Month: October 2018

Most Recent

10 Must-Do Hikes in the Mountain West

From Montana’s Livingston Range to the Lechuguilla Desert of southern Arizona, the U.S. region known as the Mountain West is brimming with top-caliber hiking destinations. Narrowing down a list of 10 standouts is no small feat, but we took a stab at it anyway, choosing from the eight states that make up the U.S. Census Bureau’s Mountain West zone.

Take note: These aren’t the 10 best hidden hikes in the Mountain West; none of these routes are particularly obscure. In fact, several rank among the most celebrated trails in the country—and for good reason. A journey into the maw of one of the world’s most sublime canyons, backcountry skylines gloriously rock-torn, adventures in wide-open heights and close-hemmed halls of stone: These destinations highlight the scenic punch and variety characteristic of this outdoor playground and its seemingly infinite opportunities for adventure.

1. The Chinese Wall, Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Montana

As you might expect from a mighty watershed frontier, the Continental Divide in North America comes mantled in some pretty heady scenery along most of its length. And one of its most dramatic expressions comes in the heart of one of the largest roadless areas in the Lower 48, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex of northwestern Montana. Deep within the "Bob"—named for an early champion of the federal wilderness area and a hardcore long-distance hiker—about a dozen miles of the Divide between Larch Hill Pass and Haystack Mountain separates the Flathead and Sun basins in the guise of a slanted, east-facing limestone ledge 1,000 feet high: the famous Chinese Wall.

Hike in the lee of this great pale escarpment via the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail from the Benchmark Trailhead, or climb to its spine at Haystack Mountain. Whichever way you go, be sure to keep an eye out for grizzly bears, a suitably majestic beast to go along with the big terrain.

2. The Thorofare, Greater Yellowstone, Wyoming

You’ll also be walking in the shadow of the grizzly on this legendary backpacking route into the roadless wilds of far southeastern Yellowstone National Park and the adjoining Teton Wilderness. You’ll tramp down the eastern shores of Yellowstone Lake—the largest above 7,000 feet in the U.S.—to its southeast arm and the willow-clad delta of the Yellowstone River, then upstream along the meandering channel between the Two Ocean Plateau and the Absaroka Range. Somewhere on the National Forest land beyond the park’s southeastern boundary is the anonymous chunk of turf farthest from a road in the Lower 48 states. But the entire high-elevation valley is deliciously remote and charged with the presence of the silvertip bear, equally cantankerous moose, and those aforementioned grizzlies.

3. Big Sandy Trail, Wind River Range, Wyoming

This heavily used trail to the iconic Cirque of the Towers in the southern Wind Rivers serves as a classic gateway to Wyoming’s vast uncrowded high-country wilderness. Like the similarly breathtaking Titcomb Basin to the north, the gray battlements of the Cirque—one of the emblematic mountain vistas in the West—are worth seeing even if you’ll likely have company.

Reached by a long-slog blacktop-to-dirt drive from U.S. 191 near Pinedale, the Big Sandy Trail, an old American Indian route, follows the Big Sandy River to Big Sandy Lake, then on a steepening track past North and Arrowhead lakes to 10,800-foot Jackass Pass. Here you’ll gain your introductory prospect of the Cirque of the Towers, which cradles Lonesome Lake (which is not particularly lonesome in summer and fall) in its hard granite embrace. These prongs, spires, and prows—which include Warbonnet, Wolf’s Head, Pylon Peak, Warrior, Shark’s Nose, Lizard Head (at 12,842 feet, the high point of the Cirque of the Towers), and gloriously standoffish Pingora—create some of the most esteemed climbing walls in the Rockies.

Keep soaking in the granite garden by trekking farther to Shadow Lake on the "back side" of the Cirque of the Towers.

4. Alice Lake, Sawtooth Range, Idaho

The jags, towers, and cliffy brows of the Sawtooths represent a pinnacle (so to speak) of Idaho’s prodigious mountain scenery, and Alice Lake—one of 300-plus tarns chiseled by glaciers into this snarled-up range—makes a fabulous introduction. Set at about 8,600 feet, Alice Lake reflects the west face of 9,902-foot El Capitan and a ripsaw rampart southward.

