), and Democrat (14,148'), and then head back toward Phoenix. But a change of plans to stay in Denver one more night called for a less time consuming hike.
After researching the book, I found the perfect candidates for Saturday's hike -- Grays and Torreys, one of the most popular fourteener hikes in Colorado. These two well-known peaks are connected by a short ridge and are just barely far enough apart and different enough to qualify as separate fourteeners. They were named after two famous botanists Asa Gray and John Torrey who authored the Flora of North America in the 1830's. The Dawson's Guide rates this hike as easy, although once again, I've succeeded in make it much more ... interesting.
Knowing this is a shorter hike than my previous treks during the week, I got a later start. The drive from Denver to Bakerville proved uneventful, but the dirt road from there to the Stevens Gulch trailhead was more than interesting for the Prizm. I can only say that my car was in first gear the entire 3 miles up this pit of a "road" and it bottomed out countless times. I'm just happy I still have a floorpan after that drive. Raw-nerved and white-knuckled from the drive, I arrive at the trailhead around 9:30 am. The place was packed! There were no less than 50 cars wedged in the tiny parking lot and sprawled out along the narrow road. I guess one advantage of having a small car there is ability to squeeze between two SUVs for a good parking spot.
The weather was clear and sunny again, and I was happy to forget the gray and hazy hike one day prior. Being one of the most popular trails to a fourteener, the Grays Peak trail was wide and well groomed. (Why couldn't they build the road like that trail??) I applied some sunblock and plodded along toward the twin peaks.
You can always tell how much a trail is used by the amount of information at the trailhead. Just judging by the size of this triptych, you can tell the trail offers plenty of hiking companions. It did not disappoint.
A bit further along the trail, there's a great view of the twin peaks and the trail that runs toward them. Grays (14,278') lies on the left, and Torreys (14,275) sits to the right. Until the new elevations published by USGS in July, Torreys was thought to be only 14,267 feet high, and Grays was thought to be 14,270 feet.
The standard trail cuts to the left side of Grays to its summit, traverses the connecting ridge to Torreys, and then back down the same way. How boring! Why not climb the right side of Torreys up and then come down the easy way? That was the decision I made when I came to the fork to the Kelso Ridge trail. Mind you it wasn't an easy decision. The book says it's a class 4 climb and may require a rope, so I developed a healthy respect for it. Some hikers along the trail said they've done it without rope. After a round of mental coin-tossing, I decided to go for it.
This is the beginning of the Kelso Ridge. So far it doesn't look too bad. There were only a few other people on the ridge, but I took comfort in seeing that none of them had ropes either. (I would find out later that only one of the people I met on that ridge had done it before.)
As the trail went further, I found more and more need for hand-and-foot scrambling such as this rock here. Not a technical climb, but definitely test every hand hold and every foot hold before you commit. Many sturdy looking rocks proved to be loose and easily dislodged with a little gentle persuasion. If I was a better rock climber, I might have fared better. As it was, I proceeded very slowly and deliberately up the steep trail.
Once again, I've failed to take pictures of the most challenging part of this scramble. Near the summit, there are a couple of spots where I feared for my life. One was trying to skirt a rock outcropping covered in scree with a huge exposed steep rock slide below me. Another was a knife ridge barely an inch or two wide with steep drop-offs to certain death on either side. This last one really got my attention and drew quite a bit of adrenaline out of me. It didn't help that a cross wind picked up right when I came to the knife ridge and thought that I'd be literally blown off it.
Whew, that was a rough climb for me! A huge crowd greeted me at the top of Torreys. They had all come from Grays via the standard route. I pause for a victory photo with a huge smile of satisfaction on my face. The wind blew hard and steady by this time and I was content to move right along after this shot.
The ridge connecting Torreys to Grays drops about 600 feet in elevation, but the gentle slope and easy trail was a welcome change. This is a shot looking back at the peak of Torreys from the saddle between the two peaks. You can see the trail running along the left side of the ridge.
The climb up Grays felt like a walk in the park after this morning's adventures. I still had to pause for breath once in a while due to the thin air, and I stopped for a snack after the wind subsided a little, but there was no scrambling at all. The trail was so easy, it doesn't even deserve a full arm-raised victory pose. Nevertheless, this marks my 8th fourteener, and the 6th fourteener bagged in 4 days of hiking on this trip. I was happy and content with that accomplishment (for now) as you can see from the expression on my face. The hiking gods seemed to agree as a light dusting of snow flurry fell right about then from clear and sunny skies. It was a beautiful day on the mountain, one that I'll remember for a long time.
The book was right, the Grays Peak trail definitely draws more tourists than the others I've hiked. The fact that I hiked it on Saturday probably added to the crowd. There were even more animals out on this trail than the others. This fluffy white mountain goat (barely visible in the center of the photo) navigated the rocks with expert ease. It always amazes me how an animal so heavy with sharp hooves the size of spoons can climb so well. Gives me hope for doing better I guess.
Two other animals dominate the alpine tundra above treeline -- marmots and pikas. Marmots are large rodents that look like a cross between a beaver and a squirrel. Some say they live above treeline because they like the euphoria brought on by the thin air. Weird. Pikas resemble small prairie dogs and are noisy little buggers. They make a squeaking noise that can be heard from hundreds of yards away.
Like the alpine fauna, the flora is equally interesting. The ecosystem is so fragile up here that most plants have only a few weeks out of the year to bloom, and yet they thrive in the harsh environment. I was fortunate enough to hike down with Tracy, a veritable wealth of botanical knowledge who helped to educate me on the many blossoms we encountered along the way. Here she helps me take a photo standing next to some willows that I hated so much from a day earlier.
With this photo, I conclude my alpine hiking adventures on this trip. It was a wonderful escape from the desert heat back home and a great way to explore some awesome wilderness areas in Colorado. Needless to say I am now hooked on alpine hiking and look forward with eager anticipation to my next peak bagging trip. Until then, hope you've enjoyed my trip back in time and see you on the trail!