Winter Ascent of Grays Peak, Colorado


I must seem like a crazy person.

Who in their right mind would drive 15 hours on a Friday to spend 14 long hard hours on a winter ascent of a mountain on Saturday and then drive back 15 hours Sunday? Welp, three of us thought it was a good idea I guess... and despite the mountain kicking our butts, I'd say it was (mostly) worth it.

The climbing club had an event to do Torrey's peak in Colorado this past Saturday via Dead dog couloir, but plans changed on the mountain when it looked like there was avalanche danger on that route with all the fresh powder, so our plans changed to Gray's peak, Torrey peak's neighboring mountain. Gray's peak is 14,270' tall making it the 9th highest peak in the US. As usual, we didn't get to start our ascent on the actual trailhead because it was not passable due to snow, so our trip began about 3 miles down and I'm told about 2,200' below from where the normal trailhead starts (I'm really looking forward to the trip where I can actually start at the true trailhead). All in all that made our trip about 14 miles round trip and 5,200' elevation gain. Also to note, a bunch of my pictures are crap because I had smudges all over my lens apparently and didn't notice till I loaded them today.. boo.

Ok, the trip begins in our work parking lot where we made a last minute decision to take my suv subaru instead of Jim's prius (and it was a great decision). We drove 4 hours to Prim (near Vegas), and I made Jim go in with me to play Craps a bit since I've been reading this book on Craps strategy and probabilistics and wanted to see how it would work (Jake watched and made jokes... it was entertaining). Let's just say, if Jim had copied me, he would've left that casino with a little bit of gas money in his pocket too.... but i digress. We ate some ihop, drove a bit longer, and car camped on Thursday night. Friday we finished our drive up to Colorado entertaining ourselves with conversation, tiny desk concert youtube videos, a weird Mannheim Steamroller cd we found abandoned at the gas station, and sleeping. We finally got to the parking lot below around 7pm Friday night.

We had planned to camp there in the parking lot that night before the ascent.

But then Jake found this sweet old abandoned shack. So our plans changed to camping in the old abandoned shack.

Escaping the elements sounded like an excellent idea to us.

To add to the old shack feel, obligatory trashed appliances and bed frames outside.

And if it weren't cute enough, lets add a freaking stream.

In it's prime, I'd love to live in this bad boy. It was awesome!

The inside was a bit, er, dirty.

And disturbing?

I couldn't help myself.

Then we found this on the wall. ET+orange slices+star trek+sound of music+a bunch of disconnected heads...

And dogs. Floating dogs on top of other dog photos.

Bird art and German.

I would've liked to have met this person who lived in this house before... if anything to understand the ET collage a bit better.

The sleep in the shack was alright. We tried building a fire in the old fireplace, but it ended up smoking up the inside of the place, which ended up giving me a weird smoke flavor and smell in the morning.

We woke up at 3:30 am Saturday, ate some breakfast, and began the 3 mile hike up the road to the trailhead. It's such a bummer when you have to hike up something you'd normally drive up. For once, I'd like to actually start at the trailhead of a hike instead of being surprised with an extra 2,200' of elevation gain. We've been having a lot of bad luck with this year's mountaineering trips as far as starting at the trailhead goes.

But as you can see, the road wasn't in best conditions to drive up.

We ran across a few cute cabins and cute abandoned cabins on the way up to the trailhead.

Then finally, the trailhead.

Where the real hike began across this little bridge.

I'm still pretty new to mountaineering, and I also live almost near sea level (compared to most climbing members who live at a higher elevation in Utah)... so I'm usually lagging about 20 minutes behind the group in pace. Jim and I always kept catching up with the groups at the end of their "breaks" and then couldn't catch up because they would leave just as we would start to take one... I'm hoping to overcome this one of these days.

There's a different mentality on a mountaineering trip. It's go-go-go. You hardly stop. You just keep walking. Keep your snacks and water handy so you can eat on the go. That's the way of the mountaineer. If you stop too long, you'll get left behind. It's nothing personal, its just the push for the summit driving the group. Again, I'm still figuring out how to channel that drive.