Reach this rockery tarn via the Tin Cup Trailhead at Pettit Lake. The trail muscles some 5.5 miles upslope through mixed conifer woods and high glades, making multiple stream crossings en route. Alice Lake is a popular day hiking or overnighter destination, but can also serve as a springboard for longer adventures in the southeastern Sawtooth high country. You can undertake a memorable 19-mile loop by journeying on to Twin Lakes, up and over a high pass, and dropping down to big Toxaway Lake.

5. Highline Trail, Uinta Mountains, Utah

The Uintas are geographic trivia—one of the only west-east-trending mountain ranges in the Western Hemisphere—and also one of the country’s conterminous grandest alpine expanses, rivaling Colorado’s San Juans, the burliest range in the Southern Rockies, for sheer extent of alpine territory. The Highline Trail shows off the storm-licked splendor of the High Uintas Wilderness on a week-plus, nearly 100-mile trek between Hayden Pass and U.S. Route 191, much of it above the 10,000-foot contour.

Lonesome tarns, rusty Precambrian pyramids and fins, windswept tundra passes, staggered canyons—oh, and did we mention the thunderstorms? This is a Rocky Mountain roof-of-the-world traverse of the highest order.

6. The Maroon Bells, Elk Mountains, Colorado

Geographically speaking, the Elk Mountains lie close to the heart of the Southern Rockies, and two of their half-dozen fourteeners—the Maroon Bells—form arguably that skyscraping region’s scenic culmination. Given the paired loom of 14,156-foot Maroon Peak and 14,014-foot North Maroon, plus the eye-catching red of their capping Maroon Formation sedimentary layers, and it’s no surprise they’re said to be the most photographed summits in Colorado.

They’re also plenty well-loved, so don’t come here seeking solitude; treat it as a pilgrimage to one of the great landmarks of the American Rockies. The hike to Crater Lake puts you at the very foot of the Maroon Bells, but the views just keep expanding if you trek up to Buckskin Pass, which can also be strung together with West Maroon, Frigid Air, and Trailrides passes in a roughly 30-mile backpacking loop.

7. Wheeler Peak, Snake Range, Nevada

The crown of relatively little-visited Great Basin National Park, of the Snake Range and essentially of Nevada (though Boundary Peak in the White Mountains on the California line modestly outranks it), 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak is a special mountain. The Snakes are their own sky-island range, loftiest in the eastern Great Basin, and rising from the sagebrush sea of that cold desert to subalpine aspen forests and wizened bristlecone-pine groves. (In 1964, a bristlecone 4,844 years old was chopped down on a Wheeler Peak moraine.) Wheeler Peak is also known for its small glacier, one of the southernmost in the U.S.

An 8.6-mile round-trip hike from the trailhead above Wheeler Peak Campground takes you to the rubbled summit with its head-spinning Basin-and-Range panorama. It’s not a demanding hike, but well worth doing.

8. The Narrows, Zion Canyon, Utah

North Fork Virgin River’s world-famous gorge and its domeland surrounds are so knock-you-over-the-head scenic that any trail in Zion National Park verges on the unreal. Two, though, attract the lion’s share of attention: Angel’s Rest—the up-top, vista-rich one (strictly for non-acrophobes)—and the Narrows, the shadowy, amphibious, down-low one through the twisty, high-walled slot forming the head of Zion Canyon.

You can join the masses wading upstream into the Narrows from the end of the popular Riverside Trail at the Temple of Sinawava, or drop down from Chamberlain’s Ranch on a more adventurous 16-mile trek. The latter requires a permit; from the Temple of Sinawava, you don’t need one as far upstream as Big Spring.

