Peak(s):  Grays Peak  -  14,270 feet
Torreys Peak  -  14,267 feet
Maroon Peak  -  14,156 feet
Kelso Mtn  -  13,164 feet
Date Posted:  02/01/2020
Date Climbed:   06/29/2019
Author:  CaptainSuburbia
 Kelso Ridge and Maroon Peak direct ridge route  

The big objective for this weekend was Maroon Peak on Sunday. Since Aspen was a long drive from Fort Collins I decided to break the drive up a bit, and climb Grays and Torreys on the way. I had already climbed both, but my partner had not. She had more than 30 peaks to her credit but somehow had missed climbing these two. Even though it was summer we knew there would still be lots of snow up high leftover from the record-setting winter. Our plan was to climb these peaks via Kelso Ridge. We weren't able to find any recent beta on ridge conditions, so we were hoping the snow wouldn't be a problem. We figured we could always switch to the standard route if conditions didn't look good.

Day: June 29th 2019

Peaks: Torreys Peak, Grays Peak and Kelso Mountain

Trailhead: Grays trailhead

Route: Kelso Ridge

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Beginning of Grays Trail

I picked up my partner at the 2WD trailhead for Grays off I-70 around 6:30 am and drove up the 4WD road. About half way up we pulled over and parked just before the avy debris field that we blocked the road. We made our way over the debris and walked the remaining 1.5 miles to the trailhead to begin our ascent. The trail was mostly snow free, but we did have to walk through several large snowfields that were well trenched. We soon arrived at the base of Kelso ridge where the fun would begin. Since I always enjoy getting random 13ers we decided to climb Kelso Mountain first. The ridge in this direction was a lot of fun. I would probably rate it as class 2+, and a great warmup for the class 3 sections going up Torreys. About 3/4 of the way up the ridge ended, and the rest of the way up Kelso Mountain was a tundra walk. From the summit the views of Torreys and Grays were spectacular! After taking a few photos we headed back down to the Torreys-Kelso saddle to begin our climb up the well known Kelso ridge.

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Torreys and Grays from Kelso Mountain
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On the way down Kelso Mountain
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Almost back to Torreys-Kelso saddle

Once back at the saddle we started our ascent up the ridge to Torreys summit. From Kelso Mountain, we had had a pretty good view of the ridge and it seemed mostly snow-free. This gave us lots of confidence as we worked our way up the class 3 ridge.

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Start of Kelso Ridge
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Looking back at Torreys-Kelso saddle
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Looking down the ridge at Kelso Mountain
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One of the few times we came across snow on the route
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We occasionally did encounter small snowfields that were either easy to walk around or just walkthrough. Luckily, the snow was never an issue. We didn't see a significant amount of snow until reaching the famous knife edge. Here I think the snow was almost helpful. It was piled pretty deep to the climbers left of the knife-edge making the exposure not seem so bad. I'm sure it wasn't safe to walk on though.

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The Knife Edge

Climbing the white rock was next and fortunately, that was snow-free. We climbed on the right of this obstacle and then landed on a steep snow slope that we knew would lead us to the summit. Briefly, we considered putting microspikes on here, but quickly realized it was possible to kick step our way to Torryes summit without them.

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The White Rock
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The White Rock, Knife Edge and Kelso Mountain
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Torreys Summit

Next, we descended a mostly dry Torreys south slope to the saddle with Grays and then summited Grays. We then took the standard route back to our cars and headed to Aspen and Maroon Peak.

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View from Grays Peak

Day: June 30, 2019

Peak: Maroon Peak

Trailhead: Maroon Lake

Route: South Ridge with direct ridge variation

After a quick stop in Leadville for pizza and rest, we continued on towards Aspen over Independence Pass. The avalanche damage on the pass was crazy to see, but not surprising after the record snow totals this past winter. Once in Aspen we headed down Maroon Creek road towards the Bells and parked in an overnight lot where we would sleep for the night. We met 2 more friends here who would join us on the climb for a solid group of 4.

