Cold mountain air penetrated my mummy bag each time I moved, the soft blue I fell asleep to was there when I opened my eyes, birds chirped hesitantly, I lay refreshed from having a nights sleep. I didn’t move all that fast those first few hours, took some time to wander around the campsite, the stream, sit in my hammock and read some philosophy from Seneca, relight my campfire to warm up and munch on some teriyaki chicken & rice. I packed it all up and headed out, the long shadows of the morning stretched across green, flowery fields between the hills of the gulch. I figured I’d head towards Grays Peak, it seemed to be popular and a good entry level fourteener, I’m ok with entry level in unfamiliar territory.
My map didn’t load, no service, I drove looking for familiar roads and features. Mountains surrounded me, paved roads turned to dirt, campers were milling about their sites, I recalled one route to the Grays peak mentioning something about a Chihuahua, I saw a sign with the word next to a few hikers and rolled down my window.
“Hey, I was driving around looking for the trailhead to the Grays peak, am I near it?”
“Oh, I tried to drive to that, but there is a weird turnoff I missed, it’s down further, not sure how to get there.”
I was a tiny bit defeated, I was hunting for fourteener glory and it seemed as if I was in the wrong area, I later realized I was at the completely opposite side of the mountain from the standard route. The hiker mentioned a cool lake six miles up the trail, I packed everything up and decided to check it out. It was getting late and I didn’t want to burn another hour or two driving around, I wanted to get lost in the woods.
A rocky trail extended in front of me, steadily rising up into a wet valley full of marshland, streams and small pools. I walked past two four wheeling jeeps cautiously working through ditched out gullies on the trail, we all had a laugh about that, I considered asking for a lift to the upper trails. Wind rhythmically caressed the green stalks of the marsh plants, I stopped to stare for a while and listen to the wind. Rocky peaks surrounded me in the valley, I wondered if one of them was Grays, but I just had no way of knowing. They were tall, smooth peaks, touched by grassy patches, gentle foothills and so beautiful, it’s hard to replicate the richness of their colors, the depth, the feeling through photography and words. Scents of tinder and dirt were on the air, the hissing of and swishing of the wind were broken by faint chirps of the musical birds, the clinking of metal grew louder as I walked onto a campsite.
I introduced myself to two older men setting up a campsite, Mike and his quiet friend. “You fellas sure picked a remote place to set up camp!”
“That is definitely true” Mike said with a friendly laugh. We talked about our plans, he was going to prep the campsite for his family whom he was going to pick up later, I asked him about the mountains around us. We walked out to the open where Mike pointed out Torreys peak, and the saddle that lead to Grays peak, obscured by a smaller mountain in the foreground.
“Damn, so those are the fourteeners here huh? Wonder how far they are from here.” I could see a path up from where I was, towards Chihuahua lake, up a low lying valley to a saddle that connected Torreys to Grizzley peak, a thirteener. So far as I could tell, if the climb to the saddle wasn’t too treacherous, we’d be in business.
“Do you have a map of the area?”
“Just my phone,” I left out the part about having zero reception, a practically useless object at this point.
“I just bought a map of the area today, let’s take a look.”
Mike pulls out his map and unfolds it on the hood of his truck, we find that there is no trail access to that side of Torrey’s peak.
“I don’t see any safe route up either of those mountains, you shoulda hit it from the other side where the main trail is.” Hope I had been steadily building slightly dissipated as to whether or not I might be able to attack Torreys from the south, Mike continued.
“But, if you still want to hike for a bit and not get yourself killed, check out Chihuahua lake, it’s quite a sight.” I agreed and he wouldn’t let me leave without his map, good guy and much obliged for assisting an ill prepared hiker. I mentioned if I was in the area on the way back I’d give him the map back, he said either way it didn’t matter. I continued, higher and higher up the valley to the foothills of the big fourteeners. I kept staring at the hill below the saddle connecting Torreys and Grizzly.
“Shit I got this” I said to myself, confidence and some trepidation in the same breath. I saw trails leading up Grays peak as my view widened, I waved at a couple hikers heading down and eventually made it to the top with that quintessential gassed out feeling you get walking around where your lungs have yet to be adapted. Making my way down, I was very impressed how infrequently I fell on my ass from slipping on loose gravel, some points I even felt as if I was glassading down the rocks as I did in the snow at Rainier earlier this year. I fell, and decided to use it as a chance to refuel a bit.
I had left my pack at the bottom before the grass gave way to gravel, when I met up with it again I sat for a while and rested a bit more.