There are countless quieter slot canyons in the Colorado Plateau, but the Narrows is legitimately wondrous, and if you combine it with remoter adventures (including those farther up its course), you might even enjoy the oohing-and-aahing camaraderie of it all. It’s a communal National Park experience on par with watching Old Faithful erupt or staggering all scenery-drunk around Yosemite Valley.

Accessible and well-visited though the lower portion of the Narrows may be, it’s also dangerous given the potential for flash floods. Check in at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center for the most up-to-date forecast and flood hazard rating, and don’t play the odds.

9. North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon, Arizona

Hike from montane woods to hot desert in one 14.2-mile swoop on the North Kaibab Trail, the only maintained route connecting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River. It’s popular but not as much as its South Rim counterparts (the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails), and given the "Big Ditch’s" one-of-a-kind topographical breadth, it serves up mega-scale scenery not many hiking trails can match.

The North Kaibab Trail drops from the Kaibab Plateau’s conifers at 8,241 feet to the Colorado nearly 6,000 feet below. From Coconino Overlook less than a mile down-trail, it descends southeastward to Supai Tunnel and Redwall Bridge in Roaring Springs Canyon—named for a weeping limestone cliff reachable by a 0.3-mile spur—then cants southwestward into Bright Angel Canyon (Cottonwood Campground, 6.5 miles and 4,200 feet down from the trailhead, offers a good first-night stopover). A mile past that, a side trail leads to Ribbon Falls. Near its end, the North Kaibab Trail traverses the tight Vishnu Schist confines of the Box before attaining Phantom Ranch and the bridge to Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the canyon.

After a night or three down here, you can retrace your steps back to the North Rim or add a "Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim" feather to your cap by climbing the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim.

10. Bull Pasture/Estes Canyon Loop, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

Braving grizzlies at the Chinese Wall, you’re within easy reach of the Canadian border. On the very opposite side of the country, this short but mesmerizing walkabout in the heart of the Sonoran Desert shows off rugged scenery that is, ecologically speaking, more Mexico than the U.S. Remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument lies in an awesome, sparsely settled expanse of the Sonoran that also includes the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Mexico’s desolate Pinacate backlands.

This 3.5-mile loop links the Bull Pasture and Estes Canyon trails on the western flanks of the Ajo Mountains. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to admire the eccentric namesake cactus, which barely makes it north of the border, as well as the Sonoran Desert’s defining species, the monolithic saguaro, plus a whole slew of other desert plants. The impressive stature of both the organ pipe and saguaro cacti complements the burliness of the Ajos’ craggy bosses. And the views from the Bull Pasture leg unfurl far south across the Sonoyta Valley into Sonora, Mexico.

Written by Ethan Shaw for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

Featured image provided by John Strother

An Ode to Boulder Creek

With all the mountainous goodness surrounding Boulder, it’s easy to overlook one of the city’s best natural features: Boulder Creek. It is a geological curiosity to consider that the humble stream flowing through the heart of the city is the same agent that carved out the deep walls of Boulder Canyon. (Though Boulder did get a taste of the creek’s true destructive potential during the floods of 2013).

But despite the occasional outburst, Boulder Creek is traditionally mild-mannered. The section that runs through downtown is a welcome summer playground, complete with a kayak course (near Settler’s Park) and of course, the legendary tubing. Ancient cottonwood trees tower 100 feet on its banks, and there are plenty of nooks along the way to recreate with your activity of choice (me, I like reading a good book by the creek).

West of town, Boulder Creek cascades through the canyon with more power. Many rock climbing areas are accessed by clipping into tyrolian traverses (ropes strung across the river) and hauling oneself across the raging waters. Boulder Falls enters into the creek in spectacular fashion, while simultaneously guarding the gateway to Dream Canyon. A drive to the top of the canyon and the mountain town of Nederland brings you to the origin of the creek—the sturdy dam of Barker Reservoir. It is here that waters from the 13,000 ft. summits of the Indian Peaks flow.

And east of town, Boulder Creek joins with St. Vrain Creek, then merges with Platte River, ultimately flowing into the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico. What a long, strange trip it must be.

