After whetting my appetite for the high mountains the previous week with Bierstadt and Evans, I decided to climb the next pair of 14ers up I-70. This time the trailhead is at the end of a road that starts at the Bakerville exit. The info in Roach's guidebook [from 1992] is a little out of date as this road is clearly marked for the Grays Peak Trail, and there is a 20-vehicle parking area complete with an outhouse. However, Roach is certainly correct in calling the road "steep and rough but passable in most passenger cars"; it took me nearly 25 minutes to drive the 3 miles from the interstate, avoiding rocks and chuckholes.
At this time, the trailhead was being rebuilt to put it right across from the parking area and there was a sign directing you down an old 4WD road telling you to cross Stevens Creek at an 'obvious' place. It turned out to be too obvious and I ended up crossing the creek about three times and crunching across frosty grass for about a mile (I started at about 7:30, but this part is shaded from the sun in the morning). As I was to find out, a lot of other people made the same mistake. This was certainly a beautiful place, though. [The trailhead area reconstruction has been completed, so there is no possible confusion about the route now.]
Finally, after reaching the top of a hill at about 12,000 feet, I suddenly saw the very obvious, wide Grays Peak Trail. Oh well, better late than never. The standard route continues up this trail to the summit of Grays and then you climb Torreys via the easy saddle between them. However, after doing my first scrambling route in the mountains the week before, I decided that I would try Torreys Kelso Ridge. This ridge has several scrambling sections and is about 3/4 mile long and climbs nearly 2000 feet. The ridge is reached with a very short off-trail hike to the 12400 foot saddle between Torreys and Kelso Peak. There's an abandoned mine here so it's easy to find. [And, by now the social trail up to this saddle is quite clear.]
The first part of the ridge is easy, but the 1000 or so feet between 12800 and 13800 involve several short pitches of scrambling up troughs and over and around towers. Much of the time you are on one side of the ridge or the other, and the views of the valleys on either side just kept getting better. At one point, I looked down and saw birds circling nearly 1000 feet below me.
The crux of the route is getting around a large rock buttress, and if you do this one way, you have to cross a famous 30-foot long knife-edge. I was a little confused about where I was, and ended up on a 2 foot wide ledge on the east side of the ridge. This ledge ran out so I started to head up to the ridge. I made it a few feet up before I realized this was a mistake, as it would have required some technical climbing. The problem was that there weren't any obvious good holds and I had a tough time getting back down to the ledge. This was compounded by the fact that there was considerable exposure below that ledge. If I had slipped, the ledge would have probably caught me, but if it didn't, I would have been in trouble. However, I managed to get safely down to the ledge.
Naturally, I was rather shaken up by this, and I hustled back along the ledge and climbed back up to the ridge crest. At this point, I saw a different way to go and this turned out to be the right path. This led to the knife-edge. It's a 30-foot almost level pitch along the ridge where it comes to a line with considerable exposure on either side. Although it's not really any upward progress, it's a Class 3 climb because you can't really walk on it. I found that the best way to cross it was on all fours with my hands grasping the 'knife' and my feet walking on some good footholds on either side. Not difficult, but don't fall from here!
Right after this was an interesting rock feature made of much lighter colored, jagged rock. This was easy to get through, and all I was left was a very steep 100 yard walk on a slick dirt slope to the summit.
It was now about 10:55, so it had taken me 3 1/2 hours to reach the summit. On the summit, there were several other people who had either come up Torreys by breaking off the Grays Peak Trail, or who had traversed from Grays. One of the guys asked me how the ridge was, so I told him about it. He and another guy (both named Mike) had camped in the valley the night before and hadn't done Grays before Torreys. After about 15 minutes on the summit, the three of us traversed over to Grays, which took about 40 minutes. The summit of Grays has the notable distinction of being the highest point on the Continental Divide (in fact, Grays and Torreys are the only Colorado 14ers on the Divide). On the way, we encountered two mountain goats, an adult and a baby, just like I had the week before on Evans. The adult was shedding it's fur, and looked like it had been sheared except for it's belly. While on Grays summit, the goats came within about 20 feet (!) of the five of us who were there, and I got some really good pictures.
The descent down the Grays Peak Trail was mostly uneventful. However, as we were heading down, a group was heading down the Kelso Ridge. That was when I really got a sense of just how tall the ridge was, as they looked like ants. It's one thing to be on the ridge and look down and see how small the people looked on the main trail, but the inverse of that was much more impressive.
There were a surprising number of people coming up as it was into the afternoon by now. The weather had been great, but the cumulus clouds were building up some and we had seen a rain shower off in the distance from Grays. About a mile and a half from the trailhead, the two Mikes left the trail to go to their campsite and I continued on alone. In another 15 minutes or so, I encountered two women probably in their 60s who had walked a ways up the trail with binoculars to try to see mountain goats, so I told them about the pair that was on Grays.
The final irony of the trip was that when I got close to the parking lot, I realized where the trailhead was and I'm not sure how I missed it on the way up. I reached my car at 1:45 for a round trip time of a little over 6 hours, so I was going to be home before dinnertime!
Kelso Ridge is a great climb and well worth the extra effort. However, if you plan on doing it, be careful. There is a bit of loose rock in spots, and a lot of exposure in spots, and pay attention to where you are heading ;). [It's worth emphasizing here that I was pretty inexperienced at this stage of my hiking/mountaineering career.] Fortunately, the knife-edge is very solid, but if you aren't used to exposure and/or scrambling, it might not be a bad idea to have someone belay you there (or find a less exposed route to practice scrambling.)
To the chronological trip index
To the Torreys Peak page
To the Grays Peak page
File last modified: 11 May 2005