Saturday, October 06, 2012

On Top of the World: Hiking Grays and Torreys Peak

The state of Colorado has exactly fifty-three mountains with an elevation of 14,000+ feet (14ers) and I can proudly claim to have climbed THREE of them. I hiked Pikes Peak several years ago with a group of friends, and last Sunday my friend Lisa and hiked both Grays Peak and Torreys Peak. It was a crazy fun and amazing day!

Last fall, Lisa and I threw around the idea of hiking a couple of 14ers and decided to go for it! We knew we'd missed our window for a fall ascent so we decided to wait until summer. Well, summer rolled around and the topic surfaced again but our schedules were so out of sync that we realized we were going to have to look at this fall. We finally found a day that worked for both of us and decided to climb Grays and Torreys Peaks because both peaks are easily summited in one day and because hiking two 14ers was my personal goal for 2012. We put it on the calendar for September 30 and the rest is history!

The hike:
I picked Lisa up at 5am on Sunday morning and we drove to the trailhead, just west of Denver. We got our gear on and started hiking right around 7am. Our first glimpse of Grays Peak revealed a TON of snow on top. I think we were both a little caught off guard by the amount of it. 
The hike itself is about 9 miles round trip (that includes both peaks) with a 3600 foot elevation gain. Grays and Torreys Peaks are considered two of the easier Colorado 14ers mainly because the trail is very accessible and well-maintained. The two peaks are connected by a saddle that allows hikers to descend about 500 feet from the summit of one before climbing about 500 feet back up to the summit of the other.

The elevation at the trailhead is almost 11,000 feet so you're definitely feeling the thin air from the start of this hike. I think I was surprised at the long, winding trail and lack of switchbacks. See that pic above? It almost looks flat! Don't get me wrong, it's not flat and there were switchbacks, but they were a bit more spread out than I expected.
The photo below is a good shot of the two Peaks with the saddle in between. Grays is on the left (tallest peak with snow) and Torreys is on the right. The saddle is the ridge that connects them. 

Lisa and I figured we'd be hiking in the cold most of the day. The forecasted high temp for the summit was 46 degrees and we knew we'd be starting early in the day when temps were chilly so we wore lots of layers and packed our down jackets. That was a good move because we needed our down for most of the day. The sun didn't come out and warm us up like we'd hoped! The other thing we were thankful that we packed was our Yaktrax. We put them on about midway up the trail because there was a lot of packed snow and ice on the trail, and we especially needed them on some the icy, rocky parts near the summit.

It took us 3 hours to summit Grays Peak! And let me tell you it was bitterly C-O-L-D and windy up there. Don't let those blue skies fool you. Brrrrrr. It was so cold that we didn't stay up there long--basically just snapped a few photos and headed back down to the saddle to get out of the wind. At one point I really felt like the wind gusts might blow me off the mountain. I'm not kidding--those gusts were strong and were blowing snow pellets at us! The mouthpiece and tubing to our Camelbaks froze while we were up there which was something I didn't expect. They eventually thawed out but we were thankful we had extra bottles of water and Gatorade in our packs!
Getting closer! See the cairns? What you can't see is the icy snowpack! We had to be extra careful of our footing here--both on the climb up and down.

So, so cold up there.
Me and Lisa on the summit of Grays Peak. Elevation 14,270 feet.

It took us almost another hour to descend Grays and summit Torreys Peak. We were a little skittish about the weather after ascending Grays, but we could see that Torreys barely had any snow and the face of the summit was facing a completely different direction. I'm glad we went for it because the two summit experiences were TOTALLY different. It was still cold up there but it was a lot more sunny and mild, plus we were shielded from that nasty wind.
This photo was taken in the saddle, looking up at Torreys Peak. See? NO snow up there. Weird.
We stopped for a quick snack mid-way up Torreys. It was the ONLY spot on the entire trail that I had cell service and I was able to text John and tell him that we had almost summited our second 14er of the day! NFL games had not yet begun or you know I would have been checking my fantasy stats then too. Can you see the people approaching the summit. There were dozens and dozens of people sharing the trail with us that day.

Some kind person left this sign at the summit so we put it to good use! If you look closely, you can see the geocache cylinder to the right. There was one on top of Grays too but our fingers were too cold to open it!

At the summit of Torreys Peak. Elevation 14, 267 feet. That's Grays Peak covered in snow behind us.
Literally felt like we were on top of the world!

This was the view of Grays from the summit of Torreys Peak. Crazy, huh? If you look closely you can see the trail traversing the left side of the mountain--proof that there were indeed switchbacks. 

By 11am we were headed back to the trailhead! Again, we were soooooooo grateful we'd brought our trax because we saw lots of folks slipping and sliding on the icy trail. I think if we'd waited until October to do this hike we might have talked ourselves out of it or we'd have been in for a much harder hike due to weather and trail conditions. Folks hike it pretty much year round but neither of us are huge risk-takers. We both took it very slowly on the way down, carefully trying to avoid falling and getting hurt. You think about that stuff differently when you're a mom and have folks depending on you daily!
Someday I'm going to do a post of all the cairns I've come across while hiking. I usually take photos of them because I find them so interesting!

We made it back to the trailhead around 1:15pm and hit the road. We stopped for a quick bite in Denver (which we inhaled) before heading home. I dropped Lisa off around 4pm and came home and took a long, hot shower and shared photos and stories over dinner with my family! It was an exhilarating day but my body was so so so so tired--I crashed at 8pm and slept like a baby. 

A friend asked me how I prepared/trained for this hike and I really didn't do anything out of the ordinary. Just lots and lots of hiking--anywhere from 2 to 9 mile hikes with varying degrees of elevation gain. I will say that the Manitou Incline is a fabulous training hike. I've hiked it an average of twice a month for the past year and it is probably the single most effective hike for getting adjusted to huge elevation gain over a short amount of distance. I can honestly say that the Incline feels harder to me than climbing to the top of Grays/Torreys did. 

It feels great to cross this off of my Goals for 2012 list! I'm super proud of us both! We would love to climb Pikes Peak again next year and possibly another 14er or two. I'll keep you posted. Wink!



Brenda said...

Absolutely beautiful! Thanks for sharing those pics because the only way I'd get to see from up there would be from a plane. My left knee can only handle pretty flat ground for walks.
Glad you achieved your goal for 2012.

Jennifer said...

Amazing views - thank you for sharing your pictures & story!

SandyM said...

Mer, I LOVED seeing your pictures & hearing all the details about your tremendous feat! I'm so impressed & I'm thankful that you shared all about it. What a great accomplishment for you & Lisa!

BTW: Isn't it fun having a daughter?! She is so cute & I know it is so much fun that she immediately shared with you all about her special evening.

white azalea said...

The nature is sooo amazing, the sky, the mountain they are sooo powerful and wonderful!