| My first 14ers- Grays/Torrys
I just moved to Colorado a little over a week ago, so I decided to begin with some "easier" 14ers. Back in New York, I recently finished the Catskill 3500 Club, and was starting to work on the Adirondack 46ers, but I knew that the Rockies were going to be a whole new ballgame. Acclimation was definitely a big concern of mine, as I have heard horror stories about people coming from lower elevations and ending up with bad altitude sickness on these mountains. Therefore, I did a few small hikes around Golden in order to get adjusted.
I arrived at the Stevens Gulch trailhead a little after 6 am on Saturday, and managed to get the last parking spot. I was with three friends from Golden, and none of us were very experienced in hiking at such high altitudes. I got a little nervous as we started walking, because I almost immediately started getting winded on fairly horizontal ground. After a while I started to adjust, and I figured out an appropriate pace for myself.
The path up to Gray's was fairly crowded, but really became congested as we approached the final series of switchbacks that lead to the summit. Aside from a few patches of snow and ice, the ascent was fairly tame. I reached the summit at 9am (see photo 1), with my party slightly behind me. I would estimate that there were close to 50 people at the top, so I had to wait a few minutes to sign the canister log, but I took this time to really take in the scene. I had never witnessed anything like this before. The views were phenomenal, and the fact that I was at 14,278 feet only added to the experience. I was expecting to be light-headed, but actually felt completely fine.
After the rest of my party arrived, we had a quick snack, and then started down towards the saddle. When we reached the saddle, we started to become a bit concerned, as a lightning bolt suddenly struck about a mile to the east of us. It was at this point that people started turning around and running down the summit of Torry's. Dark clouds suddenly appeared all around us, but the ones that concerned us the most were right over the summit of the mountain we were about to ascend, and were heading right towards us (see photo 2). As lightning continued to strike in the distance, we noticed an endless line of people descending from the saddle, heading right towards where the direction the first bolt had struck! It wasn't an easy decision to make, but I decided to hunker down on the saddle and wait out the storm. After about 15 minutes the sky began to break above Torry's, and we decided it was time to make an attempt.
About 3/4 of the way up Torry's we noticed that the skies were getting darker again, and it began to hail lightly. With just a small window open to make the summit, we decided to kick it into overdrive and go for it. As we reached the peak around 10:30 am, the conditions started to get pretty bad, so we didn't hang around for too long (see photo 3) The size and intensity of the hail steadily increased the entire way down to the saddle, but finally dissipated as we began to head down from there. The rest of the descent was fairly uneventful.
While I would never wish for stormy conditions while hiking, I am glad that I got to experience how bad things can get, and how quickly they can get there. It was a very humbling experience, and I learned from it. These mountains deserve a great deal of respect!
I intend to ascend all of the 14ers over the next couple of years. I live for this, and have never been so excited to take on a challenge. I will see you on the mountains!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):