Boulder is a dry, hot place and of course, the creek is more than a creek. It is a vein of life delivered from the mountains. Even in the darkest, coldest months of winter, it’s a constant reminder of the cycles of nature quietly going about their business. And even those who don’t view it quite as poetically have to appreciate the streak of verdant, green life it brings to an otherwise parched city.

Dating back to 19th century laws, it’s actually illegal to pan for gold in Boulder Creek. The hills that drain into it contain a lot of valuable ore: silver, lead, gold, just to name a few. The flurry of mining in the hills above Boulder are just one page in the city’s long history. Native Americans frequented the creek’s hunting grounds before the presence of white men and a host of wild animals frequented the life-giving waters.

Perhaps that’s why people appreciate Boulder Creek so much. It is fluidity and softness in a hard place. Despite all the (expensive) development along its banks, there are plenty of places where you can feel completely removed from the city around the creek. The 2-mile trail that extends west of the city along the creek into the canyon is a special treat for runners, cyclists, or walkers hoping to leave the bustle of the streets behind for a while. After all, most people who find their way to the Rocky Mountains are there because they crave the essence of raw wilderness in their lives — to have access to such a place just minutes from the downtown area of a fantastic city is ideal.

So let’s hear it for good, ol’ Boulder Creek, one of the city’s most precious natural features. While the Flatirons and nearby mountaintops may score the photogenic bragging rights, this timeless river gives Boulder a new dimension, one that literally connects us to the mountains and provides a reminder of the wild places where we yearn to be.

Written by James Dziezynski for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

Featured image provided by Joe Parks

The Matterhorns of North America

The word Matterhorn smacks of the golden days of Alpine mountaineering, and summons up the signature, craggy summit that even today tantalizes climbers. Indeed, it’s the Matterhorn of the Pennine Alps—not Everest, not Mont Blanc, not Mount Fuji—that perhaps best embodies the idealized, majestic mountain, particularly its enshrined east and north faces. This windblown-looking 14,692-foot tooth of rock is the textbook example of a glacial horn: a steep-sided peak whittled by the headward erosion of ringing cirque glaciers. It has a fantastical look to it: a subtly corkscrewed slant, and the sort of fierce posture of the flagpole dorsal fin of a bull orca among whitecaps.

A bit of science here: To qualify as a true glacial horn, a peak generally must have at least three sheer faces. The Matterhorn (big "M") has given its name to a particularly extreme version of the glacial horn: those that come planed on all four faces. In other words, you don’t have to travel to the Alps to feast eyes on a matterhorn (little “m”). In fact, many of these pyramidal peaks can be found in the glaciated (or once-glaciated) heights of North America.

Let’s get acquainted with some of these mythic rock-skyscrapers, deserving counterparts of the "Mother of Mountains" studding the France-Italy border. (And let’s acknowledge as we do that this toothy bunch doesn’t account for all the continent’s matterhorns—here’s looking at you, Wetterhorn—and that a whole slew of peaks that don’t satisfy the strict geomorphic matterhorn definition—from Baffin Island’s Mount Thor to Ed Abbey's "big aching tooth" of Baboquivari in southern Arizona—nonetheless can suggest, from certain angles anyway, the appearance and monolithic presence of the great Alpine fang.)

Mount Assiniboine: Main Ranges, Canadian Rockies

There’s no mistaking the white tooth of Assiniboine, the signature North American matterhorn.

Jeff P

The 11,870-foot Mount Assiniboine along the Continental Divide border of British Columbia and Alberta—and the boundary between Banff National Park and the roadless Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park—may well be the most spitting of the Matterhorn’s North American spitting images.

Named for an American Indian/First Nations tribe, this Canadian Rockies celebrity shares with the genuine Matterhorn an almost unreal quality, and the appearance of a ferocious rock edifice that—despite both being summitted countless times—looks not only unclimbable but like a mountain that shouldn’t be climbed. (Known ascents of Assiniboine, for what it’s worth, begin with Sir James Outram in 1901.)

