Watch: Bootprints Hiking Guide to Grays and Torreys peaks via Stevens Gulch Road
CLEAR CREEK COUNTY — Though this hike is from the eastern side of the Continental Divide in Clear Creek County, the iconic sister twin peak summits of Grays Peak and Torreys Peak sit on the border of Summit County. Grays Peak is the highest point on the Continental Divide.
You can hike the peaks from the Western Slope in the direction of Horseshoe Basin, the standard, and more popular, route up Grays and Torreys is via the rocky Stevens Gulch Road. You can access Stevens Gulch Road just a couple exits east of the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels at Exit 221 on Interstate 70.
I parked my low-clearance vehicle in a parking lot just off of I-70 and then had a friend give me a lift with his Jeep another 3 miles up to the terminus of Stevens Gulch Road, at about 11,255 feet. As we approached the Grays Peak Trailhead at timberline, I was astonished at the number of cars parked along the side of the road. I knew these 14ers were popular among all levels of hikers, but I did not anticipate the dozens upon dozens — if not hundreds — of cars lined up on the road for nearly a mile.
After my friend drove off I locked my bike up at the trailhead — my means of transportation back down to my car — before heading out on the trail. The route at the beginning is an immaculate work of trail building. Water bars, bridges and a wide pathway ushers you through the first stretch.
At the 0.9-mile mark of the hike, I’d gained 700 feet as the sun rose over the ridgeline to my left. The trail lacks any kind of canopy from the beginning, though it is nice to hike through the high-Alpine bushes and wildflowers, which must provide stunning contrast earlier in summer when snow lingers in the numerous chutes that surround the valley.
The trail is impossible to lose pretty much the entire way, especially in this early portion. Continuing through the basin toward the view of the snowy switchbacks on Grays, I was serenaded by a group of hikers singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” Hikers of all stripes love their 14ers, and the crowds were out en masse on this Saturday in September.
At the 1.8 mile mark of the hike I’d gained 1,000 feet. That means we were halfway to Grays in terms of sheer distance, but with two-thirds of the elevation gain to go.
At 2 miles in you’ll notice the alternative route up Torreys via Kelso Ridge to the right, toward the low point between Torreys and Kelso Mountain. This is a more technical hiking route only recommended for experienced climbers. On this day I stayed hiking straight ahead, to continue a modified loop, or “lollipop” route out toward Grays and Torreys. I’d jaunt left to go up Grays, hike to Torreys, and then return by meeting back up with the original trail.
At 2.8 miles and 1,900 feet of elevation gain into the hike, with crowds of hikers all around, I stumbled upon one the local residents, a strapping mountain goat. Luckily a nearby husky was on a leash and a possible altercation was avoided. Leashes are mandatory on this trail for all dogs.
Here the shaded, north-facing segments of the trail had snow. A man ahead of me did not wear traction devices, slipped on the early-morning ice and dislocated his shoulder. I highly recommend microspikes, which served me well on the hike.
At the 2.9-mile mark and 2,000 feet of elevation gain into the hike, I broke off for the lollipop route at left. From here, at 13,300 feet above sea level, this meant I had 900 feet of elevation gain over 0.9 miles to go to reach Grays summit.
At the 3.8 mile mark, after a slow scaling of switchbacks, I reached the summit of Grays Peak in 2.5 hours. Here, the westerly views of Summit County, Argentine Pass down below and the ski runs at Keystone and Breckenridge Ski resorts come into view.
Continuing along the Continental Divide toward the north, more old snow lingered in stretches of the descent — my microspikes were clutch. At 4.2 miles, in the saddle between Grays and Torreys, I reached a weathered trail sign pointing back down into the basin. I’d return here after summitting Torreys Peak to finish the lollipop loop. I took a moment to appreciate the level of wear on the sign, which was staggering. Clearly, years of winds whipping across the Continental Divide and over the saddle in the ridge has left their mark.
It took longer than I’d hoped, and at times it was painful process to get to the top, but at the 4.7 mile mark I topped Torreys. You could see a sliver of I-70 down below, but it was the western views, back toward home in Summit County, that were especially amazing.
Distance: 8.55 miles round-trip
Elevation gain: 3,529 feet round-trip
Starting elevation: 11,255 feet
Highest elevation: 14,278 feet (Grays Peak), 14,275 feet (Torreys Peak)
Elapsed time: 5 hours, 26 minutes and 7 seconds
Average speed: 1.57 mph
Average pace: 38.16 minutes-per-mile
Ideal for: Wildlife and wildflower viewing, 14er hike, 360-degree views, above-tree-line hike with dog
Parking: High clearance vehicles at Grays Peak Trailhead top of Stevens Gulch Road off of Interstate 70
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