| Grays Peak isn‘t colorless - the unique East Ridge approach
Unique is defined as "not typical, unusual, solitary, existing as the only one." A unique experience is difficult to achieve on Colorado's most popular mountain, especially on a summer weekend. But here I was, high on the East Ridge of Grays Peak, dancing and singing in the warmth of the rising sun with no one else around.
My adventure started near the ghost town of Waldorf on Friday evening. The historic Waldorf mining district is a gem in the rough. On a typical summer weekend OHV enthusiasts roar up and down the dusty roads. If a peaceful campsite during daylight hours is desired, well - Waldorf isn't the place. The constant vehicle traffic will frustrate the most hardened of car-campers. Waldorf's value is as a base camp for day trips. The district is bound by Mount Wilcox, Argentine Peak, and McClellan Mountain, with connecting ridges to Square Top Mountain and Grays Peak. Historic mines and mills dot the landscape. A tourist railway once hauled visitors from Silver Plume to Waldorf and onwards to McClellan Mountain. The railway owners had a grand plan to extend the railway to Grays Peak. But then the silver market crashed. The mines closed. And the town of Waldorf faded into history, leaving countless curiosities to be explored by later generations.
Captions on top of images.
The Argentine Central Railway was a narrow gauge railroad from Silver Plume to Waldorf and onward to the summit of Mount McClellan. Construction began on August 1, 1905 and the line was opened a year later on August 1, 1906. It was financed and organized by Edward J. Wilcox, owner of 65 mining properties in the region that were consolidated into the Waldorf Mining and Milling Company in 1902.
The town of Waldorf in the early 1900s (photo source unknown):
As well as serving the silver mining operations of the region, the railroad was also intended for the tourist trade, ascending Mount McClellan and intending to reach the summit of Grays Peak nearby. It was believed at the time that Mount McClellan was 14,007 ft high, but this was later disproved. The railway remains the highest altitude reached by a regular adhesion railway in the United States.
The end of the rail line (photo from the Colorado State Archives):
The line was steeply graded and sharply curved, with a standard of 6% grade maximum and 32° minimum curvature; even so, it required six switchbacks on the ascent. Due to these grades, geared steam locomotives were used exclusively, the railroad rostering a total of seven two-truck Shay locomotives.
The Shay locomotive (photo from the Colorado State Archives):
As well as ascending Grays Peak, Wilcox also intended to bore a tunnel to reach Keystone, Colorado and the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad. The tunnel was reported three-quarters complete in 1914, but economic conditions never permitted completion. Notice to abandon the railway was posted on October 24, 1918; the tracks were removed by 1920.
And now, this is all that remains:
From my tentsite near Waldorf, I drove up the Argentine railway grade to 12,884 feet. Historic photos show tall power poles once stood in the area where I parked. Four 8" x 8" posts, protruding a few inches from the ground, were the only visible remains that I could identify.
From the parked Jeep, I hiked to the summit of Mount McClellan, then onwards to Mount Edwards. From Mount Edwards, I followed the contours of the East Ridge to Grays Peak. I wish to thank Kiefer for the valuable route information:
Total round-trip distance: 6.6 miles
One-way elevation gain: est. 2,186 feet
Total round-trip elevation gain: est 2,982 feet
Start / return time: 6:18 AM / 12:35 PM
The green line identifies my ascent GPS track.
My ascent elevation profile.
I begin my drive up the Leavenworth Creek road.
I was amazed by the number of deer I saw in the area. This little guy didn't show much fear.
The wildflowers are in full glory.
The Leavenworth Creek road.
I drive past Waldorf and pitch my tent near treeline.
Singing birds wake me at 5 AM. After coffee and a cereal bar, I drive up the railway grade. The sky begins to lighten.
The Waldorf area is filled with historic curiosities.
I continue up the road as the sun breaks over the horizon.
It's 6:04 AM. I pull off the road and park at 12,884 feet. From left to right - McClellan Mountain, Mount Edwards, two minor summits, and behemoth Grays Peak.
