After a successful season of hiking on the Canadian side of the Rocky Mountains including over 50 ascents I saw the first signs of winter approaching and instead of running for cover I did what any fair-weather hiker would do. I booked the next flight south! Conveniently enough for me, my hiking partner had recently relocated to Denver and was generally game for my antics. I set my sights high, really high, I wanted to hike six 14,000-foot mountains in the span of two days.
Our first day was relatively uneventful; we fought our first bought of elevation sickness and conquered four summits above 14,000 feet. It was our second day that turned out to be a little bit more interesting. After researching routes and reaching out on social media for some beta on the area I set my sights on Kelso Ridge – a spicy ascent route leading to a traverse between two summits. Unfortunately, I must have brought some of the winter weather I was avoiding down with me and we deemed the crux to be unsafe. We kept the mountains but swapped out the route to stay on the side of caution. Just shy of an hour from the City of Denver we turned off the highway and made our way up Steven’s Gulch Road to the trailhead – you will want a high clearance vehicle and maybe a hiking partner to help navigate the potholes for this portion of the road or risk adding an extra hour so to your day to account for the walk up the road.
The trailhead is located at the end of the road and opens to a large meadow with an obvious trail. The weather was not ideal but the parking lot was still mostly full, I assume that you would want to get there early if heading out on a nice summer day. We layered up and made our way up the trail with our sights on Grays Peak – sitting at 14,270’ the ascent was relatively uneventful, a few more breaks than normal to account for the thinning air we summited and I immediately regretted wearing shorts. The wind was cold so our stop was brief, we took a few photos, maybe a swig of whiskey and peered over the front ridge to Mt. Evans (whose road had conveniently closed the week before I came down this time and had opened the week after I was hiking in Denver in the spring).
The ridge between Grays and Torreys Peak was short and the wind was relentless. We bumped into a few men from Austria on their way down who informed us that we would have the summit to ourselves! That was just the push we needed to make it the rest of the way up and we soon soaked in our sixth summit of the weekend! Torreys Peak provided us a little reprise from the wind and endless views of the continental divide.
The quickest and safest way down was along the ridge to the saddle between Torreys and Grays and follow a snow covered trail down to the meadow. Passing by the turnoff to Kelso Ridge I could not help but detour over and see what we missed out on. Unfortunately, I have a habit of pulling my hiking partner into a little more than he signed up for. Step after step after step we found ourselves making the journey up Kelso Peak, a 13,000-ffot summit adjacent to Torreys Peak. Perhaps our most fun ascent of the trip Kelso included sections of hands on scrambling and manoeuvring several rock bands. False summit after false summit we made our way up, the only sign of life up there was a lonely mountain goat that cautiously watched us from afar. We summited Kelso as the wind finally died down and the sun peaked out from behind the clouds. Our seventh summit of the weekend I think we finally acclimatized and were able to enjoy our time up top. My plan to play above the clouds was a success and the following morning I boarded my flight back to Calgary just in time for a Chinook to roll in and prolong my hiking season a few more weeks.