Kelso Mountain – 13,164

RT Length: 6.32 miles

Elevation Gain:  1937’

I arrived at the Grays and Torreys Trailhead the night before, curious to find there were only a handful of vehicles in the parking area.

I picked out a prime spot (that proved later to be a bad choice), and settled in to read a bit before heading to bed.  I talked to an awesome CDT thru hiker, and noticed two girls fiddling with a camper in the parking lot.  A very old camper, on top of a very old Tundra.  They were all over that camper; on top pulling at buckles, on the back, fiddling with the door, banging on the sides, etc.  When I saw them bring out a hatchet I stopped reading and walked over to them.

I said hello, told them I was a mom and a Girl Scout Leader, and also told them my kids ages, trying to let them know I wasn’t a freak. I asked them if they needed any help? Yes, yes they did.  It seemed they’d locked the keys to the camper inside the camper.  I asked them how old they were. 16 and 17.  Wow!  I was impressed!  Not only had they driven this clunker up to the Grays and Torreys Trailhead, they’d convinced their parents to let them do it alone, in their dad’s truck.  When I was their age my mom wouldn’t have let me do that.  I know because I’d asked, then had to resort to the “I’m sleeping at Kelly’s house” thing as I went to bonfires in the woods where my mom had no idea where I was at.  Kudos to their parents.    The girls has about 15 14ers under their belts, and wanted to tackle Grays and Torreys in the morning, but it was going to be a long night if they couldn’t get the back open.

OK, time to problem solve.  I didn’t think breaking a window was a good idea if we could help it.  I knew how to open a car window with duct tape.  I asked if they had any, and they brought out a small roll of electrical tape. That wasn’t going to work.  Next, I looked at the door handle, which didn’t look too secure.  I was thinking we could probably jolt it back and forth and it might break.  As I was jiggling the handle, I asked how close the next set of keys would be?  They said it didn’t matter, because the keys to the truck were inside the camper as well.  I was really thinking I’d just drive them back to Denver or something to pick up the keys from their parents, when one of the girls got the fabulous idea to look for another set of keys to the camper, and found them inside the glove box inside the truck.  Problem solved.  I wished them luck, happy they hadn’t broken a window with a hatchet, and told them to knock on my window if they needed anything during the night. 

It rained.  Around midnight I heard something crawling around underneath my truck. It sounded slow, and it was trying to get itself inside the gears.  I pounded the side of the truck and it seemed to creep away.  Half an hour later it came back, so I knew if I didn’t get rid of this thing it was going to be a long night.  Also, I wasn’t going to make friends at the trailhead if I kept banging on the side of my truck all night.

I got out of the topper and into the front seat of my truck. I turned it on and revved the engine a few times.  When I was done, and crawling back into the topper, I saw a porcupine waddle away from underneath. It seems my secluded spot at the back of the parking area had been a bad idea, as it was easy access for porcupines.  No one else had porcupine trouble that night (that I talked to).

I was up and on the trail at 4:30am, and the trailhead was now about half full of vehicles.  I crossed the bridge, and began following the Grays and Torreys trail.

This is a class 1, wide, easy to follow trail. 

My beta said to follow the trail all the way to the Kelso/Torreys saddle, so that’s what I did, but you don’t need to do that.  You can gain the ridge at any point after about 11900’.  If I had to do this again, this is where I’d ascend the ridge

But, I had beta that said to go to the saddle, so that’s what I did.  I followed the trail for about 2 miles, and then made my way to the saddle. There’s a trail the entire way.

When I got there, I turned to go east up the ridge, but noticed it was all class 3 and above.  This seemed silly to me, because there was clearly tundra below.

So I backtracked and took the tundra route to the ridge.  This was a fabulous idea, easy going, and I didn’t need a helmet.

This is what I was trying to avoid, which looks ok from this side, but more spicy from above.  Just take the tundra route.

It was here, around 5:30am, when I saw my first helicopter flyover for the day.  It got dangerously close to the mountains, and I was worried someone needed SAR.  All kinds of scenarios went though my head. I knew CFI was doing work in the area, but the post I’d seen a few days ago said they weren’t starting until next weekend (I found out later they posted again with the proper dates last night, but I was already at the trailhead, so I didn’t know this).  I was worried someone needed help, and the helicopter couldn’t find them.  I spend a lot of time looking for someone myself as I hiked.  

Helicopter:

The helicopter came back around about 20 minutes later, and took a different path.  Once again, I was worried they were searching for someone.  Then about 20 minutes after that I saw the helicopter carrying wooden ties, and knew it must be CFI doing trail maintenance.  THANK YOU CFI!

Once on the tundra, before gaining the ridge, I came across some mountain goats lounging, watching the sunrise.  I stood there and watched it with them.

Then I continued on towards the ridge

After making it to the ridge, I followed it northeast to the summit.  This was a simple ridge walk on tundra.

I summited Kelso Mountain at 6:30am

Kelso Mountain:

At the summit cairn there was a journal that was recently placed there.  I know some people get worked up about this type of thing, but it’s there for a good cause, and it will be taken back down.  Needless to say, I text the man battling cancer a good morning, and sent him pictures of the goats. 

Then I retraced my steps back down the ridge

I left the ridge at 11250’ to head back into the basin.  I aimed southwest, towards the obvious Grays and Torreys Trail

The goats were still lounging around, so I stopped for a bit to enjoy their presence.  They seemed unbothered by the flyovers.  I didn’t get too close, but it was neat they were so relaxed.  The views were incredible.

After a few minutes I got up again, and headed down the tundra to the trail below, noticing there were tons of people hiking like ants below.

Once back on the trail I realized it was still early, and considered Grays or Torreys or both, but I had a 10am meeting I needed cell service for, and I wasn’t 100% sure I’d have it on the mountain, so I headed back to the trailhead.

Check out the CFI helicopter picking up ties

I made it back to the trailhead at 7:30am, and the parking lot was already full.  It’s a Tuesday.

I got back to my truck at 7:30am, making this a 6.32 mile hike with 1937’ of elevation gain in 3 hours.  This would be an easy addition to Grays and Torreys.

On to my meeting!

Author: Laura M Clark

Mom, Solo Colorado 14er Finisher, Outdoor Enthusiast, Traveler, and Girl Scout Leader with an MBA in International Business and Marketing. I value adventure, growth, courage, wisdom, integrity, accountability, and family. I enjoy yoga, wine, whiskey, traveling, reading, and the outdoors. I strive to be the person who inspires and motivates myself and others to succeed.

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