Mount Sir Donald: Selkirk Mountains, British Columbia

West of Mount Assiniboine (and visible from its summit) and across the grand gulf of the Rocky Mountain Trench looms a worthy matterhorn analogue in the Selkirk Mountains: 10,774-foot Mount Sir Donald, an important goal of early Canadian mountaineering. This commanding shark’s fin of a mountain—which rises nearly 8,000 feet in a bit more than two miles from the rainforest floor of the Beaver Valley just east—dominates the mighty peaks of British Columbia’s Glacier National Park, which include its lower companion horns of Uto and Eagle.

Mount Thielsen: Southern Cascades, Oregon

Mount Thielsen may lack the commanding swagger of Rainier or Hood, but it certainly has its own snaggletooth individuality.

Katie Dills

The "Lightning Rod of the Cascades": That’s the tag for this pinnacled volcanic beauty a stone’s throw north of Crater Lake, a spired matterhorn along the lines of Pilot Peak. Indeed, so many electrical bolts kiss Mount Thielsen’s exposed, whittled-down pillar—the highest peak in this ravaged reach of the Cascades—that it’s littered with fulgurites, which are lightning-melded rock bits.

At 9,182 feet, Mount Thielsen is the loftiest and most extreme of a series of dead volcanoes in the central and southern High Cascades of Oregon, honed by ice to sharp-tooth decrepitude. In Fire Mountains of the West, Stephen Harris calls them "Oregon’s Matterhorns," and they also include 7,800-foot Mount Washington and 7,844-foot Three-Fingered Jack. All Cascade stratovolcanoes reflect a war waged between constructive magmatic growth and chiseling glacial ice, and when volcanic energy ceases the icy side of the battle gains the upper hand. Mount Thielsen has been a volcano skeleton for 250,000 years or more, thus its ravaged spire: so much toothier than, say, Mounts Hood or Jefferson.

Kinnerly Peak: Livingston Range, Northern Rocky Mountains, Montana

Pyramidal 9,944-foot Kinnerly Peak is among the most spectacular summits in Glacier National Park. But because it’s tucked away in the park’s roadless and rugged northwest, it’s admired only by hikers and climbers. It makes a one-two punch with Kintla Peak—at 10,101 feet, the Livingston Range’s pinnacle—just south. (According to Summitpost, you can allegedly pick out Mount Assiniboine from the Kinnerly Peak summit under crystal-clear conditions: another matterhorn-to-matterhorn sightline.)

Grand Teton: Teton Range, Middle Rocky Mountains, Wyoming

Grand Teton crowning the Teton Range crest is one of the world’s signal mountain-scapes.


The Teton Range of northwestern Wyoming eases gently up from a long western slope to an iconic craggy crest with sheer eastern flanks, and lorded over by the 13,770-foot tusk called the Grand Teton. Compared with the unsociable Matterhorn, the Grand comes a bit hemmed in by fellow Teton Range jags—Mount Owen, barely shy of 13,000 feet, is just north across Gunsight Notch—but its classic, picturesque profile gives it as regal of a bearing (and a starring role in countless long sightlines from Greater Yellowstone mountaintops). And it remains one of the signature mountaineering magnets on the continent and a defining landform of one of the world’s most significant protected complexes.

Pilot Peak: Absaroka Range, Middle Rocky Mountains, Wyoming

Rearing west of the valley of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, Pilot Peak and its stubbier companion across the eons, Index Peak, create one of the most striking profiles in the Rockies. Glaciers gnawed 11,708-foot Pilot into a matterhorn spike; an arête blade connects it to castellated Index just northward.

As Tom Turiano notes in his definitive Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone, Pilot Peak has a hint of the Grand Teton’s aura, but is less prominent from lowlands and best appreciated from backcountry vantages. "From nearly every major summit in the [Greater Yellowstone] ecosystem—Grand Teton, Gannett Peak, Washakie Needles, Younts Peak, Trout Peak, Granite Peak, Mount Cowen, Gallatin Peak, and Hilgard Peak—Pilot is visible, identifiable, and spectacular," he writes.

