Fifty-four peaks. More than 140 routes. And hundreds of thousands of feet in elevation. With all of this lofty real estate in our backyard, it’s no surprise that clawing our way up the sides of 14,000-foot mountains has become a rite of passage for Colorado residents. But how does a rookie peak bagger choose which summit to reach for? We present the ultimate beginner’s guide to climbing Colorado’s famous fourteeners.
GRAYS + TORREYS PEAKS
TRAILHEAD ELEVATION 11,280 feet (Grays Trail standard route)
SUMMIT ELEVATION Grays, 14,270 feet; Torreys, 14,267 feet
HIKING DISTANCE 8.25 miles round-trip
TIME 4 hours up; 2 hours down
DRIVE TIME FROM DENVER 1 hour and 15 minutes
Half The Battle
Coloradans have a bad habit of being a little too flip about climbing fourteeners—I mean, c’mon, these are huge mountains!—and that’s especially true with Grays and Torreys peaks. The mountains, which are a short drive from Denver, are wildly popular beginner fourteeners because their respective terrains are moderate and hikers can do both in a single day-trip. So…I try to be dismissive of the excursion as well. I know I will still have to schlep up two summits, but, as my friends remind me, the mountains are connected by a saddle, making it comparatively easy to hike up one and cross over to the other.
At least, that’s the refrain I repeat to myself as we drive west on I-70 to begin our early morning climb. It’s still chilly at 8 a.m. on a late-summer day when we layer up in Under Armour and sweatpants and strike out on Grays Trail, a dirt path that dissolves into gravel before larger rocks and boulders appear as we climb higher. Unlike many fourteeners, the treeless peaks of Grays and Torreys are visible from the outset. But as we ascend, the mountains don’t appear to be getting any closer. They are, I decide, mocking me. But I am undeterred. We continue upward, the sun warming our backs on the wide-open trail. We curve left, then right, and back again as the grass-lined route undulates through the postcard-worthy valley. At the trail junction about two miles in—where hikers can choose to tackle Grays first or Torreys—we stop to rest, snack, hydrate, and de-layer. The summits still look painfully far away, but I am feeling good—enjoying myself even. Most of our fellow peak baggers—we are joined by a few hundred other hikers, though the trail never feels too crowded—head left toward Grays, so we venture right, putting Torreys squarely in our sights. Using rocks as stepping stones, we follow cairns to the saddle, which lies about 500 feet from the summit of Torreys. It is here, after spotting a family of mountain goats precariously balanced just off the path, that I notice a distinct change. The mountaintop looms large, but I’m losing my drive. I’ve consumed more than a liter of water, yet I notice a light throbbing in my head. I suddenly feel a little weak, sluggish. I know immediately I’m suffering mild altitude sickness.
The symptoms aren’t subsiding after a five-minute break, but they’re not bad enough to force me to stop. Not when I’m so close. Slowly, we trudge the final feet and reach the summit. We are greeted by a few dozen others, beers in hand, who arrived there before us; many of them have already ascended Grays. I look south toward the sister peak. It doesn’t appear that far away—but my body simply won’t let me do it. Instead, I descend and watch one of my companions skirt the saddle to crack a beer of his own at 14,270 feet. In my case, the Rocky Mountains won half of the battle, but as much as I wish I had been able to summit Grays, I am proud to say I conquered Torreys. —Daliah Singer
A FULL ITINERARY If you live in Denver, camping nearby the night before isn’t necessary to hike Grays and Torreys. But if you want to make the fourteeners part of a weekend excursion, plan a hike to nearby Chihuahua Lake, outside of Keystone, which you can see from both summits. You’ll want a four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach the trailhead.
FEEL THE BURN Up the adventure quotient on your fourteener quest by approaching Torreys Peak via the more technical Kelso Ridge. You’ll follow Grays Trail until, at around 12,300 feet, instead of curving left you’ll turn right toward some old mining buildings. The exposed ridge is a Class 3 scramble over hunks of granite. Some people choose to bring a rope and harness, though it’s not required. Instead of the difficult descent, follow the traditional trail to conquer Grays or head all the way down.
GETTING THERE Take I-70 west to the Bakerville exit (221). Turn south onto Stevens Gulch Road/CR 321 and continue for about four miles—you’ll see signs for the Grays Peak trailhead—until you reach a parking area.