Clouds & Crowds on Grey’s & Torrey’s

Leaving Grey's, heading for Torrey's on our second attempt

Leaving Grey’s, heading for Torrey’s on our second attempt

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.

Grey's Cairn D.O.G.

Grey’s Cairn D.O.G.

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 Summit of Grey's Peak, with Torrey in the background

On the Summit of Grey’s Peak, with Torrey’s Peak in the background

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!

Grey's Peak on the left, Torrey Peak on the right, weird mound in the middle, clouds overhead.

Grey’s Peak on the left, Torrey Peak on the right, weird mound in the middle, storm clouds overhead.

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.

Waiting out the hailstorm in an old silver mineshaft.

Waiting out the hailstorm in an old silver mineshaft.

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.

Shelter from the Storm

Shelter from the Storm on Kelso Ridge. The mineshaft is on the left behind the pile of snow.

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!

Goats!

Goats!

Where the Mountain Goats Play...

Where the Mountain Goats Play…

Following Drew & Odin up to Torrey's Peak

Following Drew & Odin up to Torrey’s Peak

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!

Sharing the Summit

Sharing the Summit

Torrey's Peak 14,267 feet, three feet shy of neighboring Grey's Peak

Torrey’s Peak 14,267 feet, three feet shy of neighboring Grey’s Peak

Group Summit Shot!

Group Summit Shot!

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in Big Sky, Montana. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
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15 Responses to Clouds & Crowds on Grey’s & Torrey’s

  1. beachman says:

    wow cool ride…thanks 🙂

  2. When living in Colorado and the only time to go hiking was weekends — along with the crowds. It didn’t take long to give up the 14er peak bagger thing. Started doing 13ers. Some less than five feet less than 14000 feet. Always alone. There were times I could see the 14er from my lonesome 13er and watch the ants heading up the ridge. I’ll take 13000-13999 anytime over a Colorado 14er.

    • Amen, Lloyd! I’m a 13’er girl myself, but I’ve been hanging out with this guy who has caught the 14’er bug! I’m trying to cure him… 😉

  3. gaucho8782 says:

    Where was Bowie? Has he gotten too old for peak bagging, poor guy.

    • Now that Bowie’s 11 going on 12, I usually cap him around 5 to 7 miles. More than that and he’s too sore the next day. He’s also not a morning dog. He’d so much rather sleep through those alpine starts! 🙂

  4. gaucho8782 says:

    Climbed Uncompaghre last summer, it is a really impressive peak and only a couple of people on the trail when I went up.

  5. sundog says:

    This site is a gift and a treasure! I am so very glad I happened upon this great blog; it brings back so many wonderful memories of all my road trips in the U.S.A. (1988-1998), with the added bonus of describing the trails I would have loved to hike but couldn’t. Fantastic photography and writing, and great advice which I will save for (I am hoping!) one more trip to my favorite places on earth (next year?). Thank you for sharing, Mary, and happy and safe trails to you and your wonderful dogs always. Irmgard

  6. Beyond Beautiful!!!!!!!

  7. I know what you mean, Mary. A few people have asked me to start a Hiking Club. I like to hike with 1-2 people – not 20! That’s the problem with hiking. You want solitude…. but then to share your passion, you end up having a ton of people. A paradox!

  8. Madalee says:

    Hi I’ve been reading your blog for several months now and I love it! I am doing an internship with the Forest Service in Summit County, CO for the summer and it’s so neat to see how close you were to us! At some point before I leave this internship, I would love to climb a 14er, lucky for me my days off are during the week so I’ll miss the crowds!

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