Mount Edwards trip report


So, I get up super-early and contemplate hiking, but just don't feel up to an expedition. Despite a favorable forecast for at least the northern and central mountains, I give up on hiking. At 3:30am, I pack up my telescope and gear and observe from a local site until dawn and make it back home before 6am.

I was getting undressed to take the shower I would have already taken if not for observing and a light bulb goes off above my head. I have to go hiking now!! This summer, I had developed a contingency plan in case I happened to be in a situation where I had an unexpected chance to climb a high 13er. The idea would be to drive up to the Grays Peak Trail (about 1:30 from Boulder) and climb Mount Edwards. The route would be short enough for me to complete in less than 5 hours, if I went relatively light. The weather forecast was good. Although it sort of wastes a short hike with a short drive by doing it while on vacation, after I toweled off, I put on the clothes I would hike in (sans jacket), and began assembling my gear.

I was already more or less packed in my large daypack, but that was both a help and a hinderance since I would actually use my very small daypack for this trip. It's more of a "heavy" hydration pack, and I've used it for trail runs and my local foothills hikes. I also used it for my shortest completed hike in the "real" mountains, Dyer Mountain. But, this hike would be quite a bit longer. I would start the hike wearing a lightweight thermal shirt, Polartec jacket, floppy hat, shorts, thermal briefs, socks, running shoes, and clip-on sunglasses. The jacket housed glove liners, hankerchief, keys, and wallet. I kept my Swiss Army knife in the shorts pocket. The pack contained: first-aid kit, space blanket, various small survival gear (iodine tablets, whistle, lighter, etc.), compass, two quarts of sports drink in a Platypus bladder in the pocket designed for such, reading glasses (these are just a weaker myopia prescription compared to my main glasses; an accident with my main glasses could otherwise develop into a life-or-death situation under the right circumstances), a few energy gels and bars, shell pants, and I strapped a rain jacket to the outside. Oh yeah, my cell phone (ahem). I put on sunblock at the start and didn't carry any; I did carry lip balm. It was about 10 pounds, including the 4 pounds of liquid. ("It" being the pack, not the lip balm.)

After a couple of stops for breakfast and gas (for the car; I got my personal share from breakfast), I reached the Bakerville exit on I-70 and the beginning of the 3 mile road to the Grays Peak Trailhead. I had forgotten what a rough road this is! I made it up to the trailhead in 1994 when I climbed Grays and Torreys, in a similar car to the Saturn I'm driving now. But, I found one spot 2.2 miles up the road that I just couldn't quite chance. A few cars with drivers having bigger balls than me made it all the way, and the rest of the road was certainly passable.

Oh well, it wasn't a deal breaker. It amounted to an extra 14 minutes of walking and an extra 340ft of gain to get to the well-developed trailhead. Grays and Torreys are two of the most popular 14ers in Colorado, so there were about 20 vehicles there even on a Thursday. I used the head and headed across a bridge to start the hike.

The first part of the trail gains altitude fairly quickly to climb out of Stevens Gulch and sidehill along Kelso Mountain. After a mile or so, it levels out to be fairly flat around 11800-12000 feet. I actually did a bit of running here. For no particular reason, at the 2 mile mark there is a placard telling that you are at the 2 mile mark and it will take some specific amount of time to reach Grays Peak. One thing I expected to see were lots of large cairns, but that wasn't the case. Apparently the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative built numerous huge cairns and caught a lot of grief for it, but they seem to be mostly gone now.

By this time, you get a good view of the ridge connecting Edwards to Grays with three humps, the third of which is the summit. The view is actually quite nice, because the facing slopes are rather cliffy in places, and it gets better as you look back toward the trailhead under McClellan Mountain.

Shortly after the sign, the trail climbs more steeply again generally following Grays' south ridge. The weather was holding, I was actually feeling pretty good and passing quite a few people. It still wasn't very crowded, befitting the day of the week. I did chat with a fairly strong hiker as I was getting close to my exit from the trail.

That exit occurs at the apex of a switchback at 13600ft where the trail makes its nearest approach to Grays east ridge before traversing out onto Grays upper south face. Either this area had seen a lot more snow last Saturday than the Tenmile Range, or they had picked up some fresh snow because the trail was covered with enough snow here such that you left footprints in it.