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We all woke around 2 or 2:30 am and were hiking up the Crater Lake trail shortly after 3 in the morning. It was an easy hike to the lake, and it wasn't until just beyond the lake that we ran into a few minor difficulties. As we headed up the valley towards the Maroon Peak trail the small stream crossings weren't so small, they were raging overflowing creeks. Somehow in the dark, we managed to cross them without getting ourselves too wet and continued on. Just before arriving at the Maroon Peak trail we decided to head directly east up some snowfields toward the south ridge. We weren't too sure what the Maroon Peak trail would be like, and the snow here looked like a nice way to get to the ridge. With our crampons on, we quickly worked our way up the soft snow to the south ridge as the sun began to rise.

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It was an exhausting climb and in hindsight, we might have been better off sticking to the trail (on way down we found the standard trial dry). It's something like 2,800 verticle feet from the valley to the ridge. Once on the ridge though we were treated to the most spectacular view imagined. The calendar said it was summer, but it still looked like winter back here.

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View from Maroon Peaks south ridge

At the ridge, we took a quick break before the real climbing would start. We didn't know what we'd find back here but were hoping there wouldn't be too much snow. From here we headed up the west side of the ridge following cairns to a chimney with towers on both sides. From the bottom, it looked difficult but the rock was solid with many good footholds, and it didn't take long for us all to work our way through.

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Beginning of south ridge
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Chimney
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Top of chimney

The chimney was not difficult and next, after making a left we entered a narrow notch, and climbed to the top before reaching some easier climbing. We soon encountered a couple of snow slopes that would have to be crossed. We were dreading this but prepared with crampons.

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Notch

First, we went across a small snowfield than a much larger one. Both were nerve-wracking, especially the later. One slip would have been deadly.

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One of several snow slopes that we crossed
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Second snowfield

We took our time crossing the snow and were eventually and happily on the dry rock again. From here we had a good view of the parallel gullies we would soon be climbing to reach the summit. However, we quickly realized that to get there we had some complicated climbing through what looked like very unsupportive snow. Also, from this point, we could see that the gullies were full of rotton snow. Even if we had gotten to them we weren't sure they were climbable. At this point, we all decided going forward would be unsafe and not an option. This was very disappointing as we had put in a big effort to get here. We all started looking around and mostly up exploring different options to find a suitable way around the snow. Then Keyton, one of my fellow climbers, shouted, "I think this goes". He was halfway up a narrow notch full of loose rock. It looked extremely precarious, but we all followed not wanting to head down.

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We kept climbing up various class 4 notches and chimneys thinking we'd eventually hit a dead end. We were always careful not to climb up something we wouldn't want to go back down on the descent, and eventually we popped on the top of Maroon's south ridge. From here we could see Point 13,753 just ahead and continued up the ridge in high spirits. Moments early it seemed like the day was done for us, but now we were very optimistic as we climbed along the ridge with incredible views. The ridge was almost completely dry except for some cornices comfortably off to the right side, and it appeared as if it would go to the summit without too many major difficulties.

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View of Crater Lake and Maroon Lake from the ridge

Once on the ridge we still had lots of climbing to go although it did get easier. There must have been 4 or 5 false summits that were a bit demoralizing, but each had a fun class 3/4 climb to the top. It was an incredible sight seeing Maroon Peaks summit after cresting the climb of the final false summit.

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One last false summit
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Maroon Peak summit
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North Maroon
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Pyramid
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Looking northwest towards Capitol and Snowmass
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Heading back down
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Track from beginning of ridge to summit. Orange/Standard route, Red/Our route



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
Jay521


Very nice!
02/02/2020 09:47
The Kelso Ridge route has always been a fav of mine and I enjoyed re-living that - the the real jewel is the Maroon portion. I gotta get me some Bells one of these days. Thanks for putting this report up!


CaptainSuburbia


Kelso and Bells
02/10/2020 22:52
Thank you! Yeah, Kelso is a great route. You'll love the Bells!


ltlFish99
Excellent report
03/08/2020 23:17
Great pictures. Brings back fun memories.


CaptainSuburbia


Thanks
03/22/2020 16:46
Thank you! ItIFish99



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