Spectacular views, such as this one of Mt. Edwards, are the reward that you get from the summit of this seldom climbed mountain.
Kelso Mountain is a low thirteener in Colorado's central Front Range. It is the fourth and lesser peak of Upper Steven's Gulch, through which thousands of people pass on their way to nearby Grays and Torreys Peaks.
Kelso Mountain is greatly overshadowed by its loftier more "interesting" neighbors. Of the thousands of people who walk below its slopes on their way to these peaks few know it even exists. Indeed Kelso is more famous for the infamous ridge of the same name connecting it to Torreys peak. This makes Kelso's summit very lonely and it thus provides great opportunities for solitude. Indeed on the day of our summit bid we saw no one once we left the Grays Peak trail. A quick glance at the summit log revealed that we were only the twelfth party up there since march.
Kelso is a mountain of great contrasts. The west to northwest side of the the mountain immediately north of Kelso Ridge is very rugged and drops off steeply from the summit. On the north side there is a huge glacial cirque that holds a snow field well into the summer. Continuing around the mountain clockwise the terrain slowly becomes gentler and grassier to the south side of the mountain before returning to Kelso Ridge. Kelso's south slopes are blanketed with wildflowers and are a pleasure to walk through. It also makes for great photography of the surrounding areas. It is interesting to see how differently the glaciers have carved out the different sides of the mountain.
The view of the rugged side of Torreys peak from Kelso is truly spectacular and awe-inspiring and puts this reputedly easy peak in a whole new perspective. The views of the surrounding peaks are equally impressive especially when you don't have to share them with countless other people. On a summer day it's fun to sit on the summit and look wtih binoculars at the lines of people plodding their way up the Grays Peak Trail.
Kelso Mountain can be climbed from all sides depending on the amount of exercise and mountaineering challenge you are willing to take on. The easiest way to climb the mountain is up the gentle south side above Steven's Gulch. However this means that you'll have to negotiate the rough road, the packed parking lot, and the tons of people you'll meet on the part of the climb when you're on the trail.
Alternately you can drive up the much less frequented Grizzly Gulch, climb up into the basin between Kelso and Torreys, and ascend into the notch separating this basin from Stevens Gulch. From here you can ascend Kelso's southwest ridge across gentle slopes until you attain the summit.
Other climbs with a much more alpine flair are available on the other more rugged sides of the mountain. There is also a spectacular spring ski descent in the great cirque on the north side of the mountain.
Kelso's south slopes above Steven's Gulch are blanketed with beautiful wildflowers and are very pleasant to hike through.
This is national forest land and no permits are required. However, the road up Steven's Gulch passes through private property so please be respectful of the owners' rights.
When To Climb
You can climb this peak year round, though the avalanche danger increases significantly in winter. The whole peak is prone to avalanching except on the southwest ridge. It can be very cold in winter especially since it's so windy.
Camping is allowed pretty much anywhere though it will be crowded in Stevens Gulch. Grizzly Gulch is a great place to camp with far less people. Please remember to stay away from privately owned structures.
Check weather conditions for Georgetown. Because Kelso is so close to the Continental Divide the weather can change dramatically and it is very often windy.
Clear Creek Ranger District
101 Chicago Creek Road
P.O. Box 3307
Idaho Springs, CO 80452