Gray's Peak

11 Jan 2003 - by Frank Moore

Being unable to accompany fellow CMCers to Ouray this past weekend, I carved out enough time to do a quick conditioning hike up to Grays Peak. Anticipating the possibility of snow, high wind & severe windchill, as had chased me off last year at this time, I carried a full complement of gear, sans crampons. Parking at the lot of the Bakerville exit, I started up Stevens Gulch at 7:00 AM, finding a snowpacked road up to the Grizzly Gulch turnoff. Two vehicles drove past me to park there, and eventually their occupants followed my track up to the summit.

Arriving at the Grays Peak trailhead by 8:20 (~3M), it was apparent that there was not much improvement in snow accumulations over last year at this time. The bridge over the creek had some old snowpack, but fairly clear. The trail up to the 2 mile signage was easy to follow. I did observe the slide area on Kelso's east slope had released sometime this season, running down to the trail. I elected to detour further down into the flatter part of the drainage, to avoid the rest of the steeper slopes that had not released. There was some evidence of wind loading on top. I also put on my beacon and lightweight MSR snowshoes, just in case.

Temperature in the basin was 24 degrees with no wind. The sun crept up over McClellan Mountain around 9:30 AM and revealed light, high clouds, but plenty of blue sky! It was turning out to be a perfect day to climb high! The trail that winds around the northern slopes of the small shelves above 12,000' proved to be snowfilled and crusted over. I broke trail though ankle to knee deep snow through these drifts, trying to follow the trail. In two places, the crust was treacherous enough to warrant using my snowshoes with their crampons to cross the slope.

In some other places where I tired of breaking trail, I rock hopped up some of the exposed slope, for a change of pace. I arrived on the summit at 12:20 PM, disappointed at losing time breaking trail, but glad there was only a slight wind and a balmy temperature of 10 degrees. An outstanding view, looking down on patching, low cumulus clouds that seemed to want to coagulate, but just couldn't get together. Fine with me! I signed the register on the mostly exposed summit (I don't usually find the canister in winter!), the last entry being 2 weeks prior on the 27th of December. Amazing, as this is a wonderful hike in the winter, when there is no wind!

I decided to forego Torrey's, because of the time and cloud buildup. The forecast had predicted snow in the area. The saddle between the twin peaks had small cornices, but the windward side was mostly exposed and more than doable.I descended fairly quickly, as the clouds were starting to move over Gray's & Torrey's. Dead Dog Coulior had some good snow, but didn't appear to have had enough to slide yet. A few rocks had dropped off, however. I expect the Kelso ridge was doable, as it looked pretty clear of snow (for the more daring of you!)

By the time I reached 12,000', Gray's was completely enshrouded in a fat, dark cloud. After verifying the threesome following me up were off the summit safely, I continued down, again avoiding the slide area. The temperature in the gulch had risen to a tropical 33 degrees! A gentle snowfall began as I cruised down the road, giving me a rewarding way to finish my day!

I made excellent time out, stopping for 45 minutes above the Grizzly Gulch junction to help dig out a college couple who thought their Xterra could go where all the other 4-wheeled drives parked at the junction couldn't go!!

Total time on the trail was 8 hours & 15 minutes, plus the 45 minutes spent in vehicle rescue. The elevation at the highway is 9800' and Gray's Peak is 14,270'. (= 4470'). The road to the trailhead is slightly over 3 miles and the posted trail to the summit is 4 miles, thus a round trip total of slightly over 14 miles. There were no safe opportunities to glissade, unfortunately. Pack weight for reference was 38# on my 150# frame, enough to make my old knees a little sore today!

Truly a great way to spend a day in the mountains, away from the crowds (except on the return drive, of course!)

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