Peak(s):  Grays Peak  -  14,270 feet
Torreys Peak  -  14,267 feet
Kelso Mtn  -  13,164 feet
Edwards, Mt  -  13,850 feet
Date Posted:  08/25/2021
Modified:  08/26/2021
Date Climbed:   08/24/2021
Author:  thurs
 Kelso Mtn / Torreys / Grays / Edwards from upper Grays TH   

Here's a slightly quicker alternative to the Stevens Gulch Traverse. Instead of proceeding to McClellan and Ganley, you head back to Grays and then down to the upper TH. This is still a long day, and I clocked almost seven hours of moving time despite running the flats and descents. A large proportion of that time was spent negotiating the terrain between Grays Peak and Mt. Edwards.

Note, the elevation used my watch's barometric altimeter which got pretty inaccurate by the end. Looking at the actual topo this is at least 5,500ft. of gain. CalTopo says 5,550ft.

Start: Upper TH -> Kelso Ridge Trail Turnoff (1.8 miles, ~1,100ft. gain)

Since the weather forecast looked impeccable (very stable atmosphere, almost no moisture), I knew thunderstorms were out of the equation for the day, and I proceeded up the road to the upper Grays trailhead at the ripe hour of 10am. The road was about as crappy as it always has been -- a piece of cake with a bit of clearance, but some sections would be quite tricky without any. Vehicles were already coming down, so I got front row parking and set off with a light jog at 10:15am.

My kit was an Ultimate Direction 20L fastpack, 2L of water, a packet of peanut M&Ms, a small bag of potato chips (half remaining at the end), a puffy, my phone, an inreach, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, headlamp, Altra Grafton hybrid running/approach shoes, sun shirt, and funky jogger pants. I had a small point-and-shoot camera too, which I took all of these pictures with except for the panos.

I got to the turnoff for Kelso Ridge in 35:19, gaining a little over a thousand feet of vert. A lot of this is pretty runnable if you're in particularly good trail running shape -- I was not quite at the level this season and thus struggled to keep a 15:00/mile pace.

Kelso Ridge Trail Turnoff -> Kelso Mtn Summit (1.1 miles, ~850ft. gain)

I gained the Torreys - Kelso saddle and instead of going left up Kelso Ridge, went right to proceed up Kelso's south ridge. The initial salvo of terrain looks pretty cool and didn't disappoint.

Neat rocks near the bottom of the ridge.

A faint social trail puts you near the crest of the ridge which offers consistent Class 3 terrain with some decent options for minimally-exposed moves that push Class 4. Enjoy it while it lasts.

You can keep it Class 3 by working your way through this terrain, or just string some harder moves together to blast straight up.

The fun abruptly ends and the rest of the climb is mostly following a faint social trail (only in places) through tundra and over a bit of talus. No cairns or anything, which was a pleasant surprise considering how popular this area is. Good views and a decent dropoff to the northwest, with no less than three false summits before reaching the actual one at the far northern end of the ridge. This took me 33:15 from the saddle to the summit.

You get some great views of Grays, Torreys, and Kelso Ridge from the top of Kelso Mountain.

Grays and Torreys.
Most of Kelso Ridge.
Upper part of Kelso Ridge.

Kelso Mtn -> Kelso Ridge -> Torreys Peak (2.2 miles, ~2,000ft. gain)

Proceed back to the Kelso - Torreys saddle. I downclimbed the exact terrain that I upclimbed. The saddle is your bailout point if the weather is looking bad. Kelso Ridge could take up to three hours at a decent pace if you've not climbed it before. Otherwise, follow the normal Kelso Ridge beta. I like to stay on the ridge line direct at almost all times, the rock is more solid and it's fun.

The view from the start of Kelso Ridge never gets old.
Staying on the top of the ridge.

I saw an unkindness of ravens (as opposed to a murder of crows) the likes I've never seen in my entire life. There had to be 30+ ravens, and they were blanketing the summit of Torreys and Grays. Incredible. The weather was fantastic, the wind was a little fresh but not bad at all. It took me 23:53 to descend to the Kelso-Torreys saddle, and then 1:20:23 to ascend Kelso Ridge to the summit of Torreys.

Torreys Peak -> Grays Peak (0.8 miles, ~600ft. gain)

After eating chips for about 8 minutes on the summit of Torreys (and picking up a few discarded summit signs), I ran down the Torreys - Grays connector (slippery!) and partially up Grays before it got too steep for my unacclimatized lungs. Thicc trail, and the ravens were out in force. It took me about 22 minutes to reach the summit of Grays from the summit of Torreys, not including the break. I was really starting to feel it coming up Grays as I had pushed a little too hard on Kelso Ridge, having to take a couple pauses on the upper switchbacks. By the way, the saddle between Grays and Torreys is your next bailout spot.

