Peak(s):  Ouray Peak - 12957
Grizzly Pk A  -  13,988 feet
Garfield Pk A  -  13,780 feet
Date Posted:  09/17/2019
Date Climbed:   09/15/2019
Author:  glenmiz
 Grey Gates of Hell   

This report is mainly to share our experience climbing Ouray Peak, which we added to the common circuit of Grizzly Peak A and Garfield from McNasser Gulch. I'll apologize now that I don't have many photos to tell this story but, since there's little information on this peak out there, I'll do my best to describe it. I thought Ouray would be an interesting addition at the start of the circuit to forgo some of the scree climb noted both in the Grizzly Peak route description and other trip reports. Wildwander's report does a good job of supplementing the route description here for the Grizzly/Garfield circuit.

First, a bit of background. Bill Musser and I had been talking about a trip to climb Mt. Ouray (the Centennial) and it's neighbors to the north but decided settle for Grizzly and Garfield and a shorter drive from Evergreen. We're both peakbaggers so tagging the tallest Centennial 13er and a Bi-Centennial seemed a good tradeoff for Ouray and Chipeta. After reading Bill Middlebrook's route description and Wildwander's trip report and looking at the maps, it seemed logical to try to gain Grizzly's east ridge sooner to bypass the well-documented scree on the south slopes of the ridge.

What better than to bag another peak of the same name as our old objective AND stay above the scree??? Enter Ouray Peak (the tall 12er). Our planned track was to hike WSW along the road from the 4wd trailhead and turn north to follow what appeared on the maps to be a trail to the saddle between Ouray Peak and unranked UN 13441 along Grizzly's east ridge. We would then climb the ridge to the east to tag Ouray Peak, retrace our footsteps back to the saddle and continue north and gain Grizzly's east ridge, tag UN 13441 and connect with the Grizzly standard route when it reached the ridge.

Walking up the road - Garfield on left, Grizzly right of center and UN 13441 on right

When we left the road at about 3/4 of a mile and started up toward the saddle, it looked to us like climbing a grassy rib to our east would cut a bit of distance from our trip. There were some grey cliffs that looked solid enough and we thought we could find a path through. The grassy slopes were okay but held a fair amount of scree. As we approached the cliff band, the ratio of scree to grass increased substantially as the slope increased. Bill was less comfortable on the scree than I was and I started to get ahead of him. I wanted to take a look at a gully that cut the grey cliffs for a possible ascent. I found a ledge in the more solid rock where I could take my pack off and packed my poles to free my hands.

Suddenly, a large rock broke loose behind me from where I thought Bill was. I couldn't see Bill around the rib but watched the 1 ft diameter rock bounce down the steep slope and explode. I called but Bill didn't answer. I didn't know what happened so I started back down out of the gully, rounded the bend, and called for Bill. He was nowhere to be seen so I concluded he had started to climb another gully or rib. I started to climb and, eventually, saw Bill above me. He was shaken, and for good reason. The gray rock which comprised the cliff band was crumbly and rotten. There were few good hand or foot holds so we were basically crawling up through the mix of crappy rock and slippery scree. Finally, we topped the cliff band and the slope moderated and the ratio of scree to grass decreased again. Shortly after this we got to the ridge, topped a small bump and walked about a quarter mile to Ouray's summit.

Bill coming down from Ouray Peak'

Bill was still a bit shaken as we started back down the ridge toward the saddle. After our experience with the Gray Gates of Hell, I moved quickly ahead to survey what was on the other side of the saddle toward Grizzly. I stopped at a small bump about 2/3 of the way down to the saddle and saw that the grey cliffband was quite pronounced on the other side of the saddle with substantial spires that looked quite daunting. Damn, the Grey Gates looked closed! Further up the ridge, UN 13441 also looked foreboding. I could imagine a bypass of the Grey Gates to the south and a gully hidden behind the spires to regain the ridge but I couldn't get my mind around what the south slope of UN 13441 would be like. I imagined steep scree like we encountered previously. Our worry was to again pass through the Grey Gates, climb a 1000' and find the UN 13441 horn impassible. After discussing these difficulties we quickly started to explore options to drop into the basin and bypass the Gray Gates and the UN 13411 Horn. Looking at the contours, it became obvious that the only way to stay out of the Gray Gates was to contour at around about 12,000'. That meant losing almost 1000' from Ouray and nearly 600' from the saddle. Crap!

