A Colorado Classic 14er Climb:The Kelso Ridge is Torreys Peak's northeastern semi-technical route and it's considered a "Classic 14er Climb". It's rated Class 3 and 4. Still though, some short sections of trail can be found along the ridge which makes this route very accesible and enjoyable.
Kelso Ridge can be easily seen from Interstate 70 in Colorado. That's how this route caught my attention..
Every single time I got the chance to drive westbound on I-70 I stopped briefly at the Bakerville exit (221), just to look at the steep Torreys Peak's north face that towers up at the southern side of the highway and to picture myself scrambling up by this sharp ridge route all the way to the summit.
Even though I've climbed Grays and Torreys peaks several times each long ago, I always wondered how this ridge would look like and thought about giving it a try someday (same way I'm thinking about dead dog nowadays).
My latest climbs here had been done by the Stevens Gulch trailhead, always by the standard route which is pretty much just a hike up to the saddle of both peaks and then a walk by a series of switchbacks up to their summits (except in snowy conditions). It really is a fun and scenic route, but not as much as Kelso Ridge I thought would be.
So, first of all I must say that Kelso Ridge isn't a hard climb at all, but it involves some exposure and loose rocks, so if you have good scramble skills and are fearless to the highs you'll be all set. You still gotta be careful up there, though.
This route can also be customized (as I did). You can set the challenge here and make it Class 3 or 4 depending on how straightforward you'd like to go up or if you'd like to take some obvious variations and traverses to avoid those steep sections. Of course this route gets challenging with snow on it.
The climbMy busy work schedule doesn't allow me to take a whole day off for a trip up to the mountains. But every now and then I find a way to sneak out and get some free time for a short hike or trail run in the foothills near Denver.
The first time I got the chance to check this route out from very close was during a trip up to Kelso Mountain's summit. It was during the approach to Kelso - Torreys saddle that I laid my eyes on this ridge. I just kept myself looking back at the ridge as I approached to the summit of Kelso Mountain and thought about trying it in another time.
A couple weeks later I was on my way to Stevens Gulch TH. This time I got off from work at 1:15 am, and went home to take a short nap and organize my stuff for the climb. Time flew!, it was already 4:00 am when I left home.
The weather was good, even though it was still dark. Got to Stevens Gulch road around 5:40 am and continued heading up towards the TH parking lot. It was a weekday so I thought I'll have the mountain all to myself, yes!!.... Not true!
Half way up to the trailhead there was a long line of trucks and low clearance vehicles parked along the roadside. I thought, gosh!, the mountain must be packed with people. I kept driving up and figured out that maybe those vehicles couldn't continue any further because of a huge hole on the road.
I crossed it slowly, picked a couple of hitchhikers up on the way and continued driving towards the trailhead. There were a few more SUV's parked at the trailhead's parking lot and people camping near there.
It was 6:00 am when I left the TH. It was so awesome to see those surreal colors that can only be seen in the pre-dawn hours. The sky turned purple, then pink and finally kept a sustained orange color for a while. I could also see the dark silluetes of the nearby mountains making a sharp contrast against the blue sky later on. It was awesome!
I passed all the people that started the hike before me on my way up. Then I found myself alone for a while. I think I was going pretty fast. It took me 20 minutes from the trailhead to the saddle's trail junction, but somehow I missed it and went too far up so I had to backup to it and I ended up right behind two hikers that were heading up towards the saddle.
It wasn't a race, but I was trying to avoid being behind other people in case they knock some loose rocks at me while scrambling. Anyway, we said "hi" and I kept hiking on their same way.
I got to the saddle after 30 minutes of leaving from the TH.
As soon as we got to the saddle they speeded up. I guess they also knew the weather wasn't gonna hold for long. I kept following their steps for a while until they took a variant to the right.
The cruxI thought about following the same way they took. But since it was supposed to be a ridge climb I tried to be fair to my plans as much as possible and continued going straight up (a bit south, I guess).
Suddenly I found myself at the base of a 30 feet tower. It didn't look hard but the rocks were loose and the exposure... Uff!
I started climbing it up. I found plenty of foot/hand holds but most of them were loose. For a while I thought about retreating but then I looked down to the Stevens Gulch trail. There were other hikers down there hiking on the standard route staring at me while climbing and following my progress. I didn't want them to see me retreating or something so I started searching so hard for firmed holds on the wall.
