Grays Peak, 14,278 ft.
Class 1, with snow and ice
Distance (round-trip): 11 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,950 feet
Returning home that evening, I looked up a topographical map of the area, and noticed a trail leading all the way to Grays Peak's summit. This was Torreys' nearby and slightly higher neighbor, so I decided I would give it a try. I had never heard the term fourteeners, nor had I any idea how tough this would be for me.
On November 24, 2003, I set out alone from what I would later find is the Grizzly Gulch Trailhead. My jeep had made it up the snow-covered road to that point, but I did not want to push my luck any further. I admired the spectacular scenery as I hiked the road to its end at the Stevens Gulch Trailhead. Then, awed by the views opening up of Grays and Torreys peaks, I continued upward on the Grays Peak Trail. The following is part of my original write-up of this experience:
I figured once I finally got onto the main ridge I did not have far to go. But things only got worse. I had encountered plenty of snow drifts which made my walking difficult, but the problem here went from drifts to ice. The trail was so icy I could hardly find any place to get any sort of footing. This resulted in numerous slips and falls, which at that elevation with steep drop-offs below, is not a good thing. Every step I seriously considered turning back, especially as the day waned closer and closer to darkness.
It is a good thing, too, because by the time I actually got to my destination I could not fully appreciate its beauty without something to record the moment. Granted, a video of the scenery will probably not do it true justice, but I am sure I will be able to enjoy it more than I did at that moment when I finally reached the top.
Even at that, I was excited to be standing at the highest point I had ever been above sea level (outside of a plane), 14,270 feet! On top of that, I was standing on the top of the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide and the Grays Peak Trail continued across a saddle to Torreys Peak, directly across from me. That is only 3 feet less in elevation, at 14,267. All in all, what a view! As it was a pretty much totally clear day, I could see seemingly forever. And even though Torreys Peak was right across the way, there was no way I was going over there. I was already about as beat as any hike I’d ever taken, and it was only half over!
Even once I got to the dirt road, the hike did not seem to get any easier. It was dark then, and the mile and a half descent was filled with slips and slides. Amazingly, I didn’t twist an ankle, but I certainly gave my ankles and feet (not to mention knees) a good workout. When all was said and done, I had hiked 11 miles (1.5 each way on the road, and 4 each way on the Grays Peak Trail), and it was the most difficult and challenging hike I had ever done.
I sat in the Jeep and warmed up a few minutes before doing the drive out, which thankfully was not as much of a challenge as I anticipated. It was 1800; I had been hiking almost seven hours. And I could feel every bit of it.
Lessons Learned1. Tell someone where I am going!
First of all, I did not tell anyone where I was going. That has never happened again.
2. Start early!
I could have made the summit and gotten out of the mountains before dark had I listened to this simple rule. In summer of course, it is important to beat the thunderstorms as well.
3. Go with someone else, preferrably someone more experienced.
I went alone. As inexperienced as I was, and as much as the altitude affected me, this was a bad idea.
4. Know the weather forecast of the mountains.
I planned my trip by Denver weather. It was November, and the weather at 14,000 feet was certainly not comparable to that!
5. Take extra clothing.
I did not wear nearly enough clothing. A shirt, sweatshirt and jacket was all I took with me. The wind bit right through it all.
6. Turn around when necessary!
I should have turned around when the altitude began affecting me and I realized I was going to not beat sunset. Pressing on for the summit can not only be stupid, it can be dangerous.
7. Take a flashlight!
Duh! I had underestimated the time I would need and therefore thought I would not need a light. I ended up walking out in the dark.
Thankfully, I did not go out to the mountains the rest of the winter. I had had enough of an introduction. I did begin researching the internet and learning about the mountains of Colorado, so I was a little better prepared for next time...