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Grays and Torreys Peaks are two of the easier Colorado 14ers, found south of Interstate 70 and east of the Eisenhower Tunnel. Both lie atop the Continental Divide. I had driven up Stevens Gulch the evening prior to camp at the Grays and Torreys TH. Others have reported this as a rough road requiring 4WD, but I found it really rough in only one short section near the middle where I suspect most high-clearance, 2WD vehicles could manage. Indeed, there was a variety of such vehicles found at the TH, some with not-so-much clearance at all. Camping in or near the main lot can be frustrating sleep-wise, as there are folks arriving in the early morning hours for a headlamp start. There are other campsites further south past the TH that I found more secluded, though the road definitely gets rougher. I had a very nice spot next to the creek where I slept soundly, moving the Jeep in the morning back to the TH when I was ready to head out after 5a.
The well-constructed Grays Peak Trail climbs 3,000ft in 4mi to Grays summit, after which a spur trail traverses the ridge to Torreys summit in another mile. To avoid the morning circus this route entails, I followed a Ben Brownlee GPX track that takes in the additional summit of Kelso Mtn (a 13er), found a few miles northeast of Torreys. I followed the main trail for only a mile before turning off on a little-used old mining road on the east side of Kelso. The topo map shows this continuing to an old mine site, but I turned upslope before reaching it. The slope is quite steep for almost 800ft before relenting, though the footing is good with vegetation on the slope holding the rocks in place. Some badly shedding mountain goats were grazing above me, not happy with my appearance on their breakfast table, but not exactly complaining, either. They would simply move uphill slowly to stay ahead of me, eventually deciding to leave altogether since I wasn't going away, even if moving slowly. The slope eases some for the final 400ft, and I turned north when I reached the crest with my first views of Grays and Torreys to the southwest. It was 6:40a when I reached the top, about 70min after starting out.
There was a moderate pile of rocks at Kelso's summit, but no register than I could find. Views were hazy due to fires in the northern part of the state, and would remain so for the rest of the day. I turned my attention next to Torreys, separated from Kelso by a two mile-long ridgeline with a drop of nearly 800ft between them to a saddle. Kelso's SW Ridge is a class 1-2 affair, easy on the feet with soft alpine turf mixed with rock. There is some class 2-3 rock to negotiate before reaching the saddle, but nothing difficult. As I neared the saddle I could see a spur trail coming up to it from the main trail, with several parties making their way ahead of me on the ridgeline. This is the semi-popular Kelso Ridge, an alternate class 2-3 ridge route to Torreys summit. Gerry Roach decribes it as a "classic" and devotes a full page to its intricacies in his book, but it's much simpler than that - simply follow the good trail and ducks where found. There are various thread options, but all basically lead along the ridge, sometimes dropping lower on one side or the other to get around obstacles. A pair of climbers were ahead of me at the knife-edge section, taking action photos (and video?) along this short section of rock, though in reality it isn't really hard. In all, I spent about an hour and three quarters getting between Kelso and Torreys, arriving at the busy summit just before 8:30a.
With views muted, I spent no time at Torreys' summit, turning southeast to pick up the good use trail that would lead to Grays. Not surprisingly, the trail was busy with hikers moving in both directions. I found a trail crew from the 14er Initiative building a rock wall along the trail that descends through talus from Grays' summit. Half a dozen minions were found in the area picking through rocks, carrying ones with the proper qualities to the Wall Master, who would then put them in their proper place along the trail's edge. It all seemed a bit overdone, as its primary purpose seemed to be to ensure that folks don't wander from the trail as it switchbacks down the slope. Do we really need this at 14,000ft? Perhaps. It took less than 40min to make my way from Torreys to Grays where there was another goup of folks, the largest party huddling behind a rock bivy wall, discussing whether to continue on to Torreys. I went over the summit and down the other side, now on the Grays Peak Trail that I could simply follow back to the trailhead.
Now just after 9a, the trail was only moderately busy, with the stragglers coming up the trail at intervals and few folks yet heading back down. I probably should have taken the time to visit Mt. Edwards along the ridgeline to the east, but at the time I did not recognize its ranking among the CO Centennials (#82). Instead, I visited a smaller feature just off the trail called The Rascal in Roach's book, an easy class 2-3 scramble to a pinnacle overlooking a steep drainage to the east. Afterwards, I continued down the trail, noting additional work being done by the 14er Initiative group, the corraling of stones into wire mesh retainers, designed to protect the trail from washouts during thunderstorms. I was back to the trailhead by 10:40a, a five hour+ effort covering something less than 8mi with 4,400ft of gain scattered among the three summits.
I was happy to finish early with plans to rejoin Tom and a friend the next day for a more demanding outing to the Maroon Bells. It would be good to be able to rest up. I had no shortage of time to allow me drive back down to the highway, then over Fremont and Independent Passes on my way to Aspen. I stopped at the Safeway in Leadville for supplies before meeting the others in Aspen later in the afternoon. Our main business there, besides getting dinner, was to find a suitable spot to spend the night without being disturbed. Maroon Creek Recreation Area is jealously guarded, with strict overnight camping and covid restrictions in place for the summer. After some exploring, we settled on a turnout off Maroon Creek Rd outside the recreation area and a few miles outside Aspen. We would spend the next two nights here unmolested, though we never really ascertained whether overnight camping was allowed or not. With space enough for our three vehicles, we slept inside without drawing obvious attention to ourselves...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Kelso Mountain - Torreys Peak - Grays Peak
This page last updated: Wed Aug 25 17:14:54 2021
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