After completing Mt. of the Holy Cross, two major lessons remained with me: (1) I will be humbled by the beauty of nature and (2) each hike will quickly bring a new appreciation of what the body can withstand.
Unlike the last trek, there was no illusion to what I was getting myself into this time. As I exited Interstate 70 West, I found a picture perfect view of what was to come. I was able to see both peaks in one frame of mountain tops as the sun was still rising. I pulled into the overflow lot at the bottom of the hill and read a sign that said: 4 Wheel Drive Vehicles Only”. The dirt road was not manageable with my little Honda Fit, so I had to park and start my journey 1.5 miles prior to the trail head. As I walked the road leading to the trail, I quickly realized I was hiking a Gulch.
With a razorback edge on one side of me, blocking the sun, I hiked around a false peak called Kelso Mountain. The once bold and visible mountains were now tucked away behind the trees as I worked my way up the river.
Before I set off, I took some time to read the trail map, look for any warnings, and to see what wildlife I might encounter. As soon as I set foot on the trail, I found myself on a high mountain safari, unidentifiable bushes–some almost as tall as me– littered the gulch and occasionally made for a very narrow trail. Since I started my hike at 10,500 feet, this trail did not have the severe increase in elevation of stairs and switchbacks to begin with. However, I did encounter a fair amount of people on this trail.
As I hiked higher along the East Slope Trail of Grays Peak, the trees fell away to rock and snow banks as I began the switchbacks to the top. From this point, I was able see the top of Kelso Mountain, the false peak I had traversed earlier. I was able to look all the way across the razors edge and only two things met my gaze, Grays and Torreys.
I continued to hike higher when I noticed two sheep up ahead on the route. I passed a family near trying to get a close up picture of their new woolly friends. They had named them “Carlisle” and “Samson”.
I continued my journey to the top where I was met by about 20 different people who had already ascended the top and were resting before either attempting Torreys Peak (like myself) or hiking back down immediately. At the summit, I was met with 15-20 mph winds that I was oblivious of while working my way up. I struggled to find the US geological pin, so I was left to take this selfie with the high mountains in the background:
After grabbing a quick snack of mangoes and trail mix it was time to cover the 2 miles to Torreys Peak. The connecting trail was mostly open trail with loose rocks covering it so the descent was quick, smooth, and I was able to jog most of it with no issue. As I started up Torreys Peak, I noticed a significantly lower number of people hiking this trail. Cairns peppered the trail and the switchbacks came quickly. The 550 foot climb was technical, and because of so many other hikers venturing off trail, I struggled to figure out which trail was the correct one. My lungs were feeling great at this point, at least comparatively speaking. I was of course out of breath and clambering up the side of a mountain, but the ease of the trail in combination with my lungs beginning to adapt to the altitude made for a much more enjoyable hike. I reached the top of Torreys peak about 25 minutes after leaving Grays. After I took in the new view, it as time to head back. However, my return trip had two options: I could descend the valley between the two mountains, taking the short path back to the trail and all the way to the foot of the mountain OR I could descend the class 3 trail down Kelso Mountain. I took my time deciding, resting again for this short while, eating, and finishing off 3 liters of water. Feeling reenergized, I decided that I felt good enough to attempt the class 3 descent.
If anyone is attempting or considering doing a class 3 climb, do a little research ahead of time in order to be somewhat prepared. A class 3 hike is defined as “Scrambling or un-roped climbing. You must use your hands most of the time to hold the terrain or find your route. This may be caused by a combination of steepness and extreme terrain (large rocks or steep snow). Some Class 3 routes are better done with rope.” After explaining the difficulty to some locals that were interested in my attempt, they quickly decided it was not there cup of tea. I would be taking this path alone.
Right from the start, the trail was extremely difficult to see, but for the most part I was able to just stay along the knife edge while also trying not to cause a rock slide. I was prepared with two emergency paracord bracelets if needed. I also made it a point to sign in to the visitor’s book at the trailhead, noting that I was attempting the class 3 as part of my return. Boulder hopping and “use of hands” were an understatement as I clambered my way down behind my new trail guide, a muskrat that I named “Peaches” who was also descending.
After an especially difficult set of rock climbing while navigating around another group I happened upon, I paused to appreciate what I had just done. Every bit of the decent so far has required some sort of mental strength to work through and problem solve how to attempts to descend safely. As I climbed over giant rock faces, slid down crevasses, and scaled across rock faces, I slowly but surely made my way down the trail. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there is no footage of Frodo and his crew descending from Mordor once they finish their mission. Nonetheless,, from my experience on Kelso, I am able to imagine what their return journey to the Shire must have been like.
I made it down the trail safely and then hiked a short way along the river until I encountered Grays East Slope Trail again.
As I merged back on the original trail, I crossed paths with another hiker who watched me traverse the ridge. We talked for a while as we hiked back toward the trail head about the difficulty of the class 3. He was impressed by the speed and safety with which I completed the trail. I was flattered by the compliment since I have been trail running and rock climbing but never scrambling before. All in all, it was a fantastic hike, great views and two more off the list of 53 peaks. I look forward to the new challenges that each mountain throws my way!