Saturday, February 5, 2011

Grays Peak - Colorado 14er

September 9, 40th birthday!

As I mentioned in my previous entry (Timber Lake - RMNP), this was my wife's birthday present to me. The day before this hike I did a tune-up of 10+ miles to 11,000 feet. The night before this hike, my younger brother took me to a Colorado Rockies game (40th b-day present) where I got to see two first ballot hall of famers - Greg Maddux and Trevor Hoffman.

I had been to Colorado a few times before but I never wanted to give up fishing time to hike, and I really wanted to climb one of those 14,000 peaks that are scattered across the state. This was my opportunity and I had scouted out the peak for ease of the climb and proximity to Denver. I came up with Grays Peak.

The day started well before daylight when my younger brother and following a stop for coffee, beverages, and snacks we arrived at the trailhead just after sun-up. Everything I had read recommended a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle and that is what I rented. The road to he traihead was difficult but I had to agree that the 4-wheel drive was needed. Until I arrived at the trailhead and found a couple of nice luxury vehicles had beaten me up there. One was a very nice Mercedes and the other was a Lexus, they had to be quite the driver to not rip the bottom out of those nice cars.

Back to the trail, the trailhead sits a little over 11,000 feet and it is just over three miles to the summit. The 3,000 feet in elevation gain over the three miles is a little deceiving as the first two miles are relatively flat, in that you don't realize you are climbing.

I thought it would be great to have my younger brother accompany me on my trip and celebrate my 40th on the summit of my first 14er. Unfortunately, that wouldn't happen as after less than half a mile he was bent over sucking wind. I sent him back to Denver with guidelines to pick me back up in seven hours - I figured four up and three down.

Shortly after I sent my brother packing I caught my first glimpse of Grays Peak.

You would think it would be intimidating staring at the summit nearly the entire time, but it really wasn't. At about the 1.5 mile marker you get a good few of Gray's summit and the sister s14er summit, Torreys.

I know it's an optical illusion but Torreys summit still appears higher, but at 14,267 it is a mere three feet shorter than Gray's 14,270.

Once you go around the right side of that small knob the climb gets a bit more interesting. At this point you hit a short section of steps, but these aren't ordinary steps, they were about three feet each step. That might seem too bad, but a 100 yard section of three-foot step ups at nearly 12,500 feet in elevation really zapped me. From this point on my pace slowed significantly!

Shortly after this section the trail splits with the trail to Torreys summit and it marks the beginning of the switchbacks. When I felt myself slowing to a crawl, I stopped at one of the switchbacks to see how far I had already come. You can see the well-worn trail on the left of this photo.

I had gone too far to turn back now, so onward and upward.

From the distance of the high valley floor it didn't appear that steep. When you get on the switchbacks you see that was also an illusion. Once I hit about the 13,500 mark I found myself stopping at nearly every switchback. Again, looking back down the trail I had travelled too far to stop now. You can also see how steep it is near the top. Look at the two groups of hikers below (one you can barely see near the bottom of the switchbacks).

At this point I was nearly on the summit and with that in view my pace picked up again until I made it to my destination. What a way to celebrate a 40th birthday!

I rested for a bit but I couldn't just sit there, the views were absolutely amazing!

Looking north at Torrey's summit:

Just to the west of Torreys was this crystal blue body of water - I wonder what swims in there?!

Looking to the southwest, I found myself looking down to the clouds.

Looking due west toward the Breckenridge area:

I also took this video, a 360-degree view from the summit:

After taking it all in, I had a decision to make; drop down into the saddle and knock Torrey's summit out too or take one summit and call it a say. I think I was more mentally drained than physically and I opted for calling it a day.

The hike down was non-eventful and within a couple of hours I found myself resting under a small pine tree at the trailhead - two hours ahead of schedule! I felt quite satisfied as I lay in wait of my younger brother and his shuttle service. Some of my thoughts: I ran cross-country and track (distance) from junior high through college, completed three half-marathons and I don't think I had ever done something so physically and mentally demanding....or maybe I was just old and out of shape.


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