The Ducks-USC game was scheduled for 5pm, so I had time to get a mountain in before it started. Brian couldn’t make it this weekend so I invited another climber from 14ers.com; Craig. We met at the winter parking lot at the Bakerville exit off of I-70 at 6am. There were reports of ice on the road so we took my Blazer and left Craig’s vehicle at the lower lot. The road wasn’t too bad, there were some sections of ice and packed snow, so vehicles that usually make the TH shouldn’t have issues. There are many different ways to climb Kelso, we decided to start from Stephens Gulch TH and hike the Grays trail around the south of Kelso Mountain.
We were the first to arrive at the TH, somewhere around 6:30am. The stars and the moon light were amazing. One day I would love to learn to take photos in the dark of the amazing lights, but for now the shots just turn up black. There was no wind unlike a few weeks ago, so I didn’t need a parka just my fleece sweater which was nice. As we were heading to the trail another car pulled into the lot. I was surprised that us and this other car were the only ones up bright and early for a hike. I guess a little ice and snow keeps the crowds at home, and I can’t say I don’t like that.
Today was a leisure hike. We knew that the route was less than 2,000ft vertical and under 6miles, so we were in no hurry. I thought the views a couple weeks ago were good, but since the snow has only made the mountains look more dramatic. Torreys Peak and it’s amazing rock contours resemble more of a Himalayan Peak when the snow and ice fill in the cracks. I could probably post a picture of Torreys and tell everyone it was a Himalayan Peak and they might buy it. We made it to the regular first break site on this trail at the main sign where Grays and Torreys come into full view. This is about 1.5miles from the TH, and by the time I usually make it to this point the light is just enough to take my first photos of the day.
After some trail mix and a splash of water we were off up the trail. We kept our eye on Kelso’s slopes as we made our way around to the south. I wasn’t sure if we wanted to do a scramble from the saddle of Torreys and Kelso or just weave our way up the steep grassy slopes. After a long spell of observation and conversing with Craig we decided to start a traverse up the steep grass along the rock. I enjoyed this part probably a lot more than Craig. It had been a couple weeks since I was last hiking so my legs were hungry, I turned my motor on and stair climbed the steep wall. I loved it, it may sound odd but I get a nice adrenalin rush powering up mountains sometimes. I kept going till I hit the ridge then waited there for Craig. The wind picked up once on the Kelso ridge so I took in the amazing views and found a nice windless resting place.
|Torreys and Grizzly|
Craig made it the ridge in no time at all. From here to hike was a cake ridge walk. I enjoyed this ridge since the west side was a complete drop-off into Grizzly Gulch and to the east was a nice mellow grass/rock incline. The views westward were so amazing that we often found ourselves stopping to take in the view. I was expecting more snow on the high mountains then I would feel a good gust of wind and would realize once again it is too dam windy here for any snow to stick. There is one official false summit along the ridge, but I would call the humps a series of false hope as you hike the ridge. The snow on the leeward side was increasing as we gained higher on the mountain. By the time we were reaching the final summit push there was blanketing snow and freezing winds and I said to myself; this is Colorado.
|Kelso Summit-Rock Cairn Above the Snow|
There was a small rock cairn on the summit surrounded by snow. We dropped our packs, decided we would take a few pictures then bail to the other side of the ridge to have a fuel break. My fingers froze while taking pictures, so I had to pull out my down mittens and boy were they nice. It’s amazing how fast down heats you up, within a minute or too I was ready to take more pictures and freeze my fingers again. The snow covered peaks make the hike and freezing well worth it, the view is something that cannot be described easily in words. So, I guess what I’m say is you will all have to head up a mountain and experience this and you will understand my addiction.
We hiked about 100yrds down the leeward side of the ridge and found our windless pit stop. The water in my water bottles were icing up and my snickers bar was completely frozen. I found the one good trail food I enjoy in the cold is trail mix. It doesn’t freeze and you get a nice caloric boost in just a couple handfuls. Even though we were out of the wind we were getting chilled so we made the pit stop quick and gathered ourselves for the hike down the mountain. We decided not to back-track our ascent route and take a more direct line down to the main trail.
The upper mountain was gradual and easy on the knees, but that soon changed. There was a good 1,200ft drop from the summit to the trail in about 3/4mile to give you an idea of the steepness. I was feeling good and was powering down the hill as my body heated up again. It was different for Craig; he doesn’t have the experience of romping down steep hills so it took him a bit longer. I just made a zig-zag line down the mountain picking my way as I could. At a few points I came across some snow and how I wished it was soft and deep enough for a glissade. Oh, it was more of the ice variety so that was no option today. I made it down to the trail and waited for Craig. Once we were gathered together again it was a simple mile walk down the trail to the car.
It was an amazing day in the Front Range again. I can see myself climbing Kelso from multiple routes in the future. This would make a good winter mountaineering mountain for beginners to advanced levels; it all depends on what angle you attack it from. Kristi scheduled a massage for next Saturday, so I get to get out again and I can’t wait!
Starting Elevation: 11,245ft
Kelso Mountain Summit: 13,176ft
Total Gained Elevation: 1,931ft
Time: 3:03 moving, 2:49 stopped.
Climbing Partner: Craig