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Colorado: A winter hike up Grays and Torreys

Fresh tracks on a pair of local 14ers

View west from the summit of Torreys, looking over Dillon Reservoir and Summit County.

Story and photos by Kim Fenske

Winter is a wonderful season for climbing Fourteeners. White snowfields create a dramatic contrast against the dark rock of windblown ridges. In the willows, white hares and ptarmigan hide.  Among the boulders, pikas chirp warnings across the mountain slopes. The calm air creates deceptive warmth under the brilliant sunlight in a crystal blue sky. On the ridges, the temperature plunges below zero under the impact of a snow-blasting breeze.

During the summer, the trailhead to Grays Peak and Torreys Peak can be reached by a low-clearance vehicle, three miles above the Bakerville exit. South of the freeway, a few miles east of the Continental Divide, the Forest Service road is a three-mile drive to 11,300 feet. The summit of Grays is less than four miles away at 14,270 feet, about a three hour hike on well-maintained trail.

Kim Fenske at the summit of Torreys Peak.

In winter, the hike to the summits of Grays and Torreys is a good work-out. From the parking area at Bakerville, the round-trip to reach both summits is more than fourteen miles, about eleven hours, through untracked snow and across several avalanche chutes on the north face of Grays Peak. The vertical ascent is 4,400 feet, which makes this hike about as strenuous as the climb to any intermediate Fourteener.

After the 1.5-hour hike on the road up to the trailhead and past mining ruins in Stevens Gulch.  From the trailhead, Grays Peak Trail crosses Stevens Creek and continues south through willow thickets at the base of Kelso Mountain, 13,164 feet. After a gradual ascent for a mile and a half to 12,140 feet, a trail sign explains the remaining route to the summit of both peaks. A second crossing of Stevens Creek is the beginning of a steeper ascent through boulders and patches of tundra turf up switchbacks on the eastern slope of Grays Peak.

Grays from Torreys Peak.

The mild above-freezing warmth of Stevens Gulch is replaced by sub-zero winds at the summit, creating a change in clothing strategy. From Grays, the summits of Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans are clearly visible southeast of the rounded ridge.

The trail to Torreys Peak descends along a wide saddle, passing a broad cornice of snow clinging to the eastern bowl that must be traversed for the easiest descent. The pointed summit of Torreys is a hike of about an hour from the summit of Grays. Dillon Reservoir and Gore Range can be seen west of Torreys, along with Loveland Pass above Arapahoe Basin.

As the setting sun leaves dark shadows across Stevens Gulch, a seven-mile descent remains.  Heading down to the saddle and climbing a couple hundred feet toward Grays summit, the trail crosses snowfields and drops down to Stevens Creek to meet the road back to Bakersville.

Torreys Peak among the clouds.

Torreys from Grays.

Grays Peak.

Kim Fenske is a former wilderness ranger, firefighter who has hiked thousands of miles in the Colorado mountains. He has served on the board of directors of Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.

Fenske has authored several hiking books filled with hundreds of photographs of Colorado wildlife, wildflowers, and scenery. His books are enjoyed by thousands of outdoor enthusiasts. His current electronic book titles are published on Amazon for Kindle, as well as Barnes and Noble for Nook. Search for these titles: “Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado,” “Holy Cross Wilderness Area,” and “Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.”

More stories by Kim Fenske:

A few summer scenes from Grays and Torreys.

Pika harvesting tundra plants at the base of Grays Peak.

Mountain goat perched in the boulders of Grays Peak.

Nanny and kid on Grays Peak.

 

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One Response

  1. Goodness, I guess I could fit into being the Pika, definitely not a mountain Goat or even a climber! At my age, I have trouble just walking down the stairs, so I have to be satisfied with looking at the great pics here, as I sit in wistfulness of yesterday. Ah, to be young again with the sure-footedness & good eyesight.

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