The ravens would fly by spreading their wings into the wind and simply lifting off the ground.
Chihuahua Lake from Grays.

I screwed around at the summit of Grays for about 25 minutes. It was my 30th birthday and I used the cell reception to answer a few birthday texts and such. I ate a few peanut M&Ms and drank more water, while ravens hopped all around, knocking rocks of the windbreak over. It was 1:30pm on a Tuesday and there was nobody around. The weather still was excellent, just a few flat clouds that could not develop past an obvious stable layer in the atmosphere. I was a bit gassed since I just haven't been at altitude much this season, or running as much as I used to, plus I think I pushed a little too hard early on. The view of the route to Edwards was not encouraging -- it looked a long way away.

Looking at Edwards from Grays. Not as close as I'd like. Of course, I'd also like to be down at the car drinking beer instead of doing something weird like exercising.
Closer view of Edwards's west ridge.

Grays Peak -> Mt. Edwards (1.7 miles, ~600ft. gain)

This ended up being the crux of the route for me despite little in the way of technical terrain. From the summit of Grays I followed a decent trail down the east ridge -- this is not one of the main trails on Grays. This leads to near where Lost Rat couloir tops out, and there is a social trail that proceeds over to the Remarkables and the west ridge of Edwards. Having not actually spent any time on this part of Grays, I was surprised at how steep the dropoff was on the north side!

I mean, the cirque does look rugged, but I did not realize it was a legit vertical cliff here.

Staying on the ridge proper lets you view the awesome dropoffs to the north, with much more mild terrain to the south. There's a faint social trail and the difficulty stays at Class 2. Before proceeding, take a look at the weather and plan for 2-3 hours to get to and from Edwards. This is your final bail out spot, it's right next to the main Grays trail.

The descent from near Lost Rat to the lowest point of the saddle between Grays and Edwards is about 250ft -- you have to reclimb this section to get back to the Grays trail and proceed back to the trailhead at the end of the day.

Anyways, after proceeding east for a quarter of a mile, I descended to 13,350ft. or so. The ridge starts gaining elevation again, and two large bumps stood between me and Mt. Edwards. There is almost no social trail or cairns at this point. I followed the ridge crest up to the top of the first bump (about 0.5 miles after near Lost Rat) and don't remember much in the way of Class 3 terrain or exposure. The bump tops out at around 13,680ft. and drops 100 vertical feet before the next bump. The next bump is steeper and more formidable, with class 3 terrain. I was gassed and saw what looked to be a faint social trail (I don't think it was, in retrospect) skirting south around this bump. Was that a better option than just scrambling up and over? I didn't want to gain another unnecessary 100 vertical feet, so I decided to just sidehill it for a bit.

Sidehilling around the south side of the second bump on Edwards, summit in the back.

The hillside was steep -- not particularly exposed but a momentous slip would probably result in a nice little tumble. More annoyingly, I was directly beneath a steep pile of loose rocks with no helmet, which meant some particularly bad luck would be bad news for my bones. This was the mental crux for me as I was just wandering around on this dumb hillside with Mt. Edwards still looking annoyingly far away, hoping I didn't hit a patch of really loose talus and surf it off the side of the mountain. But really -- this bypass is pretty solid. If you keep your eyes 20ft ahead of you, you can stick to consistently solid rock and flat dirt platforms which keeps your feet horizontal and your motion quick. Before I knew it I popped out at almost the exact elevation of the saddle between this bump and the actual Mt. Edwards summit. Not as fun as going up and over though, surely.

The final push up Mt. Edwards was a grind on a more obvious social trail, though it braids a bit and I ended up following it around to where the actual trail is from the Argentine Pass side. There were some mountain goats at the summit. It was 4:00pm and unsurprisingly I was alone, having taken about 1:15:00 to summit Mt. Edwards after leaving the summit of Grays.


The views are top notch, perhaps the best views of the Stevens Gulch area.

Evans, Sawtooth, and Bierstadt from Mt. Edwards.
Stevens Gulch pano.

Mt. Edwards -> Grays Upper TH (4.1 miles, ~500ft. gain)

I was thoroughly thrashed and some mildly complex terrain plus a little bit of vert still stood between me and the actual descent to the car. In fact, there's only slightly less gain to get back to the Grays Peak trail than there is from Grays Peak to the Mt. Edwards summit. Though my body protested, I proceeded back west and my legs managed to do their thing. Once again, I decided to go for the bypass around the larger, prominent bump:

Looking back at Grays

Seriously, it looks way worse than it is, though again, just going over the bump is surely the more fun and interesting way. Picking my line and trying to maintain my elevation while sidehilling was mentally taxing. I was successful in not going to high or low, popping out flush with the saddle on the west side, but you really can't see it until you're right there, which just adds to the mental exhaustion of wondering if you're just doomed to slog around endlessly on some sort of purgatory of a hillside. I scared a goat when I tripped over a rock -- there was a pack of five of them on the hillside.