Off they go.

The worst part about it was that the last person in the bigger group always seemed just in reach, but never attainable.

So we stuck together and formed our own little mini group trailing the bigger group.

Not too much incline at this point, but a long hike to the base of the mountain.

We had to stop to put our snowshoes on at one point too because it was beginning to be too much work just in our mountaineering boots.

I finally returned the crap snowshoes I bought at REI, and got to use these puppies for the first time. They were excellent! Unlike on Whitney where my shoes kept popping off the whole time, these never had that problem. It honestly makes a big difference having a good pair of snowshoes, worth the money.

There was a lot of fresh powder since it snowed Friday night.

And the entire ascent toward Gray's peak was basically white out.  Only every now and then did the sun peak out a few times. Most of my pictures you'll see though are of white foggy skies. It was windy and cold.

Don't trust that smile for one second.

Look, its the group again! We eventually caught up with them and took a little longer of a break to put on our harnesses and have some food. I brought drinkable yogurt and it is probably the most delicious thing ever to have to eat on the mountain. For some reason it hits the spot, and it stays really cold the entire time. This is where we decided not to do dead dog couloir because of the avalanche danger, and decided to send for Gray's peak instead. Honestly, it looked (emphasis on looked) easier too.

Awh man... there they go again. Story of my day.

At this point, we were really starting to get exhausted. Every step felt like it only took us maybe 6 inches further. You feel like you ought to be able to go faster, but the only thing you can do is inch your foot a little bit more. It was slow going.

But I like this picture of the club members... inching their way up this hill like ants. Stupid smudged lens. It bugs me a whole lot. I'm guessing it happened because it was snowing a lot on and off that day.

There's not much going on except a continuation upwards into the white mist.

Jim below being swallowed up by some more white mist.

We were about 700' from the summit when our bodies and minds gave out and up, and we turned around. I know... sad day. It was so damn confusing climbing up that mountain not being able to see the summit feeling like it was never going to end. We ended up finding out later that we were only about an hour from the summit... we probably could have pushed ourselves a bit more, but alas, we headed back down.

On our hike down, we kind of got lost a little... everything was so white, and none of our tracks were there anymore. Fortunately for us, another climber who was on the mountain passed by us and we followed him out. The hike back was just a brutal as the hike there. Snow was starting to melt, we were pegholing a whole bunch, falling over ourselves from exhaustion in this never ending hike back down to summit where everything looks the same.

14 hours from when we started our hike, we ended up back down at the parking lot. 14 hours is a long time ladies and gentlemen... a really long time.

When Jake finally met up with us again, we started our drive back to Bako that night. And then a freak mid-May snow storm rolled in. We tried to beat it, but only got 6 or so hours in before we had to stop to get some sleep. Next morning we woke up with snow piled up high around my car and snow continuing to fall. Our drive back on I-70 was a slow one to say the least...

We passed a lot of accidents and stuck small cars.

But then finally on I-15 we cleared out of it, and were feeling good again. We decided to try to go find this Mica mine in Saint George since it was on the way home.

So I found the GPS cooridnates online, and plugged them in. Welp, the route that took us to the mine was really round about, and took us forever to get there through all these really crappy dirt/rock roads. Once we got to the mine we realized there was a direct path to the mine from the highway... apparently google didn't know about this road. Technology.

This place was cool though! Mica everywhere!

So being the nerds that we are, we had to find some prime specimens to bring back with us.

That's right. I like rocks.

Don't judge me.

Oh, and besides the snow storm... here is another good reason we took the subaru...

Mountaineering is hard. Mountaineering is exhausting. I didn't summit.

You can't win them all I guess. If anything, I learned a lot about keeping pace this trip... I might need to sacrifice a couple of breaks to keep pace with the group next time.

On the upside, I got to spend a lot of time with 2 awesome friends. Spend time on a gorgeous mountain. Sleep in an abandoned shack. Gamble in Prim. Collect Mica Samples. And eat lot's of pancakes.

I'd do it again. Next time preferably with a summit.

Till next time Gray's Peak. Till next time.