This was my third attempt at climbing a 14'er. I summited Mt. Democrat in 2003, tried Long's Peak in 2004 and was supposed to do Long's again this year. I just wasn't up for it, and since I was in Breckenridge for the weekend, I conned my sister and brother-in-law into doing Gray's.
We took the Steven's Gulch Trail and left the trailhead at 6:22 in the morning. The sun had just come up, so the first part of the trail was hiked in shade. It was a pretty calm day with just whispy clouds all across the sky. We met a few people -- who passed us along the way....but when they broke into a jog after passing us, we didn't feel so bad. None-the-less, we are still the slow-poke malone hikers.
The hike itself was very uneventful. The mountain had a brush of snow on its north face due to overnight precipitation. It didn't really affect the hike any. The steepest part of this hike is in the middle and as you get higher in altitude, the summit doesn't seem to get any closer. After passing the Rat Couloir (?) area and starting on the long switchbacks, the route flattens out a bit, which was nice.
The wind picked up the higher we went and I hiked most of the way with shorts and gloves. Everyone else had on pants, long sleeves and we saw quite a bit of gloves. My hands were freezing by the time we were nearing the summit.
We summitted at 9:25 in the middle of a cloud, so there really wasn't a whole lot to see. I put on my rain/wind pants at the top and we tried to wait out the clouds. It was really cold and there was no clearing so we headed down after about 30 minutes and a lot of chatting with other climbers. Just for something different, we went down to the saddle between Gray's and Torrey's but decided not to do Torrey's due to pain in my sister's back. So, we headed back across the first part of the Torrey trail cut-off and connected back into the main trail a little ways down.
It took us 3 hours to summit and another 3 to get back down. The little bit of snow that had fallen made the rocks a bit slippery, but mostly we stopped on the downhill to take photos and look for mountain goats. The only one we saw was way up high on Kelso (?) mountain at the start of the hike. The people were great and as we were descending around 9:45, there were a LOT of people going up. I recommend starting early to help avoid the crowds.
This is a very good mountain to do as one of your first. I highly recommend it -- and am looking forward to doing Torrey's on a CLEAR day so I can see the views.
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