Crestone Peak - 14,294ft
Helping Chris Gray(ChrisFol) Make the Summit
I first heard of Chris’s passing when I received a phone call from his wife, Taylor. Taylor and I had grown up in a community theater program when we were in middle school. Our paths separated during our college years, and I would never have guessed that our lives would have collided in such a way.
She had called me to tell me that it was her husband, Chris, who had fallen and passed away on Crestone Peak two days earlier. She eagerly wanted to get on 14ers.com to notify the community of his passing and wanted desperately get a hold of the person who was with Chris to make sure that he was ok. Her strength and general sense of calm will never be matched. She was certain that her husband died doing something that he loved, and there was no better way to go. She did get a hold of Paul, Chris’ hiking partner, and was able to touch base with him on several occasions.
A day later I had emailed her and asked her if she would like a small memorial made in the spot where he fell on the North Buttress of Crestone Peak. Another day went by and she came back with the idea of placing his ashes on the summit. There was no way that I could even think of declining such an honorable request. She also expressed her desire to come with me and to bring Chris’ ashes to the base of the Crestone and to the campsite where he spent his last night.
I attended his funeral on Mt. Evans, met his climbing partner on that day, and a few other climbers that had met Chris during his life’s journey. Everyone spoke highly of him. I had spoken with Chris many times through 14ers.com and trips never panned out. I remember one time when I came on the forum looking for a cheap R1 Hoody. I simply couldn’t afford full price. Weeks went by and suddenly I got an email from Chris with a direct link to a R1 for $64.50. I bought that thing immediately and sent him a message with full gratitude. Chris was that kind of guy.
What hit me was Taylor chose John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” to be sung at his funeral. This song has never clicked with me, but it hit me hard hearing and listening to every lyric and how it relates to Chris. Listen to it, and think of a young British boy who impulsively moves to CO, falls in love with the mountains and makes it his life’s goal to tackle these peaks. It’s uncanny, and this song will always stick with me. Taylor told me the story of how she first took Chris camping. He woke up surrounded by the majesty of the Colorado wilderness, grinning from ear to ear. He was a changed man. He was a better man.
(For best results - hit play below and continue reading. It's simply magical)
Our trip was scheduled for Sep 21st/22nd. We were to hike in South Colony Lakes on Friday afternoon, and a friend and I were to take his ashes to the summit on Saturday morning. I went over to Taylor’s house a few days earlier to help her pack her gear, see what gear she needed for the trek and motivate her for the journey to come. I can’t explain how courageous and confident Taylor was through this process. She made a promise to Chris to live her life to the fullest, to not take any days in vain, and to continue to enjoy wilderness that she and Chris loved together.
We arrived to the S. Colony Lake upper TH around noon. We collected our gear, strapped on our boots, signed the register and embarked on an amazing journey to the base of the Crestones. Taylor’s black lab Molly also joined us for this trip. She added a fun and loving dynamic to the trip and protected us from many a squirrel.
Taylor’s attitude through this hike was remarkable. The group could sense her immense amount of emotion through each step. She went carefully, feeling every step, thinking that every moment she experienced was the same moment that Chris had experienced a few weeks ago. One moment she would be teary eyed, the next moment she would make jokes. She made the most of it. She never complained. She kept putting one foot in front of the other to honor Chris and everything he stood for. She was amazing. We took breaks when needed, and didn’t feel any rush at the beginning of the hike.
As time passed, we started to see more and more hikers on the trail. We got a sudden fear of finding a campsite at the lake. The group decided that I forge ahead as fast as I could go to ensure a site that could fit our three tents. I moved as fast as I could. I got to S. Colony Lakes and secured a massive campsite, set up my tent, filtered water and waited for the group. I went back to touch base with Taylor and demanded she give me her backpack and she flat out refused. She had made a promise to take Chris to the lake, and she was going to do it! She was a little stern in this moment and I was pretty taken back. She had started this trip emotionally, mentally and physically drained as one might be after loosing a spouse and as she dug deep and passed me to keep on walking I couldn’t help but get the biggest grin. She was a badass. I was so proud of her.