I start up the slope of McClellan Mountain. The apricot hues of sunrise give way to bright sunlight. I gain 717 feet of elevation on my way to the summit of McClellan.
I stand on the summit of McClellan Mountain at 6:55 AM. Mount Edwards stands on the left, Grays Peak stands on the right. I will lose 174 feet on the downclimb to the saddle, and then gain 434 feet to the summit of Mount Edwards.
I ascend Mount Edwards. This is the view back towards McClellan Mountain.
The summit of Mount Edwards is graced with prayer flags. I love prayer flags. The register tube is graced with a 14ers.com decal. It is 7:30 AM.
I took this photo on June 14. I intended to complete the East Ridge route a month ago but the snow on the ridge spooked me. A lone climber stands beneath me. He had completed an ascent of the Edwardian Couloir.
I begin my downclimb from the summit of Mount Edwards. I lose 251 feet of elevation on the downclimb to the first saddle. Nearly all of the snow has disappeared in less than a month.
I reach the saddle. This is the first of two minor summits between Mount Edwards and Grays Peak.
The steep slope into Horseshoe Basin. Across the basin, copper-colored Ruby Mountain rises to 13,277 feet.
I stay on the crest of the ridge. This is the top of the first minor summit. I have gained 103 feet of elevation.
This is the downclimb to the second saddle. I will lose 111 feet of elevation.
The approach to the second minor summit is easy hiking. I gain 110 feet of elevation.
I lose 259 feet of elevation as I descend into the third and final saddle.
When I reach the bottom of the third saddle I look to my right. The conga line up the standard route to Grays Peak appears.
I begin the final push up the East Ridge of Grays Peak. I gain 822 feet of elevation on my way to the summit.
The beautiful wild flowers.
The conga line gets closer as I near the summit of Grays Peak.
The Grays Peak summit.
The view in Chihuahua Gulch is sublime. I climbed this route on my first summit of Grays Peak last November.
The summit is noisy and crowded. This couple had the right idea.
Enough of the party - I sign the register, inhale a Clif Bar, call my lovely girlfriend, and then split down the East Ridge. The entire East Ridge route is visible from the vantage point.
The Lost Rat Couloir is almost dry. It looks like a fun snow climb - I like the sinewy curves. I must attempt it next season.
I look to my left at Torreys. A storm brewing to the west does not dissuade the hikers on the standard route.
I make good time on the return trip. This is the view of Mount Edwards from the second saddle.
The view into Horseshoe Basin. Argentine Pass is at top left of photo. The Argentine Pass trail is faintly visible on the far slope.
Instead of climbing to the top of the second minor summit, I traverse the south slope to save elevation gain. I approach the top of the Edwardian Couloir and Mount Edwards.
The view down into the Edwardian Couloir.
The easier class 2+ line is to the right but instead I scramble up the ridge to the summit.
I stand on the summit of Mount Edwards. In the distance, from left to right, is Mount Evans, the Sawtooth, and Mount Bierstadt. Just to the right and beneath Bierstadt is Mount Wilcox. To the far right, Square Top Mountain and Argentine Peak finish off the spectacular view.
I continue onwards to the saddle of Mount Edwards and McClellan Mountain.
A micro-world of tiny creatures exists at my feet - a valuable reminder to tread lightly and smartly in this fragile environment.
The beautiful life above treeline.
The jagged and impressive west slope of McClellan Mountain.
I look over my shoulder at Mount Edwards and Grays Peak. The storm is approaching.
A big and beautiful quartz mineral on the slope of McClellan Mountain.
I descend the northeast slope of McClellan Mountain. The railway grade is visible in the distance.
I reach the old railway grade. I'm sad that this spectacular hike is nearly complete. The Jeep is parked in the distance.
My timing is good - I start the Jeep as the storm moves over Grays and Torreys.
Vibrant wild flowers mark a sublime end to a fantastic adventure.