This week's climb/hike was a small group affair with the team meeting at the USAF Academy North Gate Parking Lot and departing at 0430 for part north and west. There were four in the official party and we piled into one SUV for the drive to I-70s Exit 221. Within a quarter mile of turning off onto the dirt road, we were in almost bumper-to-bumper traffic. The dirt road leading to the trailhead was in good condition, though--as good as I've seen in four trips there--except for one stretch that was so badly rutted out that the minivan in front of us came very close to getting stuck. That would've been a disaster for many, as it was at the narrowest part of the road, too. I think that by popular demand we would've all just gotten out of our cars and pushed it over the side if, in fact, it had stalled.
As it was, we arrived at the trailhead parking lot at 0630 and pulled into on of the three or four remaining real parking spots. We were worried about the weather early on the drive because of what appeared to be a dense layer of cloud, but as twilight was breaking and we put on our backpacks, the clouds began to break into just mid-level wavies and puffies and we could see gaps to blue sky. The team assembled and we started up the trail at about the same time as at least 20 others in several groups--oh the solitude of nature. We were hiking by 0637.
Conditions were perfect and the trail is in very good shape all along the first mile-and-a-half through the main valley. We made very good time and passed several groups and were likewise passed by a couple of runners and fast hikers going solo. The views of Torreys and Grays were spectacular in the early morning light, as was the Kelso Ridge line. A couple of us had thought about doing the Class 3 Kelso Ridge, but since only four of us were hiking together and two were relative newbies, we decided to go with the traditional route.
At the left turn up towards Grays, the trail gets significantly steeper, but trail work and lots of large flat rock stairs keep the footing just fine. The trail seems to be better marked by cairns and traffic and there now seems to be much less switchback cutting and social trail slots through the rocks that what I've seen in the past--as well as less possibility for confusion that would lead to that sort of thing. Still, one in our group made a bad turn on a switchback and found himself in some steeper and slower going at about the 13,800' point.
There's not much more to say about the trail up Grays besides it being nearly impossible to get lost given the heavy early morning traffic ahead of us and the well-worn path. We could already see people heading directly to Torr eys, too, as well as a few on that summit.
The first two in our group summitted in just under two hours at 0830 and the other two came in within the next 15 minutes. We were rewarded at the summit by three mountain goats that were sporting their new coats for the winter with just a few remaining “dreds” left hanging from last year’s fashion. They casually meandered off to avoid the crowds and to graze further down the mountain.
Several groups arrived within a short time and we took pictures, drank an early summit soda and chatted. The temps were a bit chilly with a moderate breeze when we first arrived, but steadily improved. We stayed on the summit for nearly an hour before departing for Torreys.
The down and up to Torreys went fine and we crossed paths with more groups along the way. We arrived at the summit and met some of our friends from Grays as well as a group that had just come up via Kelso Ridge. We didn’t stay as long there, but got some snacks and enjoyed the warming weather.
During the descent, clouds built steadily. We encountered the usual stream of late starters, some more prepared than others, but as the rain drops began to fall and the low roll of thunder echoed in the valley, more were starting their hike. Our return trip was pretty scattered. One in our group who is training for a marathon jogged down once things leveled out, I took a few pictures along the way, and the other two in the group ambled down at a slower pace. We arrived in the parking lot spread between 1200 and 1240 and by the time we left there was a steady rain shower. The parking lot was also full and the road leading to the trailhead was lined on the West side with cars for what must’ve been a half mile. More passenger cars were parked below the rutted/bad area of the road, having decided to walk the last section of the road instead of bottoming out or getting stuck. All in all, a great day for a hike with excellent conditions and company. We were back to Colorado Springs by about 1445 and still had time to catch most of the Rockies game!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. 14ers.com and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless 14ers.com and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the 14ers.com Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.