Our trip to Colorado had one goal, climb some 14ers. We opted for the highest, Mount Elbert, followed by a route where we could snag two at once. This being my first trip to Colorado, it was important to stay safe, but also see as much as possible during a long weekend. Grays Peak and Torreys Peak proved to be a perfect choice because of their relatively easy terrain, but also the overall amazing experience we walked away with.
After summiting Mount Elbert out near Leadville, we made our way back towards the city stopping in Georgetown because of its close proximity to Grays Peak. Check out my recent post on Georgetown and why it’s the cutest mountain town to stay in if you’re looking to climb some mountains.
Getting To Grays Peak
If you are staying in Georgetown or any of the other small towns in the area, getting to Grays Peak is fairly simple. You’ll get off on exit 221 from Interstate 70. From the highway, it’s only a short distance to Steven’s Gulch Road which is a dirt road that will lead you straight up to the trailhead. I recommend a higher clearance vehicle because the road is quite rough even when it’s dry. It’s approximately 3 miles of rugged terrain until you reach the trailhead parking lot. In the summer or weekends this lot will most likely fill up quickly, so arrive well before sunrise to grab a spot otherwise you might have to add a few miles to your hike from parking further down the mountain.
When To Visit Grays Peak
Since this was my first time in Colorado, I may be a bit biased, but autumn would be my recommendation on when to climb these two peaks. While the summer would offer near perfect weather for a morning or early afternoon summit, the fall has a handful of other perks. The vibrant colors that lace such dramatic backgrounds are reason enough to spend time in and around the Rocky Mountains during the fall, specifically September.
Starting The Climb To Grays Peak
Beginning your hike well before sunrise is a good idea so that you can reach the summit before any weather moves in, but also so you can beat the crowds. Bring along a headlamp to illuminate the trail in front of you and also plenty of water to stay hydrated in the dry, high altitude environment. The roundtrip mileage is about 7.7 miles from the trailhead up to Grays Peak (14,278′) across the saddle to Torreys Peak (14,275′) and back to the trailhead with a total elevation gain of approximately 3,500′.
The first few miles are on relatively flat and smooth terrain as you hike in a valley surrounded by mountains. You can actually see both peaks after the first couple of miles in the distance. As the incline starts to increase, the terrain will become much rockier. Keep your footing by taking it slow and don’t forget to take breaks to enjoy the view!
Approaching The Summit
The photo above shows that trail pretty well. You can see that it zigzags up the mountain. Nearing the summit you will be surrounded by rocks and you may lose the path occasionally. Keep your eyes peeled for stacked rocks that previous hikers have strategically placed to guide you up and down the mountain. This became very important to us on our way down.
The summit wasn’t as exciting as Mount Elbert for us. There weren’t as many people at the top enjoying the view and it was wicked cold at that point with the winds whipping over the mountain. We caught one quick glimpse of the mountain ranges beyond Grays Peak just before the clouds moved in (photo above). We tried to boil some water for hot drinks and food, but the wind was preventing us from lighting the JetBoil so we decided to pack up quickly to continue on.
A Wise Decision
As we descended along the saddle from Grays Peak to Torreys Peak, the wind picked up even more and the clouds became even thicker and lower. Sliding down the rocky slope we were able to see Torreys Peak wasn’t very far, only about a half mile. On a normal morning with no weather, this would have been easy since we all felt strong and had plenty of water left. However, as we approached the lowest part of the saddle the wind gusts picked up enough to nearly knock us off our feet. We decided at that moment that with our inexperience of this mountain and the area that we would forgo what should have been our second 14er for the day.
As we carried on down the mountain it started to snow, which coming from Florida was a nice surprise! After a few moments, the snow picked up to what I would have considered a step below a blizzard with claps of thunder just above our heads. We began to run down the mountain trying to get out of the cloud that was covering us in snow. As we hustled, we passed some people still trying to make the summit in the unfavorable conditions. We advised that even if they were to make it to the top, there is nothing to see as the peak is covered in a cloud.
Reaching a lower elevation and coming out of the cloud we were treated to the most amazing views of snow-capped mountains surrounded by bright yellows and oranges. The return trip felt like it took no time compared to the way up. Our total roundtrip time was about 6 hours which included plenty of stops to rest as well as the time we spent at the summit.
Like any mountain, always be prepared with the appropriate gear and be willing to alter plans at any moment to coincide with changes in the weather or any other factors. It stings a little that we weren’t able to bag Torrey’s Peak, but I always say that when you miss out on something, it’s just a reason to come back!