Peak(s):  Grays Peak  -  14,270 feet
Date Posted:  03/27/2011
Modified:  03/28/2011
Date Climbed:   03/24/2011
Author:  Michael York

 Another Gray's Attempt  

After attempting Gray's with my mom earlier in the month, I decided it was time for another try... this time solo. I loaded up the pack Wednesday night with all the essentials, including enough warmth and nutrition to survive overnight, just in case, and got to bed early. I was at the winter TH by 0600 and had clear skies and no breeze when I started my hike in the twilight. The snow on the road has melted off a lot in the last few weeks, and I opted to go without the snowshoes... good choice. I made great time to the summer TH and was feeling fresh as I began my push toward the summit. I used my new GPS to mark waypoints as I made my way toward Gray's. The snow was deep, but using my trekking poles, I was able to make a route that avoided too much postholing (although several wrong steps landed me waist deep in snow). As I got above treeline, the wind really started to blow... hard! The NOAA report was for moderate temps and wind with gusts in the 30s when I checked Wednesday night, but had gotten worse by the morning, with gusts upwards of 40 and more snow predicted after noon. Well, I think the wind report was a little off, because a couple unexpected gusts early on literally knocked me off my feet, so I'm guessing it was more like gusts of 60-70, which would calm to near nothing within seconds, then back up to gale force... typical. As I got around the ridge, the wind subsided and I was hiking in some pretty enjoyable weather with bluebird skies overhead. I began my real ascent, still feeling fresh with the summit in sight around 0930.

I was feeling super confident and sure of a summit, possibly two, when I ran into a problem. The wind blown snow over my path was hard packed and icy, and it became impossible to walk on such a steep slope without spikes. I looked down and was pretty sure that a slip would just result in a long, unintended glissade to the bottom, but, being alone, the risk of injury wasn't worth it. I tried for the next hour to go up, down, and all around to find a route with good footing, but it just wasn't happening. I sat down and called my mom from the top of a ridge to tell her I was safe and turning around, again failing to make the summit, but sure I had made the best attempt possible given my lack of crampons and an axe to self arrest in the event of a slip.

I made my way down in good spirits, and around noon, I turned around to find the predicted storm rolling over the peaks behind me. I found some fresh snowshoe tracks heading toward the TH, and followed them down uneventfully. When I got to the TH, I found another solo hiker and 14ers member, Leah (forgive me if I got your name wrong, I'm terrible with names), and we hiked down together chit chatting about our goals and experiences. If you read this, thanks for hiking with me... walking that road is annoying to say the least, and you made the ~3 miles much more enjoyable than it normally would have been.

I won't be attempting Gray's/Torrey's again, simply because the hike to the summer TH is so annoying, but with the birthday funds I've gotten this week, I will be well equipped for my next spring 14er attempt in the next week or two with spikes and an axe... I'm thinking Quandary will be the next one, as I'm fairly inexperienced when it comes to mountaineering in winter conditions.

BTW, I'm working retail until I ship out for the Navy in late summer/early fall, so if anyone is looking for weekday climbing partners, shoot me a PM, I'm in.

I took a little video of one of the ridiculous wind gusts, check it out... my friends and family think I'm crazy, but it's all part of the fun!!


 Comments or Questions

03/28/2011 16:18
It is always tough to have to give up the peak, but it will still be there the next time. I had pretty good weather both times I did Gray's and Torrey's, but Elbert did me the same way Gray's is doing you. Took me three times to get up it due to weather. Always better to avoid falls or frozen body parts and come back later You will get it next time.

Dr. Dave


03/28/2011 17:01
We were climbing in the area on that same day, making an attempt on James Peak via St. Mary's Glacier. The wind was really brutal for us too, and I'd estimate it was well in excess of the forecasted 50mph winds at times. We also bailed on our attempt, due in part to time constraints, but also because of whiteout conditions that was making travel unappealing.


Awesome day anyway!!
03/28/2011 22:22
Great trip report Michael and thanks for posting the video so I can show everyone that I wasn't exaggerating the conditions!! I think we made smart decisions that day--and we WILL conquer Grays!! It was nice meeting you-good company definitely made that awful road more enjoyable--keep climbing!! Lee

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