Weather was the issue. Ever since I started monitoring the 10-day forecasts the previous week, Thursday had consistently turned up T-Storms in both Wyoming and Colorado. This forecast remained unchanged through the past week, making me believe that it was no fluke. Now, were these storms merely the requisite afternoon T-Storms then I could sneak up a quick peak (I had East Meaden and Parry in mind). I can handle storms that started at 11 AM. 7 AM, which the weather websites were reporting late Wednesday, was too much however, so I resigned myself to an off day. What to do with this off day then, in Colorado?
I did a little tourist hiking Wednesday afternoon near Lake Granby and Monarch Lake, then drove down to stay at one of the casinos in Black Hawk.
I guess I was expecting, hoping, for Vegas style glamour and bars, etc. What I got was seediness, instead. Nevertheless, I got drunk and won a cool 80 bucks on the roulette table. A profitable storm, indeed.
Slightly hungover Thursday morning I drove down into Golden, my first ever foray there. The town was delightful, with all sorts of restaurants, cafes, and bars. I paid a visit to the Washburn Mountaineering Museum, then worked up a healthy buzz on the free beers at the Coors Light Brewery. I'd love to tell you more about the brewery tour, but...
Then, it was off to Georgetown, where surprisingly the lodging choices were limited. I settled down at a creaky old Super 8 with paper thin walls, signed online to conduct a fantasy football draft (inducing some homesickness, no doubt), and passed out.
Another late start brought me to a packed trailhead. The morning was misty and cold. The weather was supposed to hold up sunny all day, but Grays and Torreys were shrouded in clouds. The temperature was in the 30’s or 40’s early on, and having flown west this time around I lacked the requisite cold-weather clothing. Setting off in a short sleeved collared shirt and hoping for warmer weather ahead, I made good progress early, passing people en route to the Torrey / Kelso saddle. Here, I left the crowds and glanced at my formidable objective: Kelso Ridge. Very visible from I-70 at the Bakersfield exit, this class 3 route is somewhat scoffed at by local 14er collectors but still looks intimidating to those who have yet to tread upon it and, at the very least, provides a much more interesting ascent of the two crowded and almost commonplace Front Range peaks.
The saddle were clear, but clouds lingered a mere few hundred feet above me, covering the upper reaches of the ridge. I made my way up the ridge. The climbing was steep and fun.
Like many have said about the route, it’s what you as the climber want to make of it. There is often a loose dirt packed climber’s trail on the right, while the climber’s left features more interesting scrambling. I alternated left and right, sticking to the fun class 3 or 4 moves while occasionally veering right to avoid any overt class five stuff. The air was cold; the sharp, edgy rocks even colder as my hands gripped them on my upward progress. A stiff breeze blew across the ridge, numbing already cold fingers.
My pace slowed as I climbed each rocky portion, then rested and scoped out the next portion of the route. A hundred feet up I saw two other groups reach the saddle and start up the ridge: a couple, and two guys. The couple seemed to make slow progress, but the two guys went at about my pace, probably a little quicker. I remember the route as a series of obstacles, one after the other, and glancing down I often saw the two guys at the obstacle below me, maybe 50 feet below.
As it got warmer the clouds started to clear a little.
At one point I got stuck at a tricky spot in a chimney requiring a move on some downsloping ledges with a slight overhang. I decided that I didn’t feel comfortable enough to make the move, so I downclimbed and traversed right a little to bypass the difficulties. The two guys behind me passed me here as they found a way up the chimney, and from here on out our roles reversed, as I was constantly an obstacle down below them.
Near the top, after climbing through another crux, I noticed that I was on one of the climber’s trails that bypasses the Knife Edge section on its left. Not wanting to miss out on the fun I contoured up just in time to hit Colorado’s second famous Knife’s Edge (1st place going to Capitol, of course). The other two guys were hanging around on the other side of white tower, watching me make my way across.
Unlike the Capitol one (which I have yet to experience) there are no footholds below the edge, so you are forced to straddle it. There were minor footholds on either side that allowed me to stand a little above the knife edge itself and walk up without fully straddling on top of it, but at one smooth section, with both hands gripping the edge I had to pivot a leg back onto the rock so taht I was lying forward on the edge, three out of four appendages on knifey rock. I used my foot to propel myself up and out of this spot, then made my way easily across to the White Rocks. I didn’t have any difficulties with the move exiting the edge, but found the white rock tower a little sketchy; the ledges on the right side were downsloping and still icy from the morning frost.
I reached the summit just as the first hordes of hikers were starting to trickle in from Grays…what a difference from the relative solitude on the ridge mere seconds before. Company was nice though, as everyone chatted about various 14ers and such. The clouds still rolled in and out through the area, blocking some views momentarily. While my favorite summit moments have always been the ones spent in complete solitude, it was enjoyable to bask in the excitement of others, especially the few that had just made it up Torreys as their first or second 14er.
I scampered quickly down and back up to the summit of Grays, lingering only long enough to snap a few pictures.
Then, quickly down the standard trail. Past the junction with the Torreys branch off I caught up with some ladies from Salida whom I had encountered earlier on the Torreys summit.
I took it easy and until we arrived back at the trailhead I enjoyed the first en-trail conversations I’ve had ever since flying in last Saturday. They say take all things in moderation, and certainly solitude applies as well; I enjoyed plenty of that in the Red Desert, and I’ll enjoy a little more of it the next day in the Gores, but today was a social day, and I probably needed it to keep me sane.
So scoff at the Front Range 14ers if you like, but I still found Kelso a fun route, a good 1800 ft of sustained class 3 + scrambling. And two 14ers is still two more than I had before the climb.