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August 10, 2013

Justin, Kristin, and I decided to tackle Grays Peak and Torreys Peak today.  The two fourteeners are about an hour and fifteen minutes outside of Denver in the Front Range near Bakerville.  Due to the close proximity to Denver, and the fact they rank as some of the easiest fourteeners to climb in Colorado, they are popular peaks to climb.  We left the city by 6:30am with hopes to reach the parking lot beneath the peaks just before 8am.  The last 3 miles of the drive, however, are up are a very rough road.  A few of the drivers in front of us were rather challenged, despite their high clearance vehicle.  We made it quite a ways up the road before we found several cars parked along the side.  As I mentioned, they are popular peaks, and the parking lot was full.  We were forced to add some extra mileage to the 8.25 miles it takes to summit both peaks.

After walking up the road for a half mile or so, we passed through the packed parking lot and crossed a large bridge that spanned Stevens Gulch to follow the trail toward Grays Peak.  The trail was well defined, almost as wide a road, and led us through a green valley surrounded by peaks on both sides.  Bushes and wildflowers immediately lined the trail, a rare tree stood by the creek to the left, and remnants of old mines could be seen in the base of the mountains.

The trail slowly rose with steps of rocks made for giants.  I felt sorry for anyone shorter than me with short legs.  It was an effort at times to step over those boulders, and we were only at 11,300 feet!

As the trail climbed, and we walked beneath the cloudless sky, we quickly shed our layers.  I was just in my T-shirt and shorts, though it wasn’t long after I removed my windbreaker that we rounded the bend, and we found ourselves walking directly into the wind.  At least the sun was out!

At around 12,000 feet, we could hear the chirps of the pikas.  Judging from the sounds, they were everywhere, hiding out in the boulder fields, but they are very hard to spot.  After stopping for a second to take in the view of both peaks, we saw a few scampering about.

Here, the path started gaining altitude as it switched back and forth across the mountain.  We also seemed to switch places with hikers frequently as we stopped and started taking a slow pace up the slope, including adding back our layer as the wind was relentless.  As usual, with the summit in sight, I tend to speed up my pace, though I never go as fast as I want.  My mind focuses on getting there and my legs move like they are dragging lead weights, but they aren’t particularly tired.  It never ceases to amaze me how the lack of oxygen affects the body.  I consciously watch my legs hardly moving while I long to reach the summit so I can sit down and eat my sandwich…my stomach will be thanking me!

Reaching the peak of Grays, gaining 3,000 feet over 3.5 miles, was definitely the easiest of the three fourteeners I have climbed so far.  It didn’t require any bouldering, though I did tire of the rocky trail.  It was rare to walk on the trail without having to lift a foot over a protruding piece of something hard or taking care for loose scree.

We reached the summit just in time for a large cloud to block the sun.  The cloud, coupled with the wind, made the top of this 14,270′ peak freezing!!  We took the token pictures, with and without the sign we found on the summit, and then hunkered down in a man-made shelter of some rocks to get relief from the wind and eat our lunch. I added two more layers, a ski sweater and paddle jacket along with a wool hat, and within about 10 minutes I was shaking.  It was time to hike again!

Frozen, we began our descent down the rocky ridge toward Torreys.  Normally I use my hiking poles to descend, but I had forgotten my gloves, and my hands were so cold that I had them tucked inside my sleeves and under my armpits to thaw them out!  It took the 575 foot descent to the saddle to get out of the wind to finally warm up.

Now we just had to tackle the climb up.  It looked daunting.  The incline to the summit of Torreys looked steeper than that of Grays and the switchbacks looked much shorter…hmmm!  Surprisingly, it wasn’t too bad, though for a moment when I spotted a bird gliding in the sky, I thought it would be nice to be a bird right now.  I think we were all happy that the switchbacks, while more straight up, were shorter.  We felt like we got there faster.  We summitted Torreys Peak, 14,267 feet, just before noon!  Just as with Grays, with took a few photos and took in the beautiful 360 degree views of surrounding peaks, valleys, and alpine lakes.  Amazingly, the climb to Torreys Peak and the summit was wind free.

I’m glad we decided to summit the second peak.  This was my first time to climb two fourteeners in one day.  The combined route was ranked a class 2. Climbing purists would not count the second peak as we didn’t ascend 3,000 feet to Torreys, only to Grays. But I’m counting it, as I don’t think I will be going back, especially if I have to self inflict a migraine for each fourteener I climb.  I may as well get two fourteeners for the price of one headache!

I was pleasantly surprised by this climb.  I had been told these two peaks were ugly for Colorado fourteeners, perhaps because the trail starts above the treeline.  I thought the hike was quite pretty.  Maybe the trail was pretty due to all the rain we’ve been getting that seemed to still be trickling down the path.  The slopes were green. The wildflowers (some I’d never seen) were still out in August.  In addition, I felt almost like I was in a volcanic crater surrounded by beauty.

Another fascinating part to our hike was the fact one cloud seemed to hover over us for about fifteen minutes on our trek down, and it dropped a mix of snow and sleet on us.  The mix was very light and short-lived and the temperature was hardly cold.  In fact, I had stripped back down to just my T-shirt and windbreaker and ultimately to my T-shirt at the end of the hike, but I’ve never been snowed on in August.

While the ascent, including our walk on the road and lunch took us about four hours, our descent took us a little over 2 hours, partly because I had to stop and take some pictures of some wildflowers.  Overall, it was another great day in the mountains and maybe my last two fourteeners of the summer.  I’ll have to wait until next year…until then, back to regular hikes, which provide other amazing beauty!

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