Monday, June 30, 2014

Day 21: Peru Creek to Grays and Torrey's Peaks to Grays Peak Trailhead

We quickly descended to Peru Creek. We hiked upstream for some time, crawling over numerous downed trees that had cascaded down the mountain in an avalanche several years earlier. Although we searched for a bridge there was none to be found. Reluctantly we removed our shoes and forded the knee deep creek, feeling the chill of the frigid water in our bones. 

The long climb to Argentine Pass (13,212 ft) started on an old mining road, but soon turned to trail, switchbacking its way up the steep mountainside in two long, sweeping switchbacks. We pulled out ice axes and microspikes for a sketchy traverse across a steep snowfield in long, rocky gully. 

Our trail disappeared at Argentine Pass, and we began following rock cairns up the steep ridge. We climbed and descended multiple times as we slowly worked our way across the ridge. We eventually climbed to Mount Edward (13,818 ft), feeling hopeful with only a few more climbs between us and our goal, Grays Peak. 

But after Mount Edward the rock cairns disappeared, leaving us to pick our own way as we scrambled over the rocky ridge.  We frequently used our hands, both to aid in climbing and to steady ourselves. The mountainside dropped off sharply on either side of the narrow ridge with significant exposure.  I kicked a loose rock out of the way so that Atlas and Sierra would not slip on it and watched it fall over a thousand feet before finally coming to rest. A sober warning of the consequences of a misstep. 

Finally our route joined the established Grays Peak trail, and we began to make better time. We reached the Grays Peak summit (14,270 ft) at 4:30. Sierra's sixth 14er!

Atlas did not want to summit Torrey Peak, so he volunteered to stay by the packs while Sierra and I climbed it. Free of our packs, we made good time up the steep, rocky trail and soon reached the top of Torrey's Peak (14,267 ft). Sierra's seventh 14er!

Descending the peak we spotted several groups of mountain goats on the steep hillside.  The goats seemed poised to climb the steep snowfield on the same track we were descending, but casually sauntered up the hill as we approached. One mountain goat stayed, licking something from the ground next to the huge rock cairn marking the trail. Eventually she scampered across a snowfield to join a different group of goats. A young kid skipped across the snow to meet her. 

Marmots popped out from behind every rock, and one silly pair chased each other around the grassy hillside. A lone pika tentatively poked out from behind a rock, then disappeared inside a huge rock cairn. 

We found camping at the Gray's Peak Trailhead, where we joined several groups of car campers scattered through the woods. A few slept in their cars, undoubtedly planning an early morning summit of one or both peaks. 


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