Sloan Peak: North Cascades, Washington

Even the somewhat less dramatic east face of Sloan conveys the Cascade peak’s dominating stature.

Martin Bravenboer

"Picturesque Sloan could be called the ‘Matterhorn of the Cascades’," the late, legendary mountaineer Fred Beckey wrote in his enduring Cascade Alpine Guide. Indeed, this 7,835-foot orthogneiss blade ranks among the most striking and distinctive peaks in a range not exactly lacking in them.

With its long leadup east ridge and aloof, ramrod summit point, Sloan Peak has been compared with a high-riding ocean ship; it also looks a bit like the asymmetrical tooth of a tiger shark. Its misshapen matterhorn makes a North Cascade landmark visible from far off on all sides, and arresting even with the proximity of the giant snowhead of Glacier Peak to its near northeast.

Mount Russell: Alaska Range, Alaska

The Alaska Range may be most famous for behemoth snowpeaks like Denali, Foraker, and Hunter, but its western reaches include some savagely beautiful granite horns and towers. These include the fabled (and storm-whipped) Kichatna Mountains of the western Alaska Range, a gray fortress of rock-fangs and crowns cored by the Kichatna Spires and including the great pyramidal Augustin Peak that has enough standoffishness to suggest the Matterhorn.

But the true Matterhorn of the Alaska Range must be 11,670-foot Mount Russell, which forms a perfect sword above the Dall and Chedotlothna glaciers, as remarkable as higher, burlier peaks to the northeast. Relatively few climbers ascend farflung Mount Russell, the standard route being up its North Ridge; according to experienced Alaska Range photographer Carl Battreall, the gnarly east face has been climbed but once, the just-as-gnarly west face, never.

Written by Ethan Shaw for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

Featured image provided by Erik Wolf

Kelso Ridge: The Thrilling Way Up Torreys Peak

Grays and Torreys peaks, at 14,270 feet and 14,267 feet, respectively, are two of the most popular 14ers mountains in Colorado. They are often climbed as a pair, thanks to an accommodating trail ascending from Stevens Gulch that links the duo in an 8-mile round-trip. Summer weekends find the trail swarming with aspiring hikers, and even mid-week, hundreds of hikers might set out for these two summits. While the social aspect of the day may appeal to some, it turns out there’s a thrilling, less hectic option up Torreys Peak that starts out of the same trailhead: Kelso Ridge.

The start of Kelso Ridge on a perfect, bluebird Colorado morning.

James Dziezynski

Kelso Ridge is a class 3 scramble of mostly solid rock that features a daring, exposed-but-sturdy knife edge section just before topping out. For those looking for a more direct line that promises airy views and fun non-technical (but challenging) scrambling, Kelso Ridge may be worth a visit (if you’re uncomfortable with exposure or off-trail navigation, it may not be for you). However, for the scrambler who loves the thrill of ridges, Kelso may become your new favorite route. It is typically climbed without ropes, though helmets are encouraged.

If you’re tagging Torreys Peak, it’s a 6.75-mile round-trip if descending the standard walk-off trail back to Stevens Gulch. Strong hikers can tack on either Grays Peak or 13,164-foot Kelso Mountain if they want to snag bonus peaks. Grays is actually the easier of the two, but you’ll likely have the off-trail slope walk up to Kelso Mountain to yourself.

Negotiating the towers on the lower section of the climb.

James Dziezynski

Kelso Ridge begins at the low saddle between Torreys Peak and Kelso Mountain. To reach it, begin your hike from the Stevens Gulch Trailhead along the Grays Peak Trail and follow it for 1.8 miles. Here, a small hiker’s trail splits to the right (north) and heads to the low notch, where an old mining cabin sits just below the saddle. This is a good place to put on a helmet and fold away your hiking poles. From here, the summit of Torreys is only about a mile away, but the jagged, cracked ridge looks formidable. Turn west and begin your climb.