UN 13441 (left) and the ridge back to the Grey Gates of Hell - time to change the plan

We pulled out our poles and slid down the steep scree-filled slope to about 12,200' and started contouring southwest. We, again, ran into the Gray Gates and had to drop another 200' before we were able to start back up ever so slightly. Eventually, we reached the track of the standard Grizzly route and joined that scree-fest. I have to say, it wasn't much better than Ouray's south slopes. Fortunately, the Grey Gates aren't as pronounced and we only had a few short stretches of that Hell.

We eventually made to the ridge and dealt with the three gendarmes referred to in the route description. We opted to stay on the rock rather than drop below to stay on the scree; duh! Plenty of class 3 and 4 scrambling there but we'd had our fill of scree so it seemed a relief.

I'm sick of that scree, he said - Photo credit Bill Musser

At the summit, we met two young ladies, one of whom said this was "her first mountain". Holy Sh$t! This wouldn't be my choice for starting mountain climbing. She was sitting on the summit clinging to the rock.

Grizzly Peak summit

I could tell Bill was not sure about continuing around to Garfield. The descent path looked steep and "scree" was noted in the route description and trip reports. We talked a little bit about trying to bypass Garfield's east sub-summit on the south side (which we couldn't see) and walking down Garfield's east ridge to near the trailhead. Finally, we concluded that the descent from Garfield couldn't be worse than what we'd come up and we'd have a look at the east ridge by-pass. We asked the ladies if they were going to go via Garfield or back the way they came and they opted for the known and started down Grizzly's east ridge.

I won't bore you with too many details but the ridge to Garfield was a treat. We were never so happy to descend loose talus but the first part of the descent was SO much better than what we'd been on. Eventually we started back up and, before we knew it, we were on Garfield's summit. The summit register, which was placed in 2013, had a pretty stellar group. You'll have to see it yourself but you'll recognize many of the entrants. When we left the summit, we encountered the trickiest climbing and, after deciding not to downclimb the ridge proper, we found a passage on the south side of the ridge as noted in the route description. Class 3 with some exposure but a welcome sprinkling of solid hand and footholds.

Bill on the Class 3 move coming off Garfield's summit

After getting off the summit ridge, we focused on the descent route and, amazingly, from the angle we were looking, it didn't look that steep in contrast to what we saw from the other side of the basin (that might have been our minds playing tricks on us from that scree fest). We took a look at the bypass of the east sub-summit and decided that looked bad. Coming down the orange gravelly gully was no problem. The orange dirt was several inches deep and we just skied down. Eventually, we reached the talus and stayed right to a grassy rib. As Wildwanderer noted, there are still some cliffs to either downclimb or bypass in scree-filled gullies - the Grey Gates one final time. When we arrived at the 4Runner, we were bushed. Our day only added up to 9.4 miles and 4,240' but, man, that was hard! It was, by far, was the most difficult "Difficult Class 2" hike I've ever experienced.

Can you see Bill in the orange scree ski?

In retrospect, the lack of information on Ouray foretold the reality. It's not as easy as we expected and probably doesn't get a lot of traffic. I think there may be a path to reduce the Grey Gates influence by ascending directly from the McNasser Gulch 4wd trailhead but that is only a theory. I enjoyed being on top of Colorado's 13ers and felt humbled by the company that preceded us on Garfield as captured on the summit register. I'm relieved that, after passing through those Grey Gates, we're still around to climb another day.

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

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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