Skyward: Linking Gray’s and Torrey’s 14ers

The first time I visited Colorado back in 2014, I made a trip to Loveland Pass. The pass sits atop of the Continental Divide at 12,000 ft, and is surrounded by a massive, mountainous landscape. On a clear day you can see Gray’s peak protruding into the sky, pronouncing its dominance over the rest of the mountains in its proximity.

This year I am spending my summer in Colorado. Gray’s peak has been on my agenda of 14er’s to summit, and with the friday before the 4th of July off from work, I decided it would be a good chance to head out and give it a shot. Torrey’s peak sits just before Gray’s if you approach from the West Ride of Loveland Pass, so I added it to my itinerary. The route is 10 miles round trip and has a pretty intense 5,300 feet of climbing, give or take.

I drove out to Loveland Pass on thrusday night and slept in my car until about 4:30am. I gathered up three clif bars, a bunch of fig newtons, and salt tabs for the trip. I filled two 20oz Ultimate Direction bottles with water and Tailwind, as well as one of the UD Body Bottles as a backup. After fitting it all into my SJ Ultra Vest, I grabbed a quick bit of cold oatmeal and swig of Tailwind and began my trip.

Loveland Pass 4:30am
Loveland Pass 4:30am

I am always amazed with how early the sky gets light in Colorado. When I started at 4:50am, I promptly turned around to drop my headlamp back at my car. It was bright enough to get by without it already. Overhead, heavy clouds swirled around in the last remaining light of the moon, while a deep orange, clear sunrise was starting off to the east, which lent some encouragement to the weather. There wasn’t a lick of wind that morning either, and the 44 degree temperature was just right for a lightweight jacket and shorts.

I summitted 13er Cupid just as the sun was coming up. There was a bit of snowmelt happening up there, and as a result, a little stream had started to flood through some talus on the edge of the mountain. The sky was an intense orange, with a few light clouds remaining from the multitude of them that were present when I started. The combination of color and clouds with the crystal clear water made for one of the most elegant sunrises I had ever experienced. Furthermore, everything but the gently trickling water was still and silent.

Sunrise near Cupid.
Sunrise near Cupid.

I continued on down into a bit of a valley to approach Grizzly Peak, another 13er on the way out to Torrey’s. The trail was still defined and quite runnable, inevitably getting steeper and steeper with each step. At the base of Grizzly I was reduced to a speedhike pace, which was probably smart given the sharp rocks and talus that was starting to outline the trail. Grizzly has a shallow false summit, and once to the top, I started to lose the trail. Nonetheless, Torrey’s was in plain sight and there was no mistaking which direction to head.

Looking up Grizzly at sunrise.
Looking up Grizzly at sunrise.

Grizzly drops down into a navigable talus field on one side, and almost straight down into steep couloirs on the other. It was a bit unnerving traversing the top ridge into the talus with the couloir edge just inches away- I watched my footing and moved forward. I wound up skiing my way down a good portion of the talus field in the loose, chunky snow that still remained on the top. After this, the mountain opens up into a plateau, so to speak, of grass and small wildflowers. I enjoyed the easy footing and views of an iced over lake to my right for the moment, before things started to get real. I was now staring down Torrey’s, standing at the base of a long, steep hike up a mixture of dirt, scree, and medium-sized talus.

Coming down from Grizzly, Torrey's in the background.
Coming down from Grizzly, Torrey’s in the background.
Looking down from Grizzly
Looking down from Grizzly

I took a quick break for one of my clif bars and some fig newtons, and took down some water. Having been in relative shade most of the morning, my water supply was doing better than expected. I got on to some sort of trail for a moment, and again, it dissipated into rocks before too long. I powered my way up the side, making some waist-high steps up talus, and doing a bit of hand-and-feet hiking. (I’m not sure if i’d consider calling it scrambling at this point… just big rocks.) I spotted 4 mountain goats off in the distance ahead of me. I laughed a bit- they are one of the fittest animals I can think of out here, and they seem to be able to climb up just about anything  (Note here– I digress. And you determine the legitimacy of these mountain climbing prodigies).

Eventually, I made it back to a trail around 13,800ft, and got to do some running on the approach to the top. It was a relief to have sure footing and to get the legs into a faster cadence.

I started to pass other hikers in the next couple of hundred of feet. I could see the summit start to take shape, and there were about a dozen people already up there, likely started from Steven’s Gulch. I greeted them and we shared brief stories about the morning thus far, and they took turns cracking open mini-bottles of champagne and PBR on the summit haha. One of the girls was a graduate from my college back in Michigan, GVSU, from recent years.

The views were astounding. Miles of the continental divide jutted across the horizon, dotted with snow. The best way to describe the views is the pictures:

On top of Torrey's
On top of Torrey’s

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I descended and made my way to Grays, and within 15 minutes was at the summit there. It was 5 miles to the top of Gray’s from the start that morning, and I had spent two hours to get there. It had been about 2700ft of climbing so far. I was feeling good, and had no problems with altitude other than slightly shorter breath than normal- certainly nothing like my headache on Pikes last year. Despite feeling good, I was running out of water quickly. I had about a 8 oz left- I had gone through about 40 ounces already.

On top of Gray's
On top of Gray’s

The descent of Torrey’s was time consuming due to having to constantly look for sure footing on the trail-less slope back in to the meadow to Grizzly. I was down to my last sips of water, and still had at least an 2000 feet of climbing and an hour and a half of activity before I was back to my car.

Wildflowers on the way down Torrey's
Wildflowers on the way down Torrey’s, and the snow near the top of Grizzly.

As I appraoched the top of Grizzly, I decided to take a chance: I have seen videos of Anton and Kilian drinking water straight from the streams up in the high country, and I figured at 13,300ft, a stream coming straight from snowmelt on top of an undisturbed mountain was worth the risk. I filled my bottles up and drank them down, and filled them again. I ate a couple of salt tabs and another clif bar. It was amazing how much of a difference it made in my performance to get fully hydrated again.

I cruised down a relatively technical descents and flew back up Cupid, where I finally met back up with a well defined, somewhat flatter tail right along the continental divide. I bombed my way down Cupid, which had delightfully good footing under my Altra Lone Peaks, and wound up at my car after 10 miles and 5,300 feet of gain. It was a good day of mental toughness training. The physical aspect wasn’t too bad, except coming up Torrey’s. I would definitely do this route again, so long as I find that drinking 13k+ft water from the source won’t result in detrimental issues. It was beautiful the whole way, perfectly technical to my liking, and the solitude was right on par with what I search for in my  runs.

I tore some good chunks out of the soles of my Altra's. They're well loved. I should probably get some new ones after 800 miles and lots of rocks...
I tore some good chunks out of the soles of my Altra’s. They’re well loved. I should probably get some new ones after 800 miles and lots of rocks…
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