Actually I couldn't find any but I found a steep gully, the only way to get to the upper ridge of the wall, so I worked my way up. By the time I finished I was sweating bullets. Once at the top of it I could actually see the route I was supposed to climb and read about in guide books and here in SP. I couldn't believe it was just a few feet away and to the right side of the gully I just climbed, and I didn't see it!.
I took the wrong route, but I made it.. Yes! :). It was a nice accomplishment to push myself a bit further.
The Knife EdgeAfter gaining the upper part of the ridge I was able to spot the two other climbers further up. I even saw Torreys peak summit in the distance. I knew then that if the weather holds I'd make it. Clouds were rolling in and it was getting kind of dark. The weather forecast wasn't promising, thunderstorms by 9 am. Should I trust it or not?.
I kept scrambling and followed some sections of easy trail for a while until I caught up with the two guys taking a short break on a flat section. Suddenly the weather changed, sunny and clear blue sky above the Continental Divide, yes! Still those dark clouds were hanging out far away in the distance, but they weren't a threat so far.
We continued climbing all together, made a short traverse at some point and then we climbed what I thought might be a gully. It was full of debris and stuff. Then the first one knocked a few rocks down to us, then the second one started to do the same. Once again I thought I'd rather be climbing by the ridge, which was in much better conditions than the shute we were climbing on. So I moved up to the ridge again.
Finally we got to the knife edge. A 20 feet long, kind of exposed to both sides-sharp ridge. We all started to cross it. It was a short section and it wasn't hard at all. We even stopped half way of it to snap pictures of ourselves crossing this one inch wide-edge as if we were sitting on a saddle horse. It was fun!
Then we climbed one by one a white rock formation and suddenly the terrain started to even up as we gained altitude.
A few steps more on a very clear trail and we got it! We were standing on top of Torreys Peak. It was 8 o'clock, perfect weather... Awesome time!
We took some pictures of all of us and looked back at the route we just climbed. They hung out at the top for a few minutes while I remained up there for almost half an hour enjoying of the greatness of that beautiful place.
I saw more people coming up by the standard route so I started heading down to the saddle between Torreys and Grays Peaks.
I took a few pictures of mom and baby mountain goats from very close on my way down to the saddle and then started heading up towards Grays Peak's summit.
I summited it in 15 minutes from the saddle. Just tried to beat the crowds that were heading towards the summit.
The first hikers got to the summit a couple minutes after I summited. We took some pics of ourselves and talked for a while about mountains.
After maybe 15 minutes of hanging out up there, I looked down to the trail. Gosh! It looked like a procession!
At least 200 people were heading towards the summit I was standing at. And it was a weekday!. So I just grabbed my backpack and started heading down.
The hardest partYes!, I think this was one of the hardest part of my trip, getting back to the trailhead.
More and more hikers were heading up slowly, and you know.. People going up have the right of way, so I had to yield to them. I went down a bit, then stop, then down, then stop. This process took forever. People were wearing t shirts and shorts and here I was, with my 40 lt backpack and carrying a helmet. I think they wondered, what is this guy doing with all that gear on this route?
Halfway down after yielding at more hikers, I met with the guys that were looking at me from the trail. They knew it was me cause of my white helmet attached to my blue backpack.
They asked me how the route looked like up there and congratulated me. It was a nice gesture. Finally I just decided to enjoy my frequent stops, talking to people and taking pics of the surroundings.
When I got to the gulch I was alone again. All of the other hikers were on their way to both peaks. By then, clouds started to build and this time I knew the weather was about to turn, especially up high.
By the time I got back to my truck the first drops of rain started to fall and I could hear thunder in the distance.
Finally, I was driving back to Denver, so happy for having a great trip from the very beginning. Can't stop thinking now about trying those ridges and gullies again, can't wait for it!
~ Denver - Stevens Gulch TH (1.5 hours)
~ TH - Kelso Ridge saddle (0.5 hours)
~ Saddle - Torreys Peak summit (1.5 hours)
~ Torreys Top - Grays Top (0.5 hours)
~ Grays top - Trailhead (2.0 hours)