An awesome routeSo there I was sitting in Breckenridge, halfway done mountain biking the Continental Divide but with a now-broken bike. As it happened, on my way from Mexico to Canada I'd thought of some Continental Diversions to get me off the bike a little. I was already planning on climbing the highest mountain on the Continental Divide, which meant Gray's Peak. I had no knowledge of Gray's other than it was the highest point on the Continental Divide, and it was in Colorado near a ghost town called Montezuma. Proximity to Denver and a cult of hikers devoted to something called "fourteeners" had never entered my mind, and I expected to have the mountain to myself.
Looking at my forest service maps, the Peru Creek watershed was my obvious choice. And I saw the route that could be done following Peru Gulch, but I was much more intrigued by Chihuahua Gulch, which was more direct and made the peak easier to find. This was back in the old days, the summer of '97, and I had no idea if there was a summitpost or if anyone might climb the mountain from Denver.
So my bike was broken but it would take a couple of days to get a new one shipped in. In the meantime I could still ride the old one. So I got up by 6 in my campsite above town, then bought some food in Breckenridge and rode around the mountains the 25 miles or so to Peru Gulch. At Chihuahua gulch the road became much rougher and my mountain biking skills were tested to their utmost as I climbed up into such gorgeous mountains, then turned off into Ruby Gulch. It was mid July and only around 12,000 feet but I had to cross a couple of big snowbanks before I could ride again.
The terrain was almost impossible to bike (indeed most people wouldn't even try riding up Chuhuahua Gulch) but I kep riding until the Ruby Gulch valley opened up. It was so beautiful! Well, I'd never done a 14'er but was getting really excited. My only question was whether to carry my bike up or leave it.
See, another reason I was climbing Gray's was because the Montezuma's Revenge Mountain bike race makes you carry your bike up this hill. It is one of nine loops on the baddest bike race there is! No one has ever completed the whole course, but everyone who tries must carry a bike up Gray's in the middle of the night.
I had dreamed of doing Montezuma's Revenge for years, but that year it was out of the question because by the time the race started I would be several hundred miles up the Divide. In the end I decided there was no point in carrying my bike up Gray's unless I had to.
I stopped riding when I got to a huge mining type of building in the middle of the valley. Being from the East I hadn't seen all that many ghost towns. And the only thing here, the only thing I could see, was this giant building.
Looking around the valley, there was a grass slope that turned to scree on my left that went straight up to a ridge. Not having a topo map, I had chosen this route because I knew that if I climbed the ridge on this side of Ruby Gulch I would go straight to the summit of Grays without getting lost in any other ridges or high peaks. So I put the bike down, making no attempt to hide it since I hadn't seen anyone all day, and started up.
In bike shoes even walking is difficult, but the grass and scree weren't too bad, just class 2, until I reached the ridge. Once on the ridge it was pretty easy class 3 all the way. Climbing in bike shoes was awkward, but after a while I got used to their limitations. On the ridge I met three guys who had started the same route a couple hours ahead of me. Sometimes on the ridge I had to stop for a few seconds just to catch my breath- something that had never happened to me because of elevation before. "Oh yeah," I remember thinking, "this must be what they mean by thin air!"
We climbed the ridge until it intersected another ridge, and BAM! There were about thirty people on the summit! I was completely flabbergasted- I had no idea that Gray's was a popular hike. I just climbed it because it was the highest, and the way I had gone gave me no clue at all that the top would be so crowded.
The views were fantastic, unbelievable. Just higher above Chihuahua Gulch from where I turned was a spectacular lake, a jewel of blue surrounded by steep snow slopes. Jagged and more round mountains stuck up from everywhere. One older gentleman got everyone's respect when he mentioned he had climbed all but 3 of the fourteeners. I was amazed as he pointed out about ten fourteeners from our location. Some of them were so far away you could barely see them.
On the way down, I left with the three guys I met on the ridge until we came to a giant snow chute. "Hey Drew, you wanna glissade?" Bill called out as he reached into his pack for a pair of pants and glove.
"Glissade, what's that?"
"Just slide down the snow." They were all putting on Gore-Tex pants and gloves now. Though I was wearing running shorts and had no gloves, I said "wow, that sounds like fun!"
Out on the snow chute, which was at least 100 feet wide and went all the way down to my bike, my progress was slow. My hands and butt started freezing immediately. But I could see how much fasted it would be as my companions started sliding and shouting encouragement. Once I got going I just let fly, digging my stumplike hands into the snow to act as a brake. It was fun but cold, and by the time I got to the botton could not feel my butt or my hands. My fingers in fact took about three weeks before the tingling went away.
the rest of it was a blur as i got on my bike for the long long ride back to my campsite. I reached Breckenridge at about 4, climbed up to my campsite, and went to sleep!
Two days later I helped open a bike shop in Denver, where a new frame awaited. After building a new bike I was on the trail that very afternoon!
I haven't climbed any 14ers since, but when I bring my daughter out there were going to do Torrey/Grays via Kelso Ridge! And if things go really well maybe we'll go to that lake.
This route is recommended for anyone willing to do the extra driving. The mountain from this side is a completely different experience and will have almost nobody on it. The Ruby valley is fantastic, and I would guess the glissade was at least 1000' vertical. And if you wanted to visit one of the most beautiful lakes, it is just further up Chihuahua Gulch after the turnoff.