Peak(s):  Edwards, Mt  -  13,850 feet
McClellan Mtn  -  13,587 feet
Date Posted:  09/28/2014
Date Climbed:   09/26/2014
Author:  rajz06
 No Loop for You!  

Starting Point: Stevens Gulch TH. (11,280')
Peaks Climbed in order of ascent: Mt. Edwards (13,850'), McClellan Mountain (13,587') and re-ascent of both peaks on return
Route: West ridge ascent of Edwards, southwest ridge traverse to McClellan
RT Distance: 11.9 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: 4,800 feet
Group: Solo


It was like I was staring into the abyss. Sixteen hundred feet below was the trail where I'd started.

Now what?

If I squinted hard, I could almost see my car in the parking lot below. It was definitely a case of so near yet so far.

So near yet so far...

Yes, others have successfully made their way down this very scree gully. But I knew my limits and as much as I would've loved to make a speedy ski-style descent down that loose gully I knew the risk wasn't worth it. An uncontrolled slide would only end badly, so I decided to retrace my path.

My day started at Steven Gulch trailhead a little before 9 a.m. - the late start of course being one of the joys of hiking in fall. The trailhead needs no introduction and neither does the class I route that winds its way up to what may well be the most popular of all 14er combos in the state - Grays and Torreys.

No prizes for guessing these 14ers

My object was Mt. Edwards, the centennial 13er that shares a ridge with Grays, and McClellan Mountain, an unranked 13er and Edwards' closest neighbor.

Edwards and McClellan

Steven Gulch is not the popular choice of approach for Edwards but I figured I could add McClellan and make a loop by traversing farther north on the ridge and descending one of the scree-filled gullies.

I won't bore the reader with excruciating details of the trail as I'm sure there will be others that will oblige by waxing eloquently about their hike up to the aforementioned 14ers on this lovely fall day. Suffice to say that the detour toward Edwards is best taken around 13,560' shortly after the standard trail veers toward a lookout point with an impressive view of the rugged ridge leading to the peak.

Approaching the detour to Grays east ridge

Ridge to Edwards adorned with cliffs

Bypassing the trail and taking a quick jaunt up the talus field carries the hiker to the top Grays' east ridge with unobstructed views on either side.

Talus walk to Grays east ridge

To the west, less than 600 vertical feet separate this point from the summit of Grays.

Grays east ridge

To the east, the false summit of Edwards was visible, separated by a saddle and two notable bumps along the rocky ridge.

Ridge to Edwards

The descent to the saddle was quick as I followed trail segments just south (hiker's right) of the ridge crest.

Edwards from the saddle

The next section which featured the two bumps before the final ascent was the most fun part of the traverse. Since I wasn't planning on returning via this route, I took advantage of the scrambling opportunity by staying on the narrow ridge. Little did I know then that I would get a second chance at all of that whether I wanted it or not!

The next shot looks back over one of the towers on the ridge.

Looking back at my route over a tower

These towers could, of course, be easily bypassed to the right but that wouldn't be nearly as much fun, would it?

Scramble or bypass - your choice!

And I chose scramble...

The ridge beyond the last saddle continues to look rough but even staying true to the ridge it's all class II and the scrambling bits are over.

Final ascent to Edwards

Easy rock tower

Views of the nearest 14ers from the summit of Edwards did not disappoint.

Grays and Torreys

Looking at Bierstadt and the sawtooth connecting to Evans:

Evans and Bierstadt

I didn't quite make my goal of summiting Edwards in two hours but the skies were non-threatening as I eyed my next summit of the day, McClellan Mountain.

McClellan Mountain

The summit of McClellan is 0.75 miles along the gentle ridge with a 450 foot drop to the broad saddle. As I set out, I mentally mapped the route that I would take on the descent to make a satisfying loop. It looked like the best gully for the descent option would be a little over a mile father down the ridge from McClellan.

Mapping my descent route

McClellan's summit rises less than 200 feet from the saddle and is an easy walk made interesting only by the steep cliffs to hiker's left.

Saddle to McClellan

Easy ridge to McC

The summit is broad and adorned by multiple cairns as though the placers weren't sure of where the actual acme was.

Which point is the peak?

I surveyed the ridge route I'd taken.

Surveying the ridge route

Longs peak and surrounding 13ers towered in the distance to the north:

Longs and surrounding 13ers

I had summited both high points that I'd set out to climb and could've turned around at this point but I wanted that loop. There are numerous gullies that shoot down (literally!) from this ridge into Stevens Gulch - some of these cliff out while others have a path to the floor of the valley, but they are all seriously steep and loose. Even standing close to one of these gullies, it was clear that footing would be an issue on any of these paths.


But there are accounts from climbers who've successfully navigated this descent so I figured there was no reason why I couldn't join their ranks.

I'll pass on this one too...

As I briefly explored each option by cautiously peering down, I was hoping that the one I'd spotted from the summit of Edwards would be a bit less forbidding than all the others leading to it. When I finally got to the "chosen one" my heart sank as I looked down and realized that I was going to have to turn around.

Now what?

I vacillated for a bit, toying with the idea of going for it or traversing farther down the ridge to look for a better spot but I knew there wouldn't be one. Some of the denizens of the area would have waltzed down the loose stuff and bounded across any cliffs that they encountered. Hey, could I borrow your hoofs for a quick ride to the bottom?

Sure-footed critters

Cliffs are us!

I eyed the ridge route that I'd taken knowing that this was the only viable exit strategy. Every ones of those humps that I'd bounded up earlier looked like a challenge now, and the point where I'd be done climbing seemed so far away.

And miles to go before I sleep...

Not only had I descended some 700 vertical feet below McClellan on that ridge, but there would be multiple ups and downs before I could start the final descent, adding to a fair amount of elevation gain, almost all of it above 13,000'. Indeed, this would be the proverbial "scenic route".

Elevation plot

And so it was - no loop for the weary, but the rewards of venturing into the mountains will more than suffice...

Yours truly

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

 Comments or Questions

must have just missed you on McClellan
09/28/2014 20:29
I did these 2 peaks from argentine pass th the same day. Such a nice day! Nice report.


Wise choice!
09/28/2014 22:08
Those gullies do go a L-O-N-G way down and look simply awful! I guess there are some folk who ski it but it doesn't look very safe to me either. Did you see the vehicle wreck in the middle of one of those gullies? Very strange that it stuck in the middle and didn't tumble down to the bottom.

Was out there earlier this month and after bagging T & G again, we toyed with the idea of hitting Edwards as well. We started it and got about 1/3 of the way across before we found ourselves in the middle of a herd of goats. The young-in's were below us and the heavy hitters were above, so since we had already done a good day's hike, we turned around rather than push our luck making the adults angry.


Loose gullies
09/29/2014 20:29
... are horrid and I try to avoid them when they don't have snow. Just because sometimes we do go up/down them, doesn't mean we want to! I typically plan to avoid them.

Brian Thomas

the loop denied
09/29/2014 22:51
Capturing that goat pic on the ledges made it all worth it, loop or no loop. And your trip reports ”more than suffice”, keep posting them please


more vert
09/30/2014 15:01
is never a bad thing. nice outing


Another well written report
09/30/2014 18:21
Thanks for documenting this, Raj.


Aah, that's why it's ranked!
10/21/2014 05:08
I enjoyed reading this. Hiking Edwards from the east, from Argentine, it seemed like such a trivial bump along Gray's east ridge that I marveled that it is ranked. Your route showed a fiercer perspective. Loved the shots of the goats on ledges - they are amazing.

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