While there are no formal trails along Kelso Ridge, the route is scrambled enough that hikers’ trails have been carved into the land. After a short hike to the ridge, a series of rock outcrops appear, each requiring a bit of scrambling. In most cases, there are detours, usually off the right side, that avoid direct scrambles. The good news is that most direct scrambles are class 3 or easy class 4, so use whatever line seems the most suited to your personal tastes. Until about halfway, the ridge alternates between rock outcrops and smooth-ish sections of improvised trail.

Midway through the traverse in a mellow section.

James Dziezynski

Past the halfway point, the route appears to mellow out, especially on a broad section just before the crux of the scramble. The main crux looms just before the final, easy slopes to the top in the form of a large quartz block plastered to ridge and featuring a short (about 15 feet) knife edge that is by far the more daring part of the adventure.

The short but thrilling knife edge crux on Kelso Ridge.

James Dziezynski

Scrambling to the start of the knife edge is in itself a bit heady. The steep, narrow, chute known as the Dead Dog Couloir menacingly waits below. The main knife edge is on very solid rock, though the last seven feet are on a true fin of rock, so scooting across “horsey” style is totally acceptable. The knife edge deposits you on the heart of the  quartz block, where one last aftershock of exposure awaits on the easy but initially scary looking but-then-not-so-bad downclimb into the notch at the top of Dead Dog Couloir.

Once you are here, you are home free at 14,100 feet. A short, easy walk up the broad shoulder of Torreys Peak will lead you to the summit, where no doubt a throng of hikers will be hanging out.

Return via the Grays Peak Trail by descending south to the large, broad saddle between Torreys and Grays. It’s a relatively quick and easy detour to grab Grays Peak and the hike down is easy, so if you’re feeling the need for a second 14er, join the crowds and hike over. Follow the trail back through the valley when you are done for either a 6.7-mile day (just Torreys) or roughly 8 miles if you’re tackling both peaks.

Insider Tips

  • Start early—no later than 6 am if you can help it. Not only does this give you a leg up on incoming storms, it helps you get a parking spot at the trailhead, where parking usually fills up by 7 am, if not earlier.
  • Helmets are a good idea, since there is some loose rock and a couple of optional scrambles where it’s possible to step up into a rock outcrop.
  • This is an excellent route that is a perfect example of class 3 terrain in Colorado. It’s solid and exposed in sections, but there’s always a way to back off moves and the fall danger is low. Even the knife edge, airy as it is, can be slowly navigated with a horsey-style shuffle.
  • For those aiming to scramble Longs Peak, this is a great warm-up hike. While the scrambling on Kelso is a little more hands-on than the standard Keyhole Route on Longs Peak, the exposure is very similar.
  • Don’t be surprised to see mountain goats on Kelso Ridge—even on the crux!
  • Strong hikers and scramblers can do this round-trip in four hours or so, but plan to take six for the full journey, especially if adding on Grays or Kelso Mountain.
Past the difficulties near the summit, this view shows the entire ridge.

James Dziezynski

If You Go

From I-70, take the Bakerville exit, Exit 221 from either direction. If coming from the east, turn left and go over a bridge to a large dirt parking lot. If coming from the west, take a right into this lot. Forest Road 189 is a dirt road that climbs into the woods to the south and goes three miles up to the trailhead. While it’s suitable for Subaru Outbacks (SUVs and trucks will be fine) and similar sport-utility cars, the road is rocky, rutted, and bumpy in places.

A good compromise for low-clearance vehicles is to test out the terrain and drive one mile to the junction with Grizzly Gulch. If your car is getting beat up, park here (there’s a road that splits to right, stay straight). The last two miles up alternate between smooth roads and bumpy, rocky sections.

Much of the land on the sides is private. The parking lot is large with space for over 40 cars but gets filled up quickly. There are restrooms and camping is allowed in the woods at 11,280 feet west of the private land. The Grays Peak Trail is well marked and begins here.

Written by James Dziezynski for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

Featured image provided by James Dziezynski