Grays Peak (14,270 feet)
Mount Edwards (13,850 feet)
Via the Kelso Ridge
July 19, 2003
My climbing partner, Sam, and I pulled into Denver International Airport in mid afternoon. Our goal was to hit the Big REI store for supplies, then get something to eat and head up to the trailhead. We really wanted to get to altitude as soon as possible in order to start acclimatizing as soon as possible.
We followed I-70 west to the Bakersville exit; exit 221. At the exit, we took a left, and just on the other side of the highway was a sign pointing straight ahead, which said Grays Trail. I’d been up this road last year, in August, and remembered it being pretty rough. But, this year, instead of a Daewoo compact for a rental car, we rented a Chevy Blazer. This helped a little bit, as we didn’t bottom out at all. The road to the Grays TH is 3 miles of very rough dirt road. I think that it has even deteriorated since last year.
Last year, I drove up in the dark, so I missed the outstanding views of Torreys and Kelso during the drive up the road. This time we got to see this. Of course, this got both Sam and I hyped for the climb tomorrow. Also, during the drive up, we got to see the damage caused by the avalanche that came off of Kelso last Winter. It was amazing to see the trees which looked like they were tossed like toothpicks. The gully that the avalanched crossed was quite deep also. It is amazing to think that it filled this gully, and even made it as far as the Grays Trail road. Wow!
We reached the Steven’s Gulch TH and pitched our little tents, just as it started to rain. This is the first time that I have gotten rained on during my 14ers trips to Colorado. I’ve been really lucky. We got everything ready for tomorrow’s climb and crawled into our tents around 9:30pm. Needless to say, it rained pretty much all night, and neither of us slept well.
The alarm went off at 5:45am. We made our oatmeal breakfast, finished packing for the climb, and headed out around 7am. We both started out pretty strong. The first 2 miles of the Grays Trail is pretty basic. Just after the two mile point, Sam and I started discussing whether he would go with me up the Kelso Ridge. I almost got him to go, but he decided to go ahead and follow the Grays Trail. Smartly, I think, as this was his first 14er. So, this is where we went our separate ways. We agreed to meet at the top of Torreys, then we would go over to Grays together.
I left the Grays Trail at around 12,300 ft. I started off towards the Kelso/Torrey saddle. This part is pretty easy, but I didn’t follow any specific trail. I just worked my way up to the old mine building. Once I got there I started up the first class 3 scramble. This was very easy, and I felt more like a 2+. After that, it was a class 2 walk for a little while. I pretty much decided that I was going to try and keep high on the ridge the whole way. I figured that way, I wouldn’t miss any cool class 3 & 4 stuff. I wasn’t disappointed. Just past the class 2 stuff was a class 3 climb up a steep trough. This was cool! After that was some nasty scree climbing. This was very frustrating and fatiguing. That lasted from about 13,100 to 13,500. After that, there was a mix of some class 2, and some class 3. By this point, I had finally caught up with a group of 20 somethings. They were a pretty cool bunch of kids from Golden, CO. I caught up to them, just as they were working their way around the crux class 4 move, a climb up a buttress. This climb up had several options. The first two from the other group had made the move pretty easily, and several others from the group went left to avoid the move. Then, two more from the group were going up at the same time, and they both got kind of stuck. One was going up on the left and one on the right. Both moves were equally difficult. Me, and one of the other guys from the group, kept telling them to “smear” with their feet, as they weren’t getting any push from their feet, using them sideways. Eventually, I decided to go up between them, and show them what I meant. This was a tough move also; straight up the slab. Someone referred to me as a spider.
I waited about 20 minutes, then my partner, Sam came up the main route. There was a solid “high five” to Sam for his first 14er. After another 10 minutes on Torreys, Sam and I headed down to the saddle, towards Grays. I got started up Grays pretty solid, and Sam wanted to take a break. He told me to get going, since he knew that I wanted to get Edwards also. So, I went without him. I got to the top of Grays in about 35 minutes. I only spent 5 minutes on Grays, then booked towards Edwards. Initially, I just headed down some of the Grays switchbacks, until I found myself at an altitude that I could start working east towards Edwards. The initial walk towards Edwards from Grays was definitely a pretty easy class 2. This was partially due to the fact that I was still going downhill. There are 2 ridge peaks before you reach Edwards. Needless to say, I knew that, but it still didn’t help me from being deceived by the “false peaks”. As I got to the first peak and most of the second, I was still climbing mostly class 2+. I mostly kept to the top of the ridge for these peaks. Since, the route is pretty vague, I wasn’t able to follow it much after Grays. So, there were several times that I got myself into some class 3. A lot of this was because I was trying to stay on the top of the ridge. As I was trying to get past the second peak, I made my biggest mistake of the day. Somehow, I decided that I needed to circumnavigate the peak by going around the North side. There seemed to be a trail leading that way even. Well, class 2 talus quickly turned into class 3, then class 4. The biggest problem was that the rock wasn’t very stable on this side. At one point, I even grabbed onto a great hand hold, and the whole rock moved. This was a big rock too. If it had come loose, it would not have been good. I eventually worked my way up and out of that mistake. Then, I made sure to stay to the South of this ridge.
Just after the second peak, I discovered a mountain goat playground. There must have been 15 goats on the south side of this peak. I had not seen any goats all day. They must have been hiding from the crowds.
As I was working my way back to Grays, I kept looking down the North slopes of the ridge, thinking, “I could get down that”, but I decided to do the smart thing and go out by a proven route. I was better at keeping course on the way back. I stayed to mostly class 2+. The only thing that made it hard was that I was starting to fatigue. The trip out was pretty uneventful. I made it back to the Grays switchbacks, and followed the Grays Trail back to the trailhead. It took me about 2 hours to get back to the trailhead. Overall, the trip time was about 7 and a half hours.
I loved the Kelso Ridge. This was a GREAT route. The trip to Edwards was ok, but it was much more challenging than I thought it would be. Overall elevation gain was 4470 ft. Estimated distance is 9.5 miles. Overall, this was a great climb!
Oh, what happened to Sam? Well, Sam made Grays (his 2nd 14er), and made it back to the trailhead in about 6 hours roundtrip. Unfortunately, I had the car keys, so I left him stranded was about an hour and a half.