New rule for summer in Colorado: no more 14′ers on weekends! On Saturday, I attempted to hike up Grey’s Peak (14,270 ft) and neighboring Torrey’s Peak (14,267 ft) but even with an early start, I found myself trudging along in an endless conga line up the mountain, constantly leapfrogging large groups of people.
I prefer to hike solo or with a friend. When I do find myself on a busy trail I can usually talk myself out of annoyance by being thankful that people are getting outside. But not this time. I kept getting stuck behind chatty groups and try as I might, I couldn’t find an enjoyable headspace for sharing the mountain. I was getting grumpier by the mile and the grumpier I got, the more tired I felt. I love climbing mountains more than anything, but I just wasn’t feeling the love on that crowded trail.
I think one of the things I love most about climbing mountains is the sheer audacity of it. Slogging uphill –then down – for endless miles, teetering on rocky ledges, gasping for achingly thin air are ridiculous ways to spend one’s free time. But I’ve always been the rebellious sort and I’m probably lucky that climbing mountains is the ridiculous thing I’ve settled on doing; god knows there are lots of other paths that lead out of the main stream, many less liberating than climbing mountains.
On the slopes of Grey’s Peak I found myself swept along in a stream of hikers and there’s nothing I dislike more than feeling like another face in a crowd, even if the crowd is spending its Saturday climbing a mountain.
About 2/3 of the way up, I pulled over to the side of the trail and let the masses pass while I waited for Drew, who had gotten stuck back a ways down the trail. By the time he caught up, the clouds were looking increasingly ominous and when I proposed turning around and coming back on Monday, he agreed: too many clouds, too many crowds!
We retreated back down the mountain and took a side trail up to the base of Kelso Ridge, an alternative Class 3/4 scramble route up Torrey’s Peak. We sat on the saddle, overlooking the valley, remarking how the sky was looking sketchier by the minute, glad we weren’t higher up on the mountain. We could see the lines of people marching up the switchbacks to Grey’s Peak and amazingly, we could even hear their conversations floating across the acoustic valley.
Then, as the sky darkened and a cold wind blasted across the saddle, we heard screams. The hail hit fast and hard, pelting like little white BB’s. We ran for an old mine shaft alongside the saddle and hunkered down in the tunnel while the lines of people above us shrieked and scurried. Thunder, then lightning, close, too close. It was only 10:30 and all hell was breaking loose in the peaks; earlier in the day than usual, but the mountains keep their own schedule.
A stone mine shaft is a good place to hide from hail, but not from lightning so after the initial wave passed we booked it back down the mountain, hiding from intermittent hail under our hat brims. Then we settled in for the weekend at a sweet free campsite just down the road from the trailhead.
On Monday, we were up at 5am – a proper Alpine start – and on the trail at first light. This time, we had the mountain to ourselves. In fact, it was quiet enough that we passed a family of mountain goats grazing right along the trail, so close that we left the trail and cut across some scree to avoid disturbing those fluffy bright white dolls on their patch of yellow flowers. I’ve seen wild goats through binoculars on far off cliffs before in Montana and British Columbia, but never this close!
We made it up Grey’s Peak by 9am and then traversed the long open ridge over to Torrey’s Peak, for our second 14’er of the day! Torrey’s precipitous summit is classic; the mountain falls away on all sides. We had to share our victorious perch with four climbers who had come up the airy, gnarly Kelso Ridge. This time, however, celebrating sheer heights and sheer audacity on one of the highest points in the Rockies, I didn’t mind the company. Long live the mountain tribe!