Colorado 14’ers: Grays and Torreys via Kelso Ridge Attempt

GRAY'S AND TORREYS VIA KELSO RIDGE ATTEMPT:

I strolled into my apartment just after midnight after a long day of shooting, filming, and hiking with Reptar and Red Moon. We had finished the night with some much deserved beers after we drove through one hell of a thunderstorm out of Boulder. I had previously been pretty set on changing my original plan of doing Grays and Torrey’s to attempting the Keyhole Route on Longs Peak. I set my alarm for 3:30 and went to bed just after midnight when I got home.  

I awoke without my alarm at 6:15. Needless to say I was tired and had no chance in hell to get up that early for such a long and time consuming route, so I once again altered my plans and checked the weather for the peaks. Gray's and Torrey's looked decent enough for a go, so I got up, grabbed my already packed bag, and headed out. I got a message from a buddy from the AT mentioning that he was also going to be doing Grays and Torrey's on Sunday, so I waited at the Winter Trailhead Parking lot for him. Since my little Nissan Versa can't really handle any bad roads, I needed a ride up to the actual trailhead, and as it always is, the trail provides and minutes later, Achilles showed up with his Dad. Achilles just moved to Denver on Saturday, and he was ready for some peak bagging. He's an insane ultra runner and hiker, so I was curious to see how I kept up with him. I wasn't sure if he even wanted to try Kelso Ridge, but at least we could hang out for a bit on the hike/run up to where the two trails split.

He pulled up in his Nissan truck and we hugged it out as it's been over two years since I've seen him. The last time I saw him he was strolling past me on a road walk somewhere in New York along the Appalachian Trail. I had been keeping up with him last year on the PCT, as well as this year as he trained his ass off for this race season. 

According to 14'ers.com:

Torrey's via Kelso Ridge

Difficulty: Class 3

Exposure: 4/6

Miles RT: 6.75mi

High Point: 14,267'

Elevation Gain: 3,100'

Although this is the mileage just to Torrey's, I wasn't too concerned with the mileage after that. Most of it would be a descent off of Gray's, and the connection between Torrey's and Gray's is super short. 

I had my UD Fastpack loaded with layers, water, and some snacks. Nothing too crazy, as I was planning on doing the traverse as quick as possible, but I was prepared nonetheless. I even brought a beanie as I remembered it would be near freezing for the high on the peaks. Achilles and I pushed the first 1.75 miles to the junction fairly quickly, and just as I was about to break off, he stopped and pondered whether he wanted to join me on the attempt. After a couple of minutes of debating, he was up for it. We bounced right off of the main trail and headed towards the ridge line and the mining shaft, the first waypoint on the route. The smooth, gentle trail quickly turned to a steep, scree field ascent. Each step was as if my foot was placed in a pile of sand only to slip backwards each time I went to move. The earth beneath our feet wasn't solid. The scree scares me much more than any other type of terrain, as you know if you read my last report. 

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We got to the main ridge line and as soon as we crested the rocks, the wind whipped and smacked us in the face like a brick wall. There was a real chill in the air, and with the wind persisting over 35mph, I was already a bit hesitant.

The temperature was just above freezing, and although my core temperature was just where it needed to be, both Achilles and I forgot one piece of gear almost required for this type of traverse in theses conditions; gloves. Both of us immediately knew that we made a mistake, but we had plenty of time so we kept pushing up the ridge to keep the attempt going. The scree eventually turned to large boulders that continued to make staircases out out of the trail. Up and down, we traversed over the talus and scree. We eventually arrived to the section of the ridge where the Class 3 begins. Teetering boulders lay precariously amongst others, waiting for one wrong move to alter its position. Decent hand holds accompany solid footing for the first few moves up to the approach of the Knifes Edge. I slowly made my way up the spire with a few meticulous moves and solid foot placement. The wind continued to pour over the top of the rocks and down onto my hands, making each hold that much more difficult. I checked back on Achilles and I could tell he was enjoying pushing his limits at altitude and with some harder terrain. I pushed up the last few moves and got to the next bit of ridge line where we would ascend a few more Class 3 moves to get to the 'White Rocks' section.

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As we traversed around, down, and up the scree and talus fields, we both began talking about making the judgement call within the next few minutes. Our hands, which at the moment were our primary form of moving through the terrain, were beginning to freeze up and slow down. It was extremely difficult to justify continuing on the route in the conditions we were in, with the gear we had. 

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We called it just before the White Rocks section. Achilles and I turned around in search for a wind block, even if it was just for a moment. The scree and talus fields that were steep on the ascent now gave us the challenge of descending. Combine that with downclimbing the Class 3 sections and you’re in for a real treat; I promise. 

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 We eventually made our way back to the Mining Shack and took cover for a few minutes to get ready for the rest of the descent back to the junction where we would head up to Gray’s. 

The dirt trail returned, but only for a minute. We hit the main junction and began to power hike up the mountain. We made our way through the switchbacks, stopping every once in awhile to catch our breath. The wind was still whipping and my hands weren’t getting any warmer so we wanted to tag the summit and bomb the descent as quick as possible. Eventually, Achilles powered up from me and took off, and by the time I reached the last switchback, he was already carefully cruising down the loose rock. We bumped fists and that was that.  

I pushed to the top, snapped a few photos and started running down. I stopped twice before I got to the bottom, completely bombing the descent with carefully placed feet. I averaged about an 11 minute mile for the descent and once I got to the bottom, decided to hang out for a bit. It seemed Achilles bounced out; his dad wasn’t feeling well from the lack of Oxygen, so they got out quick. 

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I started walking down the road to the parking lot, and eventually a car rolled down their window to ask if I needed a ride down to my car. I happily obliged. On the ride down, we told stories of our trips, and eventually the tires came to a halt and we went our separate ways.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

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 Although I didn’t accomplish my original goal of doing Kelso to Torreys to Grays, I did attempt the route, which is something. The scrambling is solid on the route up to the White Rocks. The foot and hand holds are more than stable. The wind and cold is what really drove Achilles and I off of the ridge, not the terrain. We were moving fairly quickly up the Rocks and towards the Knifes Edge, even with the wind. My hands couldn’t take it without gloves though. It was a fun route and a lot of it was runnable aside from the scrambling. I enjoyed it.

Had the weather been any nicer, I would have bagged Torreys along with Grays, but I was spent as far as energy was concerned from the attempt on Kelso. It was a challenging yet rewarding hike, especially when pushing miles. The round trip yielded about 8.5 miles and with nearly 4k of elevation gain. I did it in just under 3 and a half hours. Not so bad. 

I can’t wait to give it another go! I'm a week behind on the blog posts. This route was attempted on 8/19. I did Quandry this past weekend. Stay tuned!