Torrey's Peak, CO- Elevation 14,267- 08/07/03
See this story on the Bootsnall website. Torreys Peak Story
My cousin Steve from Florida came out to Colorado in August 2003 to be my best man. Two days before the wedding we had nothing to do but get in trouble so we planned to hike a couple 14ers, Grays and Torreys Peak. 14ers are mountains in Colorado that rise above 14,000 feet; there are 54 in this state. These two are only about an hour drive from Denver with an easy foot trail to the top.
Steve and I grew up together so we've seen some adventurous times, and have been in some tough situations; today would be no different. On the way up the 4 wheel drive road to the trailhead my old Jeep Cherokee overheated and blew a hose. With the help of a pocketknife, some duck tape, and a spare jug of water we made it to the trailhead by 10 am. The hike started at the Stevens Gulch trailhead on the Grays Peak trail. The route was about 8 miles roundtrip, with over 3000 feet elevation gain. This trail is rated easy class 1 to the summit of Grays Peak at 14,270 feet. Then you have the option of crossing a slightly more difficult class 2 saddle with only another 600 feet elevation gain and loss to reach the summit of Torreys Peak 14,267, which stands less than a mile away.
After about an hour on the trail, we came to a junction where you could detour from the Grays Peak trail and climb directly up the Kelso Ridge to Torreys Peak. Steve wanted more of a challenge so we decided to take the Kelso Ridge class 3 route to Torreys. Getting up this ridge was a climb not a hike, but it started out easy enough as an intermittent trail mixed with some mild climbing. Then we reached a section of towers that you had to navigate around one side or the other. Once you choose a side it is difficult to turn back without losing hard earned elevation. Not knowing any better we picked the more difficult side. Eventually we reached a point where there was no other direction to go except straight up. Steve volunteered to go first. I watched as he climbed up this near vertical gully section kicking rocks down on me in the process. After wiping the dust off my face I followed. In hindsight that section was probably class 4 or higher and would have been much safer with a rope.
The climbing continued to go smoothly until we got to the knife edge. This is v-shaped section of rock that is exposed on both sides. If you fall off either side there is nothing to stop your fall for several hundred feet. While I was contemplating this new problem Steve said, “well I’m going”. I fearfully watched as he maneuvered along the side of the knife edge using cracks in the rock as handholds and footholds. I wasn’t about to try that because one slip and you’re a goner. I opted for the less audacious and much safer scoot method. This involved cradling the top of the knife edge with one leg over each side. I scooted along until I reached the end where I climbed up a small rock tower to safety. Whew, that was a heart pounding experience! I would later have flashes of dizziness thinking about the exposure on that edge. It was the most difficult section, or the crux of the route. From this point on it was a fairly easy climb to the summit where we ate lunch, relaxed, and took some pictures.
After resting for a bit we debated whether or not to attempt Grays. It had taken us about 4 hours to gain 2000 feet in elevation gain on Kelso Ridge. By this time in the afternoon there were some thunderheads building up toward the north, but they were at least 50 miles away. Grays Peak was just over yonder, and only another 600 feet elevation gain on an easy trail that we could walk rather than climb. How hard could that be? We confidently cruised down the connecting saddle to start our hike up Grays. When we started hiking back up we were suddenly very winded. It seemed almost easier climbing at this altitude than hiking. We had to stop every 10 feet to catch our breath. Soon we noticed some clouds getting closer, but these were harmless looking white clouds coming from the south, not the dark thunderheads to the north. There was some far off thunder in the north, but no lightning that we could see. I thought if the wind was coming from the south then those threatening dark clouds up north would not come our way. Suddenly I felt some white pellets thumping down on my sun hat, Steve said “is that snow”? After a few more thuds I verified that it was. Snow in the first week of August, imagine that. No matter, it wasn’t cold enough for this light snow to stick.
