Despite living in Colorado for nearly seven years and doing
just about everything else -- we had yet to climb a 14er.
So in celebration of Sheila's birthday earlier in the week we
decided to climb two. Grays Peak and Torreys Peak are two "beginner"
14ers on the Continental Divide just off I-70 making them a popular
weekend hiking destination and a good choice for one's first
14ers. Although the term "beginner" is relative as
any physical activity at 13,000 and 14,000 feet above sea level
is difficult for all but the most fit. One reason they are considered
"beginner" is that at Class 1 and Class 2 they do not
require any technical climbing or gear.
So on August 21st we awoke at 4:30am and headed to the mountains
with three liters of water each, some cold weather gear (hats/gloves/layers),
snacks, sandwiches, sunscreen and a few first aid items.
This picture shows the standard Grays Peak and Torreys Peak
combination route as seen from McCellan Mountain. The green represents
a Class 1 route while the blue denotes a more difficult Class
2 route. An optional Class 3 route can also be done which comes
up Kelso Ridge on the north side of Torreys Peak. (Image
courtesy of www.14ers.com)
Sheila at the bridge that represents the start of the route
just past the parking lot. The trail starts at 11,200 feet and
is only a few miles up a dirt road off the Bakerville exit of
I-70 just past Georgetown as I-70 climbs towards the Eisenhower
Tunnel and the Continental Divide. Official start time was 7:35am
and it was only 45 degrees at this time (even though back at
our house it would be 90 degrees on this day).
The air is already thin at 11,200 feet as the trail climbs
gradually through Stevens Gulch. This is higher than most of
the highest runs at most ski resorts and is more than twice the
altitude of where we live on the Front Range. Slow and steady
is the best strategy.
Grays Peak in the distance directly over Alan's head.
Looking back at Stevens Gulch.
The morning sun reflects onto Stevens Gulch, though the rarefied
air was still pretty chilly at this point.
One of many boulder fields as we start to enter the Alpine
Tundra zone where life's foothold begins to slip due to the intense
At this point the trail begins to get steeper and rockier
as we move closer to Grays Peak. Mild altitude effects are starting
to manifest - such as slight dizziness and headaches. A few Tylenol
help to abate the symptoms.
A pika watches
the hikers go by. We also saw a large marmot
at a distance, but alas no mountain goats this time.
Looking back on Stevens Gulch it is evident that we are gaining
Taking a snack break and resting up before the final assault.
At around 13,000 feet we have gained a lot vertical relatively
quickly. You can see the trail we started on in the distance.
Also note the two young and daring teenagers making their way
to the top of the rock formation.
The two daring teenagers atop the rock formation.
Looking back at how far we have come. The start of the trail
is not visible as it wraps around the smaller peak to the left
of Stevens Gulch.
Nearing the summit. The last few miles to the summit consist
of rocky and steep switch backs. The altitude is near 14,000
feet and oxygen is very hard to come by. All but the most uber-fit
must stop every hundred feet to rest as it feels your heart may
actually explode out of your chest. We repeatedly pass and get
passed by the same groups as we alternate walking and resting.
Touchdown! We have reached the summit at around 11:30am -
some 4 hours after we started. Not exactly record time, but pretty
average from what we observed other groups doing.
We spent about 20 minutes on the summit, taking in the views,
signing the roster and celebrating with our fellow climbers.
Starting down the ridge towards the saddle between Grays
and Torreys. This part of the climb is Class 2 as it is steep
and rocky. At times the trail is very undefined and you have
to focus on every footstep to find a stable rock. The ridge is
also fairly narrow in places.
At the base of thee saddle looking up at Torreys Peak. You
can see how small the people are for scale. At this point a very
brisk wind kicked up necessitating head gear and gloves for part
of the duration (meanwhile back at our house at 5400 feet it
was 90 degrees).
Almost to the top of Torreys. The second ascent of a 14er
in less than hour and it really takes a toll. Again we have to
stop frequently to allow our bodies to gather in enough oxygen.
Again we spend about 20 minutes on the summit. This time
more resting and less talking and celebrating than before. The
summit of Torreys is smaller and more defined enhancing the feeling
of standing on top of the world.
Click Play to see a panoramic video at the summit of both
our descent. While the climb up was a major cardiovascular challenge,
the descent down was a psychological study in pain endurance.
The steep and rocky descent quickly makes your knees and ankles
protest in pain. The last two thirds of the trail - though not
as steep did not offer much relief and by the time we made it
to the parking lot our joints were in agony - particularly our
two respective knees that had undergone previous surgeries.
back at the trail head parking lot on our way back to the car.
We had to park about 1/2 mile from the trail head and that extra
1/2 mile seemed longer now at the end of the day. Our total round
trip time was nearly 7 1/2 hours. We lost some time on the way
back due to a variety of issues.
Our car dutifully awaits us for the drive back home.