Grays Peak (14278′) is the 10th highest peak in the Rocky Mountains and along with neighboring Torreys Peak (14274′), is a very popular destination. RC and I were fresh from the Never Summer Wilderness trip with 3+ days of altitude-acclimation and figured that was a pretty good warm-up for climbing a 14er or two. RC has climbed many 14ers but not Grays nor Torreys. I tried Huron 6? years ago and failed, but learned some stuff.
The peaks, trail heads, and routes are well-documented in Gerry Roach’s Colorado’s Fourteeners. Most people use the easy class 1 route from Stevens Gulch but we decided to use the class 2&3 route from Horseshoe Basin for more challenge and to avoid the hordes on the trail.
The drive to the Horseshoe Basin area took me through Dillon, Silverthorne, Frisco, Keystone, and the fringe of Breckenridge (not the shortest route) so I saw many new places. We saw a bunch of Big Horn Sheep along I-70. They were smaller than I imagined.
The climb from Horseshoe Basin begins with a long walk on a mining road where the rocks are just the right size to twist your ankles. Once off the the road you climb across a rocky slope to Grays Lake and then up and up the long and steep grassy slope. Once beyond the grass, the trail gets even steeper and kinda turns into braided drainage ditches and goat paths. This part required some scrambling but it was pretty obvious which way to go (up!). There is a bit of a shoulder to the left (southwest) of the peak (about 13900′) and the objective is to get up that, then follow the ridge to the peak.
Even before we arrived atop the shoulder the wind gusts were strong enough to make it difficult to remain vertical and it didn’t get any better. From the shoulder we couldn’t see any obvious path to the peak – it looked like it would be more scrambling all the way. Of course, we would also want to get back. We had climbed about 2800′ and there, about 350′ short of the summit, we decided the most prudent course was to turn around. It was still a pretty great hike and I got those top-of-the-world views so I would have been okay with simply ending the trip and heading home but we decided to extend one day and try again on the easy and popular route from Stevens Gulch.
The road up Stevens Gulch to the trail head is pretty bad. It’s often called a 4WD road but I don’t think 4WD is actually of any importance. Ground clearance, however, is a must. My car has about 8″ and that was sufficient to clear the numerous rocks. On the way out you’ll probably have to ride the brakes all the way to avoid gaining too much speed. It’s not a trip I’d want to make very often.
We got the last spot in the Stevens Gulch parking lot at 6AM. A lot of people were already heading up, and we got passed by many others, but we were not the last when we summited Grays at 10:30. My first 14er! I looked down at the shoulder we were on the day before and it didn’t look as daunting from above. Oh well, we did the right thing. The trail from Stevens Gulch is very clear – trod by hundreds of people every day – and this truly was a walk-up. There was still a lot of shortness-of-breath to contend with but it was clearly not as challenging as the Horseshoe Basin route.
We snacked, rested and enjoyed the views while deciding whether to attempt Torreys Peak as well. It would mean descending about 560 feet to the saddle between the peaks, then climbing about that same amount on the other side. The weather still looked good and we had already come so far so we decided to give it a go.
We summited Torreys at about 1:00 PM. More snacks, rest, and view-enjoying followed. The hike down seemed waay longer than the hike up. Some goats were grazing very close to the trail so we had to stop until they decided to move on. I think their hooked and pointy horns could cause some serious damage to a person.
It was a successful trip, even if things didn’t go exactly as we wanted. I saw more big wildlife than all other trips combined, and saw some new areas of Colorado. It was fortunate we were able to add an extra day for the 2nd attempt on Grays.