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Lately, I have been wanting to find a new area to begin exploring. Not that I do not love Rocky Mountain National Park, I just wanted a relative change in scenery. I decided to head into Stevens Gulch and summit Grays Peak and Torreys Peak. These are two of Colorado's peaks that rise above that infamous 14,000 mark, or "fourteeners." Grays Peak rises to a height of 14,278 feet, and Torreys Peak stands less than a mile away at an elevation of 14,267 feet. Both of these mountains, and their connecting saddle, lie on the Continental Divide in the heart of the Front Range.
These mountains are considered to be among the more simple and "easier" fourteeners, and are often recommended for ones first ascent of a fourteener. So I chose Grays and Torreys for a number of reasons. One, they are easier, and I wanted to bring Daisy along for the hike and she has trouble with anything over class 2. Two, they provide a great vantage point over this new, to me at least, area, and have wonderful views of some other mountains I would like to climb in the future, such as Grizzly Peak, Edwards Peak, and Square Top Mountain. And three, you have a great chance to see Mountain Goats on this trail, which I have never seen before. Unfortunately, they didn't want to be seen on this day!
It was a 3 am alarm clock morning, as the trail head is more than 2.5 hours away. So I woke up, had a quick breakfast, and was on the road by 3:30. Daisy crawled into the passenger seat to help me find the way, and before we new it, there was a light blue glow in the sky to the east and we were exiting I-70 for the dirt road leading to the Grays Peak Trail. Our timing was perfect! We were geared up and hiking just as the morning light was bright enough to leave the headlamp in the backpack.
It was a chilly morning with temperatures around 30 degrees at the trail head, and cooling as we rapidly increased our elevation. The trail started off clear and free of any snow or ice, but there was a thick layer of frost on the ground around us. Alpenglow began to creep down the high peaks, including Grays and Torreys, and the birds and chippies became very active. We continued along the gently sloping trail, winding around the base of Kelso Mountain, and into the high basin below Grays and Torreys. As we made our way higher, the trail was soon covered in a few inches of snow and ice, making the pace a little more time consuming as I would have liked. With four legs, Daisy had no trouble and would often stop and wait for me about a fifty yards ahead. She was loving playing in her first bit of snow for the season!
Once higher on the trail, the temperature was dipping into the lower 20's and the wind was picking up quite a bit. That's all the motivation I need to keep moving at a quick pace to keep warm! Once we got into the sunlight higher up on the slopes of Grays, the temperature did rise a little, but the wind got stronger, so it was a balanced trade off. We kept winding our way up the broad and gentle slope of Grays Peak, and before too long we were on the summit of Colorado's 9th highest mountain summit! We spent about 20 minutes on top before Daisy started getting impatient with me. I took time to locate and admire a few of the high thirteeners in the immediate area, and some of the surrounding fourteeners. It was such a beautifully clear day, I could even see Longs Peak, Mt. Meeker, the Mummy Range and the Indian Peaks far to the north! I was going to sign the summit register, but it was so ripped up and trashed, that I didn't even take it out of the canister.
Once Daisy began getting ancy, we headed North, for Torreys Peak. On the North slopes of Grays Peak, there were some of the largest cairns I have ever seen. These are usually a small pile of rocks used to mark a route where the trail is not as visible. But these cairns were made up of hundreds of rocks, and many were easily taller than I am.
I spent a couple of minutes at the saddle looking out over our route up Stevens Gulch. What a view from here! Then we were climbing once again, this time up Colorado's 12th highest mountain, Torreys Peak. I really enjoyed this short climb. Torreys Peak just seems to have a lot more character than Grays. They are both great mountains, but it just felt like I was hiking up more of a mountain while climbing Torreys, instead of like climbing a large hill, as with Grays. On the south slopes of Torreys you could peer down South Paw Couloir, see the upper reaches of Dead Dog Couloir and from the summit, get a good look at Kelso Ridge.
We spent a little time up on the summit of Torreys, I refilled Daisy's water bowl, gave her the rest of her treats, and then explored the summit while she took a little nap in the warming sun. After 15 minutes or so, we were headed South to the saddle and back to the trail head.
It was a picture perfect day in the Colorado high country. I didn't see another soul until a couple of miles off of Torreys summit, which is a rarity on this extremely popular trail. We climbed two of Colorado's wonderful mountains and Daisy "bagged" her first fourteeners (but was much more interested in the chippies)! All in all, a great way to spend a day!
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