August 26th, 2019
Quayle Creek near I-70 mm 1730 to Warden Gulch stream mm 1746
Distance in miles: 16!
Some days are more special than all the other days in the calendar year and you may think you get to do whatever you want on those particular days. In my case, I still have to hike this trail, or at least, I’m choosing to hike. And why not add 2 more 14ers to my list? Grays Peak is 14,278′ and officially part of the CDT, the highpoint of the entire trail. Torreys Peak is just across a saddle, about 700′ back up in elevation…a quick scramble. Most people tackle both after going to all the trouble of climbing to 13,600 to get to either one.
The very first part of the day involves climbing 3 miles on the road to the trailhead, starting at the junction with I-70. It’s a rough, steep dirt road but at least 12 cars pass by before 7 am. Even on a Monday morning, this is a popular trail. I don’t mind the easy road but the dust and exhaust from the cars is not palatable, especially with the way my lungs are already suffering. For the love of hikers, people, if you see folks walking a dirt road, crazy as they may seem, slow down a little! These poor CDT hikers have to walk an extra 3 miles and 1200′ in elevation gain that you have the luxury of driving up!
The parking lot is overflowing when we reach it shortly after 7 am. Many more cars arrived well before dawn…all the people going for the sunrise experience. I climbed Mt Whitney for the sunrise and that was enough. I am perfectly content sleeping until my normal absurdly early time on this day.
The trails to these two peaks are some of the easiest in the state. According to the history profile, people have been climbing them since the early 1800s. Today there is a line of people heading up so that you can see every switchback clearly. It’s almost comical that so many are making this pilgrimage. There are none with full backpacks, however. Even still, we are passing people left and right. I’m tired from the previous day’s huge effort and have developed a chronic cough from the altitude and dry air. But it doesn’t matter. Walking 2000 miles to get to this point will ensure you are in the best shape. In fact, walking up a 14er has never been easier.I drop my pack at the saddle of the two peaks and hustle off to climb Torreys. My feet feel like catapults without the weight of my pack. I bound up the slope and am at the top in 15 minutes. I’m astonished by how good I feel. I remember back to when I first hiked up Pikes Peak and how I had to stop every few minutes to catch my breath when I got above 13,000′. I barely notice the altitude now.
I take a few pictures but don’t linger because Relentless has decided to just go to the top of Grays and is waiting on me there. I run back down the slope, getting funny looks from everyone. One guy makes a comment about my great legs. I don’t get offended because I know how incredible thru-hikers legs appear to others. I’m quite proud of them, myself.
I grab my pack and push myself up to the top of the other peak. I wish I hadn’t ever felt how easy it is without the weight of my pack. But I’m up quickly and surprise Relentless by just how fast I tackled both peaks. We take pictures and chat with all the others at the top. I boldly declare that we’re short on food and taking donations. The bars and trail mixes come pouring out. I don’t even have to play the birthday card. We’re thru-hikers walking up huge peaks as part of a 3000 mile journey…feed us! Marmots and pika don’t have nothing on us as beggars and scavengers.At the top are also some mountain goats. They are not native to Colorado but have been introduced. The ones up here seem to feel very safe, as they barely bother to move over as we make our way down. I never noticed just how sharp their horns are and how muscular the males look…I think they could easily take me out if they wanted to. Fortunately they are more concerned with fighting each other.The CDT continues down a knife-edge ridge to Mt. Edwards at 13,816’… almost a 3rd 14er for the day. Once again, we’re off nice, groomed trails and basically back to cross-country route finding. The ridge looks technical and sketchy-as but it’s not too bad close up. A few notes warn of impending doom but we have perfect weather and good wits. Relentless finds a tricky spot but I stay high, picking my way along the spine. I have greatly expanded my tolerance of heights and rock scrambling over the years.The ridge broadens and we reach an old mining road that sidles the side of Argentine Peak. We go back down thousands of feet where there is finally some water. We take a break and marvel at our slow pace. Who cares, I think. This is a day to be appreciated. A gift from the mountain goddesses.
We continue down a valley where there is so much old mining activity. A strangely colored creek rushes down from the mine tailings above and I’m so glad I collected water from an earlier spring. Polluted water from old mines is not uncommon in Colorado. It’s still a spectacularly beautiful valley. Presently we turn left on a jeep road, heading straight up a gulch to rejoin the divide.
In looking ahead at the maps, we will be back on the divide with no water or shelter from the wind for approximately 15 miles. It’s only 4:30 in the afternoon but we really don’t have much of a choice to make camp early at the last creek. There are trees and flat spots…it’s almost the perfect campsite and I deserve a relaxing evening on this day. We settle in, clean up, and I even take a nap in the afternoon sunlight. Relentless later builds a fire (a first since early Montana) and I have my special dessert…a Rice Krispie treat with a candle. What luxury is this? Is this what it’s like to be a normal backpacker? So what if I don’t have enough food to get through tomorrow. This day was perfect.