Elevation: 14,270 ft (Grays) & 14,267 ft (Torreys)
Elevation Gain: 3,200 ft
Date Hiked: 23 August, 2006 (some photos from 2010)
Dogs: Off Leash
I lost my 14er virginity on Grays Peak and even dropped trough on the summit in celebration, but I get ahead of myself. Grays has been the site of many deflowerings because it is an easy Class I (walk up) ascent and is close to Denver. If you tend towards exhibitionism or don't mind sharing your panting climaxes with 200 or so of your fellow adventurers then by all means join the herd and head to Grays and its sister Torreys for your first ascent.
I was fortunate in that I took a day off of work back in August of 2006 and so I only had to smoke the proverbial cigarette with 7 other people. I learned a thing or two about mountaineering that day and fell in love with 360° views.
The trailhead to Grays and Torreys Peaks is up Steven Gulch Rd off I-70 near Bakersville. Bring a 4WD because the road is filled with SUV consuming potholes. The parking lot is also small, so join the rest of the smart ones and get there before 7am, which brings me to my first mountaineering lesson: Start early. In Colorado, most summer days are filled with afternoon thunderstorms. You really need to consider being off the mountain before 1 PM. If the weather gods are kind, you'll have clear skies and can linger on the summit but don't plan on it. Start out too late, and you will be dodging lighting bolts as you tumble head over heels down the mountain.
The route up these two mountains starts off crossing a small creek and then heads up a broad valley bordered on each side by long ridges. There is not much to see here but some low willows and piles of talus. The route continues this way for quite a while before it finally starts to climb upwards over and around series of large shoulders. It is here that Torreys comes into view since it lies directly at the end of the valley.
It wasn't until I was past these bumps and entered the many switchbacks that head up the face of Grays did I really consider myself on the mountain. From this point on it is back and forth, back and forth, inching ever higher. Grays is a gray, dreary, monotonous experience. The only view is back down the valley. It is however, an accessible experience for those who want a taste of altitude.
Torreys comes into view at the end of the valley. The route is going to ascend the large pile to the left (2006).The summit came surprisingly fast and I was suddenly surrounded by views for what seemed to me at the time to be little effort. I immediately had to put on the several layers I fortunately packed in my bag. This was lesson number two: It really is cold Virginia, up there on the craggy bits. Plan for it by bringing layers.
We ate lunch on the summit and then I waited in line for a clear spot for a bio break. My companions were all the way back down to the saddle (at 13,707 ft) between Grays and Torreys by the time the honeymooners near me were done taking pictures and moved off so I could have 30 seconds of privacy. When I was done, I raced down and started up Torreys way too fast as I tried to catch up with my friends. Half way up Torreys, the altitude hit me like a ton of bricks. My vision became blurred and my breathing erratic. Here was lesson three: Don't eat if there is more elevation gain in the schedule. All that blood and oxygen needed to keep your brain functioning goes right to your stomach and is not available for other things like foot placement and lung function. Note honeymooners, the same thing happens during other activities.
The route down from Torreys is straight forward. Once back down to the saddle there is a spur trail that connects with the trail coming up Grays so it is a simple route. I experienced my fourth lesson at this point of the trail: Going down is not nearly as much fun as going up. Not only is it harder on the legs, but the thrill is gone and there is nothing but the parking lot as motivation. Mountain climbing is the only sport that celebrates at the half way mark. In the case of more dangerous routes, this trend is amusing because getting down is often more life threatening than getting up. I am not in that league, however, so it is more ennui that is the biggest threat to my existence.
The slog back down the valley was particularly tedious and I was low on water. Here was my final lesson of the day: On bare mountain slopes there is no water and you have to carry everything you need, which is no fun because water is very heavy.