When Taylor arrived at camp, she unclipped her backpack and immediately broke into tears. Her part of the journey carrying Chris was over, and she had made good on her promise. Through all of the strength she has shown over the last three weeks, I have never seen her this vulnerable. It was beautiful. It was real.
As we set up camp, we cracked some Dale’s, laughed and cried and had a wonderful evening. I’ve never brought whiskey into camp before a huge climb. But I really enjoyed that. We laughed for hours. We saluted Chris in all his glory. He spoke of his triumphs. We spoke of his patience. We spoke of his intelligence and mostly we spoke of his love for his wife, Taylor.
To top it off, a random hiker came through our camp midway through the evening. His name was Mike, called himself Man-U Mike and was ironically from the same area of England that Chris was. At news of Chris’s passing, Mike immediately got teary. Mike turned out to be the greatest event of the weekend. We thought he was an angel sent from Chris. He was so great to talk to. He was a kind soul. Although the entire group got the impression he was the ultimate badass. He had climbed Humboldt that evening with a tank top, and a pocket of maps. That’s. It. The evening before he had started up BHP towards the Crestone Needle after noon, and came back down BHP in complete darkness. Wow.
The rest of the story and climb are unimportant. This TR isn’t about my climb up Crestone Peak. It’s about Taylor and Chris’s journey to the top and to his final resting place. I topped out at the Peak around 10am, and I was the first person on the summit. It was a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky. As I enjoyed the summit I looked over to the North Buttress, and the route Chris chose to take to the top. That route is no joke and Chris has my fullest and undying respect.
I thank Jeff Golden for placing the print outs for Chris Gray and Rob Jansen in the register canisters. When I opened those I couldn’t help but get the biggest smile. So many people have climbed in these two men’s honor. This community is amazing. I have never felt so much camaraderie out of anything I have ever participated in.
I carefully found a spot and placed the ashes on the summit. Chris Gray finally made the summit, and will watch over the Crestones and every climber it encounters. May every climber feel his presence, sense his strength and continue to climb towards those goals. I will never forget this day. I have become obsessed with the beauty our state has to offer, but this moment will stick with me forever. I will tell my kids of this journey, and will speak the highest praises of Chris and Taylor Gray.
My partner and I got back to camp around 1:30-2pm. We immediately broke down camp and got on the trail. Taylor was a new woman. And although this wasn’t her first backpacking trip, she began to move as if she was a seasoned veteran hiker. I think she stopped once, and that’s only because I stopped to rest my back. She found her pace, she kept to it, she didn’t stop smiling, and she had a new renewed sense of love for the mountains. Although she is uncertain that she will ever climb a 14er again, she will continue to love the mountains, hiking, backpacking, camping and fly-fishing.
RIP Chris Gray. Many people loved you. You touched many lives. You have even changed my life, and I never met you in person. I will always think of you when climbing these majestic mountains. Your spirit will always live on.
"As a native of Colorado I have spent many a day in the mountains, but nothing was quite as transformational as this weekend.
I knew that Chris needed to make it to the top of that mountain and I was blessed enough to have friends who made that possible for him, but little did I know that not only would we be helping Chris complete his journey - but apart of mine as well.
A special thank you to my friends who were with me this weekend, Chris S. and Leslie and my dog, Molly. Your love inspires me.
And a very special thanks you to TJ. A very humble man to not mention his accomplishments in this TR, so I will do it for him. What he did this weekend takes incredible strength, courage and heart. Not only did he summit an extremely difficult peak, but with no hesitation, took it upon himself to deliver my husband to his final resting place. TJ, I am honored to have you in my life. Thank you so very much.
I was always aware and in awe of the power of the mountains, but this weekend they healed my heart and cleansed my soul.
"A climber is not crazy. He is not out to get himself killed. He knows what life is worth. He is in love with living" - Walter Bonatti
3/11/84 – 8/28/12"
My buddy Chris, Taylor and myself on the way out. Mission Accomplished!
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