Torreys Peak – 14,267'
Colorado's Front Range
Date Climbed: August 31st, 2002
Route: Kelso's Ridge
Our flight into Colorado, leaving Michigan on August 30th, put us in Denver at 5:00pm, by 7:00pm we were navigating our way up the gravel road to the trail head. The rented Ford Taurus did a fairly good job of getting us up the rough road. Although the Taurus got us up the trailhead pretty well, I wouldn't suggest anything with a lower ground clearance; I'm not saying a smaller vehicle can't make it but it would be a bit more challenging.
We decided to car camp at the trailhead, beding down in the car around 11:00pm. I noticed I was breathing a little heavy as I started drifting into the sleep zone. Gee, maybe because I live at 750ft above see level and within a matter of just 8 hours of travel was now going to sleep at 11,230ft? Around 2:00am I woke up wanting to vomit and shit, I was also sweating like a fat man in a marathon and I was having hot and cold waves rush all over me. Well this down right scared the piss out of me as I started to think I was having some bad reaction to the altitude. After a few minutes of moaning I passed out. Eventually I came to and passed out again. Leslie was slightly wierded out by the whole thing but kept it together just fine. In the morning I got up and felt like a champ, reasoning that it was just a case of food poisoning. We hit the trail at 7:00am.
We used the Steven's Gulch approach. It's a great approach and as you work your way up the gulch Ganley Mountain (12,902ft), McClellan Mountain (13,587ft), and Mount Edwards (13,850') reach to the ski on the climbers left (East). These three peaks are connected by high ridges that create one huge ridge line that eventually runs into Gray's Peak. They offer imposing views as they have extremely steep slopes screaming up from the gulch's floor. Mount Edwards, Grays, and Torreys are all on the Continental Divide and Grays/Torreys are the only two Colorado 14'ers on the Divide. To the West, climber's right, is the massive mound of Kelso Mountain (13,164'), which simply looks like a huge pile of rock. On the South end of the Gulch is Torreys and Grays, completing the bowl.
From the trailhead, the well maintained trail initially crossed a stream via a sturdy metal bridge and then begins to meander South/South West up the Gulch. The Gulch is a delight and full of shrubs and a couple of small creeks drain down the center of it. The Gulch itself is quite expansive and I'm sure there are plenty of excellent backcountry campsites where one could find solitude - even in this often traveled gulch. After about 1.5 miles the saddle between Kelso's and Torreys appears on the climbers right and invites you to climb the ridge. It was at this point that we left the pack trail and started heading over to the saddle, leaving behind the thirty or so people scattered about the standard route.
It was 8:20am and we were standing on the saddle. The initial scrambling on the ridge is quite easy and not exposed at all. Roach suggests doing a comfort level check at this point, if you feel uneasy about the initial scrambling then turn around. This is excellent advice as the route only becomes more difficult. Since Leslie had never done any scrambling and proclaims to be fearful of heights, we discussed how she felt. I warned her that there would be some exposure along the way and that once we commit to the route it would be difficult to retreat. She said she was fine with the scrambling and we moved on.
There are really four main points of fun exposed climbing on this ridge. These are the two towers (which are more fun than exposed) the buttress and finally the knife-edge (which we never saw!). Between these points the ridge presents numerous class 3 scrambles, scree chutes, and even fine hiking trails. Oh, did I forget to mention the outstanding views of Stevens Gulch to the South and Grizzly Gulch to the North? You even get to watch all the regulars down on the Stevens Gulch pack trail, and sometimes you can even make them out as they stop and point at you, probably commenting on what a fool you are for climbing up that ridge.
The first tower, which I think we came across around 13,000 feet was about 30ft tall. It was easy to tackle it head on, as there is an obvious trough shooting up the middle of it. When we got to the second tower a short while later, Leslie was feeling a bit more fatigued. I think the altitude was having a little effect, she had been complaining about a slight feeling of nausea. So for this tower we skirted to the North side of the ridge and scampered across some nasty loose scree and gravel, regaining the ridgeline easily after 10 minutes or so. After this little circumnavigation endeavor Leslie was feeling really tired and I was already thinking we were taking to long. Don't get me wrong, I want to take my time, I don't fly from Michigan to run up a peak and then run down and go hit the Holiday Inn only to brag about how fast I got off the mountain. I want to spend time on the mountain. However, after reading countless trip reports and warnings of afternoon storms in the Colorado Rockies, I was relatively eager to get to the top and assess the weather. At any rate, it was at this point that I took Les's pack and carried it for the next 45 minutes or so. Towards the end of the double carry I was feeling the altitude also, taking 10 steps and then pausing for 4 breaths, etc. I think it was around this time that I decided to sit us down for lunch and a small break. After our break we moved on along easy terrain. One of the highlights of the trip was when we encountered a small family of mountain goats on this section of the trail. The big male kept his distance but the mother and small child were more curious and approached to within 10 feet. Shortly after the goat encounter it was time for another break, we were sitting below the next big move, the 40ft buttress.