The dampness seemed to bring out some sort of bugs. There was a strange noise like when you shake up a beer can and barely crack open the top so the pressure of air escaping makes a fizzing sound. I thought this was strange and wondered what kind of bugs would make a sound like that. My thoughts turned inward. We were near the top now. No reason to turn back, being so close to our second 14er summit. Then Steve said, “do you feel that”? Feel what I asked. He said, “in your feet, it feels like electricity”. He was about 30 feet ahead of me, and less than 200 feet from the summit of Grays. I took a few more steps and felt the same charge he mentioned. It was as if the ground was charged with electricity, and it was coming up from the ground into our bodies through the rubber soles of our shoes. I immediately stopped and leaned against a boulder, which zapped me just like when you touch a doorknob in the wintertime. That zap was like a warning from God because it jolted me out of my grogginess and into the awareness that we were in the mist of a static electricity storm! The fizzing sound wasn’t bugs at all, it was electricity! I had read that people die every year on Colorado 14ers, many from lightning strikes, but for some reason I didn’t think we were in danger, until now. I knew my bride-to-be, and Steve’s fiancé would not be happy to find out we got barbequed at 14,000 feet. The last thing you want in these conditions is to be the tallest object on the mountain. I said forget the summit; let’s get out of here, now!
We descended quickly, touching rocks along the way to release the buildup of static electricity in our bodies. Fortunately going down is a lot easier than going up. For some reason you don’t get out of breath as easily, but it is killer on the knees. Once we got down to about 13,500 feet we noticed the fizzing sound had stopped, and the static buildup in our bodies was gone. We were relieved, but still felt the urgency to get back to the jeep ASAP, and did so in less than 2 hours. We stopped to rest only when we got back down to the valley where we saw a friendly mountain goat and some shy marmots. It rained lightly on the trail through the valley with an occasional flash of lightning. About halfway down the mountain we saw a couple more hikers heading up to Grays. We told them about what happened to us, but they decided to go ahead and try to summit anyway. They had yet to figure out what we already learned that day. The mountain will be there tomorrow; if you are in danger turn around and live to hike another day.
Since that insane day I’ve gotten married, and Steve has married too. I’ve also returned to Grays Peak to reach the summit on a much calmer day in June 2004. It’s crazy to think of the circumstances on that day and how things could have turned out so much different. I’m just thankful they didn’t.
Here is Steve about a mile into the hike, he says that isn't so far pointing straight towards Kelso mountain a 13er that was directly in front of him but out of the picture. I wasn't exactly sure myself but I said I think we're going to the one behind you, which is Grays peak in the background (we couldn't see Torreys yet). He said "Oh that one"!
After we made it around that corner you see in the first picture there was a crossroads where you could leave the easy Grays peak trail and jump onto the lowest part of the saddle between Kelso mountain and Torreys peak, called the Kelso Ridge. Here is Steve when we were first starting to climb this, the Torreys summit is on the top left of the picture.
Here I am soon after, looking tougher than I feel about this climb.
Steve is doing some serious class III climbing here, I believe at one point we even did some class IV where we were climbing straight up and should have had ropes. It's possible we could have found a better route on the other side of the ridge but we didn't know better.
Here Steve climbs around the second very difficult part of this route the "knife-edge". Its hard to see from this picture but it is 30 feet of jagged rock with a very steep cliff like edge on both sides. Steve opted to somehow climb around the side of it which I wasn't about to do. I preferred to get on top and sit with one leg on each side of the knife edge and scoot across it. Neither method was very pleasant but once we got past this part it was much easier.
After that insanity we take a break, I say you alright cuz, Steve says "yeah I'm cool, you got any oxygen?"
Here Steve is scrambling up towards the summit.
Also near the summit I'm climbing up a steep but easy section.
One more look at the Kelso ridge seen from the summit of Torrey's peak. I still can't believe we made it up this insane climb with no ropes. On the right you see the nice class 1 trail that we were going to take up to Grays.
Once at the top I took some time to mediate and thank god for letting us make it up safe.
On the connecting ridge between Torreys and Grays Steve stops to admire the snow which he doesn't see to often in South Florida.
On our quick descent we meet up with this friendly mountain goat.