With our time in Colorado fast coming to an end, Glenna and I decided we better get out and explore the state before leaving. We had so far put off any foray into the mountains because of the heavy amounts of snow the late Spring had brought. With an extended weekend for Memorial Day, we figured it would be a great time to try our luck at a 14,000 ft mountain. Driving out late after work on Friday, we parked the car at the trailhead for Quandary Peak, just south of Breckenridge.
It was a cold night in the car, but we got a few hours of sleep before hitting the trail at 4:30 AM. I say trail, but really we were following deep footprints in the snow. The official dirt trail was buried, in most places, under several feet of snow. Since others had taken the route in the previous days, the snow was very well packed down, even iced over in areas. We attached micro-spikes to our shoes, which gave us really great traction. As we emerged above tree line the sun’s first rays began to shine through the mountains across the valley from us. The clouds turned a vibrant pink color, as did the snowy tops of the mountains. This is called alpenglow and it is absolutely gorgeous. It really made the 4AM wake up call worth it!
The going was tough in the snow, but we didn’t have any real issues until 2-3 miles in when we crested a ridge. We could see the summit from here, maybe 800 vertical feet above us, but the conditions worsened. With no goggles, or masks, we were simply not prepared for the freezing, gusting wind.
We debated going further, but decided against it. It was my first failed attempt. On the way down, we ran across a bunch of people. Looking back up, the conditions seemed to much improve. Just our luck!
For the rest of the weekend, we avoided the mountains as best as we could, taking in some neat festivals in Salida and Colorado Springs. The following weekend, while Glenna was headed down to Arizona, I decided to give it another shot. The weather had been warm and I had closely monitored the condition reports on 14ers.com. I also knew now more of what to expect in the spring.
I repeated the process, driving up to Guanella Pass on Friday night and camping in a spot alongside the road. At 4AM, I packed up and drove another 10 minutes to the trailhead of Mt. Bierstadt. With my headlamp lighting the way, I again followed tracks through the snow, only breaking through a few times in the early goings while I was in among some smaller willows. I crossed a small stream via a nice snow bridge that looked as if it may finally break any day now. Along the route, I met a nice guy who I conversed with much of the way up. With the right gear this time, I was able to summit the 14,060 peak with no problems.
It was an incredible view.
I was also again very glad for the early wake up as I avoided most of the post-holing on the way down. A lot of people were just starting as I neared the parking lot and they were breaking through every other step. No thanks!
Glenna still had to get on top a 14er so the very next weekend, our last in Colorado, we headed down I-70 and camped at the bottom of Forest Road 189. Another early start found us hiking the 2 miles up the road to the summer trailhead of Grays and Torreys Peaks.
Grays & Torreys Peaks
The trail began at 11,000 feet, though there was considerably less snow then I had faced even a week ago on Bierstadt. We didn’t need any traction devices for much of the beginning as we ascended a small grassy hill and began up the gulch. The route followed a ridge for much of the way, leading to a saddle between the two peaks.
The trail split, left led up to Grays peak while right took you up Torreys. We chose to go left first, and hammered out the last bit of elevation gain up to Grays at 14,270 ft. Celebrating, we had the summit nearly to ourselves.
Then it was down the slope to the saddle and back up the other side to the summit of Torreys, slightly lower at 14,267.
After some time, we made the long haul back to the trailhead. To spare the monotony of walking another two miles down the road, we caught a ride back to the car. There, we cooked brats over the fire at our campsite and spent the night reveling in our success. After all, it’s not every day you climb two 14,000 ft mountains!