We snacked a little and Les grabbed a quick 5minute catnap. Feeling totally refreshed after our little break I scouted ahead, climbing up the buttress to confirm that was the correct route. I scrambled up some easy class 3 or 4 for about 20-25 feet. It was easy going but I knew Les was feeling very tired so I down climbed to her and asked her what she wanted to do. A small gravel path led to the South side of the ridge and she pointed out that she wanted to go that way. Well, this is where things start to fall apart a bit. We come to this small 15ft class 4 traverse across a ledge only about 10 inches wide; however, the rock wall following the traverse had plenty of good hand holds, just slightly concealed here and there. I went across first and stopped on the other side to watch Les. The fear of heights began to hit her hard here, a fall would be fatal with the mountain depositing her body 1000' down in the Gulch and this new reality was not sitting well with her. Physically, she could handle this but she hit her mental wall and refused to move an inch. I climbed back across to join her and show exactly where the hand holds were. This was to no avail, however, as she was beginning to cry, saying she couldn't do it, and she wanted down!
Thank God I was carrying a 100' rope, some biners, and other stuff in case of an emergency, which folks, is exactly how I viewed this. I tied up a military swiss seat to her and then crossed the traverse again and rounded the corner it led to and scrambled up a few feet, setting up an anchor. With some encouragement, she started moving across the ledge, with me on belay up above. This worked and she sat down next to me, very scared. We were sitting at the base of a gravel chute, maybe 10 feet in width and looking up it it looked to be about 100 feet in length. The ground was not solid at all, like I said it was all gravel and this was really freaking her out, compounded by the view at the bottom of the shoot – I straight drop off. I re-tied the harness into an improvised chest harness, which I feel was the best rig for this situation. If the person does loose footing or fall, then the belay pulls them from the chest, thus straight down onto there chest, worst case there back. Thus, no wild flailing, falling backwards and tumbling out of control. To make a long story short, I basically scrambled half way up the shoot, set up a body anchor and belayed her to that point. Leaving her here gripping to the sidewall, I scrambled up to repeat the belay; of course, when it rains it pours. On the last "pitch", she hit her knee on a rock and then a handhold popped out and hit her right square in the face. All this compounded her fear and paralyzed her for a few minutes to the point that she would literally not move. Eventually, she started moving and with the help of me "pulling" on belay she got up through the chute.
From the top of this section, the summit is was just a few minutes away. We signed the register at the top and enjoyed the views. I was feeling great, the climb was totally fun and, to my satisfaction, I had helped Leslie get through some pretty scary moments. The descent was non eventful as we traversed over to Grays and took the standard route back down to the trail head.
This was an awesome climb, and I will certainly come back to repeat it. The exposure is intermittent at best, which allows plenty of time to simply enjoy the experience. The two towers were a blast to scramble up and the goats made for a memorable event. As far as seeing other people and getting a little solitude, we only saw two other climbers on the entire ridge. Keep in mind that this was Labor Day weekend and down in Stevens Gulch there were countless groups making there way. Kelso ridge offered a good sense of solitude.
Upon reflecting and reading other TRs on line, I imagine we had traversed into the upper chutes of Dead Dog Coulier, thus we got to play in gravel and miss out on climbing up the buttress and resulting traverse of the little knife edge. I think the round trip distance is about 7 or 8 miles and it took us about 6 ½ hours to get up to Torrey's summit. I would consider this a very slow time as I have seen numerous reports of people reaching the summit in ½ our time. The descent from Torreys to via the standard route only took 2 1/2 hours.
Temps in the morning were around the mid 30's and in the afternoon, up on the ridge and in the direct sun, the temps were in the upper 70's/low 80's. No rain on Torreys on this day, but there were numerous dark clouds on other peaks in the area. All in all, an excellent single day adventure.