I proceeded up the westernmost bump before the Grays - Edwards saddle, which gives a good look at the final climb out from 13,400ft to 13,670ft (the top of Lost Rat couloir). There is a more pronounced social trail in this section.

Rugged aesthetic for the Front Range!

This was a grind but it went fast. It took me about 50:00 from when I was on the summit of Mt. Edwards to when I was on the actual Grays trail, making the climb of Mt. Edwards an affair that took just over two hours (if you recall, I hit Kelso Mountain, Torreys, and Grays from the trailhead in less than 3.5 hours, so this was a bit of a serious detour). Again, there was only some minor Class 3 stuff here and there, it was all basically Class 2, I'm guessing the Class 3 terrain is relegated to the more prominent bump that I bypassed.

Thanks to recent trailwork, the Grays trail is much easier to run on descent now, though it's still a bit tricky until you hit the Kelso Ridge turnoff. My legs felt like stale licorice and were unhelpful in my quest to return to the beer-stocked car post-haste. (little did I know that the beers would be about 95 degrees -- when will I learn?). After about a mile of half-running, half-speedwalking downhill (and past more mountain goats), a trail runner blew by me as the grade eased and the loose rocks disappeared. This was all the motivation I needed to run the last 2.25 miles or so at a 13:00/mile pace while deep in the pain cave. It took me 50 minutes from the top of Lost Rat to the upper TH, though I had taken another good break to eat more of my chips and apply sunscreen.

Overall, I think if I had a better idea of what I was in for on Edwards and had paced myself better, I could've done this in under 6 hours, especially if I was in my usual shape. Alas, I'm not, but this was a step in the right direction. A really cool tour, I highly recommend it if you have a good weather day. The terrain and views between Edwards and Grays were some of the best in the area! You could definitely tag on McClelland if you were feeling less worked than me.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Good Report
08/26/2021 11:45
Enjoyed reading your report, and thanks for taking the time to post it! How is the class 3 along Kelso Ridge to Torreys Peak?

re: kelso
08/26/2021 12:38
The class 3 is pretty fun but not consistent -- lots of dirty gulleys and ledges separating the good stuff. If you follow the exact beta of trying to minimize technicality, there are only really 4-5 relatively short sections of class 3 and not a lot of exposure except for the knife edge. I've recommended it to lots of enthusiastic newbies just getting into that kind of stuff, the difficulty ramps up pretty nicely. It is a fun route though, I've repeated it several times, you can make it more interesting by staying on the ridge crest instead of taking all the various bypasses.

Why not walk off to the north?
08/26/2021 21:40
I have wanted to do a grand circle around that valley for a long time. We tried, starting at the northern base of Kelso is easy enough, but in the end ran out of time. My plan was to just keeping walking NE from Edwards along that ridge and descend that way. What were your considerations about going back where you came from?

re: bangerth
08/26/2021 22:29
I mostly wanted to get Edwards as it's a centennial I've not done. I just don't really enjoy bushwacking that much, nor going down steep loose gulleys. Doable sure, and likely what I would do if I really had to bail, or if I come back to really do the full traverse, but both of those sound far more unpleasant to me than traversing back across a ridge with some grand views and then running a trail downhill. I'm sure traversing north is aesthetic and it makes the downclimb worth it, but the idea of sticking to ridges, scrambling, and trail running to hit some of the finer highpoints in the area without any serious nonsense at the end seemed appealing to me.

Speed and M&Ms
08/27/2021 15:11
Nice report, I like the focus on doing this as fast as possible. I can say that going directly up Kelso Mountain's south slopes is faster than the ridge from the Torreys/Kelso saddle, with the tradeoff being you only get to do that fun scramble going down from the summit of Kelso Mountain. Both scrambles - Kelso Mountain's southwest ridge and Kelso Ridge itself - are also fun in winter, if dangerous sufferfests are your cup of tea.

Also, if you haven't already, try the dark chocolate peanut M&Ms. They're utter crack. I can't buy them anymore because I'll happily eat an entire bag in one sitting.

re: Speed and M&Ms
09/12/2021 23:03
@supranihilest -- Good recommendation on the south slopes. I figured the ridge would be more appealing if a little less efficient but you're right that it's likely a bit slower. I've done Kelso Ridge in winter and it was a bit of an experience for sure. I'll keep my eye out for the dark choco peanut m&ms ;D

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