Grays and Torreys
Grays Peak and Torreys Peak
Trailhead: Grays Peak Trailhead
Distance: 8.5 miles (moderate - for a fourteener)
Elevation Gain: 3,600 feet
Fourteener: n. "In mountaineering terminology in the United States, a fourteener is a mountain that meets or exceeds an elevation of 14,000 feet above sea level."
Colorado has 54 such mountains.
I have been itching to stand on top of another fourteener since the moment we got off Bierstadt. Winter has felt impossibly long (and, truth be told, still isn't totally gone) and we've had to wait 11 months to do this. It was well worth the wait, though, I had already forgotten how incredible it is to stand on top of the world.
We got to the trailhead at around 6:30 am after a very bumpy ride up the access road following the slowest truck in the world, but we did manage to find a parking spot so all was not lost. We all wanted a bathroom break, and proceeded to wait in line for 30 minutes to do so. We finally hit the trail at around 7:00 and started heading up...and up and up and up.
The trail is 8.5 miles round trip (assuming you get a parking spot at the upper lot, not the lower one) with 3,600 feet of elevation gain. It starts out pretty wide and obviously well traveled (this fourteener combo is one of the most popular in the state) as it winds its way into Steven's Gulch.
When we got out of the car it was 42º and felt freezing until we finally got out of the shadow of the ridgeline. We paused to take our jackets off before we headed onwards and upwards.
We caught the trail during wildflower season, meaning the hillside was covered in beautiful purples and reds and yellows right up until the grass stopped growing. This was one of my favorite things about the hike overall.
At about 1.8 miles you reach this flat, rocky area. From here the uphills stop being gentle on your calves and begin to get steeper and harsher. I love the Rocky Mountains, but they certainly live up to their name and by the end of the hike I was cursing each rock I stepped on under my breath. It's almost as though the trail knows it's doing this to your body, too, because at this point the views of Grays and Torreys were absolutely breathtaking, and turning to the east granted views of mountains for miles.
At about 2.75 miles in, the trail splits and you are given a choice of hiking to Torreys or Grays first. The standard route, for whatever reason, is to do Grays first and continue hiking to the left. There is still almost a mile left until reaching the summit of Grays, and most of it is on long switchbacks across the north face of the peak. This is the part of the trail that, even though you're climbing and moving forward, it feels like the summit is not getting any closer. I know switchbacks serve lots of purposes and in reality I do appreciate them, but while I'm using them they feel like the worst invention ever. We took three granola bar breaks on the way up - hiking a fourteener expends a lot of energy and snacking helps give me that boost of energy I need to make it another mile. Plus I like to eat a lot when I know I'll burn the calories off in the next 45 minutes.
I could not get over how nice this trail was in comparison to Bierstadt, though. It's so popular that even on the rockiest parts there was still a defined trail with minimal obstructions. I was in literal heaven after thinking about the awfulness that was Mount Bierstadt (okay, it wasn't exactly awful, just super loose scree and lots of scrambling).
AND WE MADE IT! 3.5 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain later, we were standing on top of Grays Peak. I had forgotten what it felt like, standing on top of a mountain like this, but it's a feeling that makes me want to do it again (and again, and again).
We took a bunch of pictures, passed my sign around, made friends with some people from the east coast, and sat and enjoyed the view. Logan and I even caught some pokemon on the summit! We snacked and decided it was time to head towards Torreys - the sky was beautiful and not an ominous cloud to be seen, so we felt comfortable adding an extra hour and a half to our trip to get up there!
The descent off the north ridge of Grays is the hardest part of the entire hike - physically at least, there were some spots that mentally drained me. This is where class 2 hiking begins. Rachel had never done a fourteener before and, truth be told, is a little afraid of heights (but who isn't when there's nothing to catch you if you fall except lots and lots of rocks). She handled all of the descent like a boss and on the way back led us the entire way! We nicknamed her mountain goat (or G.O.A.T.) because her fear lasted approximately 10 minutes and then she was a champ.
We went another mile and headed up Torreys to claim our second summit of the day. I don't have pictures of the up or down because it was super rocky and I didn't trust myself not to slip and damage my camera. We did stop to take pictures of a mountain goat that was hanging out about 10 yards away (and I had to lecture some boys about not feeding the wildlife...).
In all honesty, we weren't sure about going up Torreys. It was already past 11 and Rachel and I were worried about climbing back down. Logan wanted to go, but only because he didn't want to have to come back and re-do the hike to bag Torreys. After a lot of pep talks and mental battles, we went for it and I am so happy we did. That elated feeling that I had on Grays (and had already forgotten a little bit) came back and the views were outstanding.
In order to get back down to the trailhead from Torreys, you have to cross a 75 ish yard snowfield. I was stoked at crossing this at first - SNOW IN JULY?! And then about 10 yards in I made the mistake of looking to my left and down the mountain...where a slip would send me down the snow and to a serious injury. I should not have done that because then it all became a mental game. Logically I knew I wouldn't fall, I was steady on my feet and the path is well packed and I wasn't having to pass anyone else. But my brain convinced myself otherwise and I was almost in tears and made Logan hold on to my backpack (he was a champ and didn't complain about me at all). I made it across safely and realized I was being silly, but was still super thankful to be on rock instead of snow.
From here until we connected back with the main trail, Logan held my hand and guided me down. Rachel and I were sharing my set of trekking poles and I'm so glad we brought them. I may have just sat down on the mountain and decided to live there if I didn't have them to help me get down!
They say that going down a mountain is the hardest part, and they are correct. Your legs are shot from climbing all day, you're tired and hungry and you probably have to pee really badly. But we still had 4 miles to cover to get back to the trailhead and to the bathroom and the cold gatorades we had in the car. Those last miles were probably the worst of the hike, we didn't talk much and the sun was beating down on our backs. But even in that misery, we saw some pretty awesome wildflowers and even watched a baby mountain goat nursing!
Overall it was a beautiful day and we feel so accomplished. Fourteeners are a special kind of hell - I spent the last hour of the hike thinking about death (way less morbid than it sounds), but as soon as I sat down in the car I wanted to start planning the next one.
You forget just enough of the pain to be willing to go through it again, and remember just enough of the euphoria of standing on top to need to go back.
Fourteeners pro tip post coming soon? Thoughts?