I caught up with some older fellows here and one of them made a relatively good-natured comment about my footwear, and his guess at their level of traction. Ahem; I know that the strict use of boots for hiking sometimes amounts to a cult for some people, but running shoes work just fine in many circumstances, and there's nothing quite like being light on your feet during a hike. Anyway, nice fellows and they wished me good luck on my quest for Edwards.

After cresting the ridge, you turn left and descend to the main saddle between Edwards and Grays, remaining on or near the ridge crest. From this saddle, you ascend about 250 feet up to the "first hump", followed by a short drop to another saddle. Again, you mostly stay near, but not necessarily on the ridge crest. There are some little bits of trails that may be more goat trails than people trails. In fact, a herd of about a dozen goats were lounging at the summit of the first hump.

However, the ridge up to the "second hump" has a cliffy area that must be avoided for an easy ascent. This requires sometimes awkward sidehilling to traverse well under the ridge crest to connect the route between the equal-altitude saddles on either side of the hump. The Roaches rate this traverse as Class 2+, but I think with judicious route-finding and a little luck, my low route really is straight Class 2. On the other hand, at times it was more awkward than Class 2+ or Class 3 rock, and I think the guidebook route stays higher which may put one on more solid, but steeper rock instead of loose talus, scree, and dirt. After the last saddle, the climb to the third and final hump - Mount Edwards - was straightforward, although I did do a couple of Class 2+ moves just past the final saddle for convenience. The finish is on easy walking terrain.

Despite not being able to move particularly fast on the rougher terrain, the ascent had taken just 2:02 from the trailhead and it wasn't quite 11am yet. I was only the second person to sign the register in September, and there were less than 100 sign-ins for the entire year. The register was placed in late 2001, and probably will be good for another couple years. It was a bit windy in places on the ridge traverse, but mostly from behind, and it calmed enough on the summit that I didn't need to put on my rain jacket.

I only remained on the summit for 8 minutes, just long enough to give my legs a break and eat something. The views were nice, though. You get a really good view of Bierstadt and Evans less than 10 miles away, including the Sawtooth ridge. That was my first pair of 14ers back in 1994, just a week before I did Grays and Torreys. There was a goodly dusting of snow above about 13500ft.

I retraced my route back to the Grays Peak Trail. The wind was more in my face, and it was rather chilly despite bright sunshine. I did put on my gloves for a while, but remained in shorts and one jacket. In fact, other than the gloves I didn't do any clothing adjustments. In addition to seeing the goats again, there was a flock of ravens above one of the cliffy regions below the ridge crest. A couple of them actually flew rather close to me, chattering away. I didn't realize that ravens make such a variety of noises including something rather musical while flying, but I checked my guidebook and indeed that is what they do. I was also surprised at how graceful they are in flight, similar to hawks and the same size, too. Maybe everyone already knew this; I don't get to see ravens very often.

By the time I reached the trail again, it was about 20% cloudy with small puffies floating overhead. I was struck by how similar the view down into the ascent valley was to my other hike here, 9 years ago. There were also small clouds casting shadows on the colorful and picturesque valley and the ridge between Torreys Peak and Kelso Mountain. It looked very much like the photos from that hike.

I boogied rapidly down the trail to the "2 mile" junction where the trail gets shallow. I did 11 minutes of running here, until the trail got steeper, and walked it in to the trailhead. I descended the 2320ft and 3 miles down the trail in 48 minutes. If the signage is right, I did the last 2 miles in exactly 20 minutes. The total round-trip from the trailhead was 3:47, which is by far my fastest climb when compared to the "R Point" system in the Roaches' 13er guidebook. I've certainly never done a hike in the real mountains with that much gain and distance in under 4 hours. Of course, then I had to walk 10 minutes down the road to my car, which was annoying, and then drive down the awful road to the interstate.

This was a really fun day! I think it's kind of neat to push yourself every once in a while, and with the really good conditions it worked out very well. The scenery was good, there was a bit of fresh snow around, and I saw some mammals and birds. On top of all that, this was my 50th peak out of the top 100 in Colorado, and my 60th 13er or 14er!

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File last modified: 01 January 2005

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