Sunday, September 5, 2010

Grays Peak

Grays Peak, at 14,270 feet, is the ninth tallest mountain in Colorado. It is right next to Torreys Peak, at 14,267 feet, another fourteener. However, even though Grays is taller, it pales in comparison to Torreys. While walking up the trail you first see Grays Peak
which has a long, unexciting summit. There are no cliffs or other exciting features that are visible.
Then, as you continue to walk, Torreys Peak comes into view.
It is beautiful: pointed, sheer cliffs, different colors of strata tracing through it, and by comparison to Grays, looks much, much larger. Torreys takes your breath away. In fact, knowing we were climbing two fourteeners, we started to think that the other fourteener must be to the right of Torreys because Grays looked so much smaller. It was not really until we got to the top of Torreys and looked back at Grays that we got an appreciation for how large Grays is (the picture below was taken from the summit of Torreys).
Positioning can really impact the perception of height.
I've blogged previously on Mount Baldy near Los Angeles and made a reference to it being like Disneyland, with so many people climbing it. Well, this hike made Baldy look like a wilderness outpost.
As we drove in late, we didn't get started from the trailhead until about 8:10 a.m., we parked way down the road below the parking lot, which is about 3 miles up a rough dirt road from the I-70 freeway. As we started to walk, we were incredulous that the road continued on and on, for what literally seemed like a mile, before we hit the parking lot. Andrew estimated that there must have been 800 hikers and I wouldn't be surprised if there were more. In the photo below, looking up at the Grays massif, I can count 93 hikers,
just in one photo! Later in the day, as a storm was coming in, we hoofed it down the mountain and Sam counted something like 56 people that we passed along the way! I think Colorado needs to start putting a quota on some of the hikes, like this one, because the number of people really detracts from the experience. For anyone else doing this hike, I would say, do it on a weekday and not on the weekend (a Saturday) like we did. The trail is pretty reasonable most of the way (below, starting to switchback up the first ridge).
A view down from Torreys shows a large section of the trail.
As you climb highter, the switchbacks are long and not too steep
and, aside from some rock steps that require larger leg-lifts than what would be ideal, is pretty easy to keep a good steady pace (the switchbacks look like Zorro's Z across the face of the massif),
except to the extent that the massive crowds require you to wait, or rush around them. Grays would be an ideal first fourteener. There is very little or no exposure. Nothing really to install a fear of heights or the feeling that a fall would cause serious injury, other than perhaps from the very summit, in places. Looking east from the summit of Grays.
Looking down, from the summit, at the valley we hiked up to get to Grays. The trailhead is on the other side of the mountain to the left.
A group on the summit.
Sam and Andrew on the summit. Torreys in the background.
On the summit we encountered a group of teenagers celebrating a classmate going back to Sweden after living three years in Colorado. They were cooking and eating fondue on the summit.
I couldn't resist a picture, it looked so fun. Sam told me they also had beer and were quite drunk, which I did not notice. I was feeling some altitude issues at the summit. We had climbed Democrat, Cameron and Lincoln the day before, and it caught up with me a little bit. I did not have a headache, and was not really feeling nauseous, although I was not hungry, but I had no energy. Shortly before reaching the summit, I had a short period where I felt like a ton of bricks, just all dead weight with no pick-up. However, I must have had some acclimitization help from my previous hikes because I had much less fluid in my longs than I'd had two weeks before, climbing Mount Nebo, which was over 2,000 feet lower. On our way out, we had some hail and rain, for about the last hour. Andrew also discovered that Colorado is great for mushrooms and in a short period of time was quite excited about the varieties he was able to find.

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