Sunday, June 27, 2010

Conquering my first 14ers

(picture: at the top of Gray's. Elevation: 14,270 feet)
A few blogs back I posted that one of my goals for the summer was to hike 8 of Colorado's fifty-four 14er peaks. The season for hiking these peaks is very short because you have to wait until the snow melts to begin hiking them which usually isn't until June and come September the conditions start to decline again. So you are really looking at about 4 months of which you can actually feasibly hike without running into any crappy conditions. I figured if we hiked 2 a month I could reach my goal of 8 by the end of September. Well today Chad and I crossed two off that list.

After much research I decided that Gray's and Torrey's Peaks were the best for my beginner's 14ers. Chad has climbed one before so he knew what we were in for. Gray's and Torrey's are easily accessible from Denver, you just take I-70 west to the Bakerville exit 221 and take a left. You see a dirt road and just drive until you hit a parking lot (trust me you'll know when you get there). Fortunately I have a jeep which we were able to drive up. We didn't need my 4 wheel drive but the road is dirt, rutted, and pretty harsh on the vehicle so I would highly recommend an SUV unless you want to ruin your sedan. We got to the trail about 7:30am because it's an 8.5 mile hike and you want to be down by afternoon. There are quite a few people camping up there too so the earlier you arrive the better chance you have of getting a parking spot and the less* crowded the trail will be. (*this is a very popular hike, about 20,000 people climb these peaks each summer so unless you are going on a weekday you're going to have company)

As you can see from this photo the beginning of the hike is very nice. Not too rocky, lots of little wildflowers and some nice streams flowing through. You start out at about 11,000 feet in elevation so by the time all is said and done you are looking at a gain of about 3,000. Of course the higher we got up the trail the rockier it gets and the less oxygen you have making small breaks necessary. You definitely want to be in good physical condition to do these hikes and it's important to pace yourself. We brought along peanut butter sandwiches which we ate along the way plus a camelback which I carried as well as three containers of water. We only ended up using one extra water bottle for our dog and the camelback was more than enough. Since you are at such a high elevation you never really get hot or sweat. I wore yoga pants, a sports bra, tank top, thin long sleeved shirt and a light down jacket which I ended up alternating between taking it on and off.

On the way up the rocks were not too much of a problem but on the way down was when they became very slippery and hiking boots would have definitely been nice. We however, hiked in our tennis shoes which worked just fine all the same (as a side note my arches of my feet are now killing me so it's def helpful if you have shoes that are more supportive in the soles of your feet). I also noticed a lot of hikers had either leki poles or ski poles to gain better traction (and a bonus use for your ski poles in the off season!). We did not use any walking sticks of any sorts and fared just fine although we did have to traverse through some snow where they would have come in handy. Also gloves would have been a good idea to pack as it gets well into the 30s as you ascend and the wind picks up a bit. You should NEVER EVER hike with your hands in your pockets because if you slip and fall you won't be able to take your hands out in time to catch yourself from falling.

We reached the top of Gray's at about 10am; 2.5 hours after we started our journey. We were met with these spectacular panoramic views that not even pictures do justice for. We were really lucky the weather was so nice and clear because it's so unpredictable at that altitude. It could have easily been cloud covered and we couldn't have seen this view. Gray's is the highest peak on the Continental Divide in the United States so you feel like you are literally standing on top of Colorado. At the top they have these tubes which have a piece of paper in them for you to sign your name on (I guess to track how many come up) which we did then quickly started our descent. The wind was starting to pick up and really 14,270 feet in the air is no place to spend too much time.

We decided that since Torrey's was right there we simply had to climb it too. Although I felt doubtful about making it when I was half way up Gray's, we just couldn't pass up the opportunity. If you plan on hiking both I highly recommend doing Gray's first. When you ascend Gray's to the saddleback that connects it to Torrey's, it's very steep and rocky. It seems easier to start Torrey's first because you traverse halfway up Gray's over to Torrey's so you aren't gaining that elevation as quickly. However, I assure you from coming down Gray's, it's not something you want to hike up after doing Torrey's.
Now some people that have never hiked a 14er before might think it's "cheating" if you do both in one day and consider yourself having done two. I assure you, look at this photo, does this look easy?

Or this? This picture to the left is actually the view of the saddleback you have to take to get to Gray's and the one above is of the terrain which is rock straight up. It took us an hour to reach the top of Torrey's and I can assure you it was well worth the extra time. You may not think so as you are doing it, but once you do one you probably won't want to save the other for another day. Unless of course weather forces you to hike down.

The elevation of Torrey's is 14,267, three shorter than Gray's although it doesn't feel like it. Torrey's also had some amazing views and by the time we were up there the cloud cover wasn't as bad and neither was the wind so we were able to stay up about 15 minutes as opposed to 5. It's such a shame because you really do just want to spend all day up there...but you know you have that whole climb down so off you go after a few photos.

Traversing through the snow was the worst part of coming off of the peaks. Of course you aren't going to climb back over Gray's so the only way to get down is to go straight across the ridge. The snow was slushy but there was a steep drop off and with tennis shoes on and no walking sticks, well let's just say I ended up with a frozen hand from putting it in the snow to brace myself. Chad was having a blast slipping and sliding but I just focused on the path ahead and most of all, did not look down.

you can see from this second photo I took of the traverse (while hiking down Torrey's) is pretty steep. You have to be prepared for snowpack though because even in summer it's likely you will encounter some. Usually not enough to make your hike unbearable, just enough to give you a good scare.

We finally reached our car at about 1pm which means it took us a total of about 5 hours to hike both 14ers. Not bad for our first time!? I was very impressed with myself and learned I was a lot more in shape than I thought I was. I channeled a lot of what I learned in yoga about returning to the breathe when the trail got tough and sending my breathe to any areas of tightness which were my hamstrings. A few short breaks here and there and I was able to catch my breathe and recover whenever I felt winded and I basically relied on my strong legs and sheer willpower to carry me all the way to the top. There were so many people hiking this trail, all of which were very nice and would encourage you as they were coming down and you were going up. While these 14ers were a challenge and left me feeling completely wiped out after it was all said and done, I had the best time hiking them and felt an enormous sense of accomplishment afterward.

I actually think I might be addicted, I'm already planning our next trip....

1 comment:

  1. This info ROCKS. Thnx for documenting your experience. I'm thinking about summitting Gray and Torrey's for my first 14er with the hubs. Just one question: I noticed your dog accompanies you on many of your summits. I have a boxer that goes hiking with us EVERYWHERE. Would you recommend or advise against taking her on Grays and Torrey's?