Grays Peak – 14,270 feet

Fourteeners {or mountains above 14,000 feet} are the stuff of local lore here in Colorado. Because our state boasts a whopping 53 of these towering peaks, summiting them all has become a coveted goal for hikers and mountaineers. I climbed my first 14er in 2002 {Mt. Elbert} and haven’t looked back! While I’m not as crazed about the challenge as I was in my 20s — climbing 27 in a single summer! — I would like to eventually summit them all. I love the technical climbs that are more mountaineering than hiking, but they’re all a good time. To date, I have 10 left!

Grays Peak

Photos by my nummy. And yes, I call Will nummy. It’s my thing. Don’t mock.

Naturally, when a few of my employees approached me and asked if I would take them up their first 14er, I couldn’t say no! So many expressed interest and then my parents decided to give it a shot, so I ultimately organized a company event. We were hiking Grays Peak!

Grays Peak is one of the absolute best 14ers for beginners! This was my sixth summit of the mountain, so I felt extremely comfortable taking such a large group on the hike. It’s located close to the Denver Metro area {~one hour} and the standard east slopes route is an easy class one with only 8 miles of roundtrip travel. It also has the requisite 3,000 feet of elevation gain which is required by some bizarre mountain law as the minimum amount of gain for a summit to count.

Trailhead

If you’re going to check out Grays Peak for the first time, let me give you a fair warning on the 4×4 road that is used to access Grays Trailhead. It is located off the Bakerville exit on I-70, and at first glance, looks like an easy road to climb. However, in all of my summits on this mountain, I have yet to see it passable for passenger cars!

Grays Peak

My best friend Angel and I learned this the hard way in 2002 when we hiked Grays and Torreys for the first time. We drove to the trailhead in her 1984 Jetta only to bottom out in a massive hole in the middle of the road. Not only did we get stuck, but I am fairly sure we did a number on the undercarriage of her car! Never one to learn, I went back a second time in 2003 with my then-Honda Civic…and ripped a hole in my muffler!

Standard issue with this one.

Needless to say, the road truly isn’t that bad and if you have a 4×4 car with relatively high clearance, you will be absolutely fine. This season, there is only one major hole that is about halfway up. My Pathfinder took it like a champ so Will and I taxied a few hikers who needed to leave their cars at the base of the road.

The Hike

Grays Peak

Per usual, Grays was just as beautiful as I remembered! The trail starts out gradually before picking up the quad burn with a series of low-laying stairs as it winds through the willows. The trail levels out for awhile as it wraps through the valley, giving me plenty of time to admire the wildflowers! They were in full bloom and the alpine sunflower and creeping pontentilla were gorgeous!

Grays Peak

Grays Peak

Will and I hiked with my parents and sent the rest of our staff ahead. Dad was trudging along like a champ, but Mama wasn’t feeling so hot. I sent Dad ahead, knowing he needed to stick to his pace in order to conquer the summit. And for awhile there, I truly thought Mom and I would need to turn around!

I gave her some time to absorb the discomfort, knowing that she would be wicked disappointed if she didn’t get to summit with everyone else. That’s the thing about high altitude hiking or mountaineering: you will always be uncomfortable, and more than likely, something will hurt in an unpleasant sort of way.

Your backpack will wreck your shoulders.

My hands are swollen; they look like sausage fingers!

My legs are seriously on fire.

Why can’t I breathe?

My heart rate is out of control.

These are all normal! The tricky part is accepting the hurt and finding a groove that you can settle into where you are able to tolerate the discomfort.

Grays Peak

For mama, it was a combination of factors. Typically, she is a strong hiker so I think her slower pace shocked her and she kept trying to go faster {sounds just like our half marathon together!} Once I dropped in front of her and maintained a slow and steady pace for her to latch onto, she was able to hike with a lot more confidence. Secondly, she had to get out of her own head! Once it got painful, she kept thinking and saying that “she couldn’t do it.” I love my mom more than anything but whining is something that I have zero tolerance for – especially when I knew she could take that mountain! So, I let her hike by herself for a few minutes in order to get the complaints worked out. Once I came back, she had cleared her head and was ready to go!

Grays Peak

The last few miles are swooping switchbacks that skirt up the side of the mountain. This is where the majority of the elevation gain occurs and ironically, mama dominated these like a beast. We hiked the switchbacks through the talus and scree fields, taking brief resting breaks at the corners. Before we knew it, we saw Dad’s head popping over the side of the mountain; we had reached the top!

Grays Peak

Grays Peak

Not a bad view for lunch!

Even better? Every single person from our company summited also! I had assumed that someone wouldn’t make it based on the law of averages, but we showed the Universe who was boss. The majority of our crew even continued across the saddle to summit Torreys, a shouldering 14er!

Grays Peak

Dad suffered from his Plantar Fasciitis on the hike down, and I overhead my parents saying that they likely would not do another 14er again. And, at age 58, I can’t say that I blame them. However, they both called me up the next morning after a good night’s sleep {and a couple beers!} to give me a message:

Grays Peak

They want to hike another 14er next summer!

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Have you ever hiked a 14er?

Running With Anton Krupicka

Uh huh. Because yeah, I did that!

{Well, technically he blew me out of the water and I didn’t even stand a chance of keeping up with him and the rest of the lead group. But that’s neither here nor there.}

Awhile back, I received an email from a PR gal with New Balance, inviting me to an event in Boulder. She mentioned that NB sponsored athletes would be in attendance and that the day would focus on the launch of their new Fresh Foam 980 trail shoes. Sounded like fun so I jumped at the chance; I was in!

Last Thursday rolled around and I headed to Boulder to meet up with the other media, bloggers and PR peeps that would be spending the day with us. I already knew Will, Heidi, Lynne and Marissa would be there, so my nerves were at a minimum. I’ve gone to dozens of press events but I still always get nervous if there isn’t anyone I already know! After the initial sorting, we were herded into a a van to be whisked away to the trailhead.

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As we were sitting in the van, I started looking around at the others. I recognized a few media people from Outside magazine, but there was also this guy sitting in the front that looked crazy familiar. His long hair was recognizable, but I couldn’t believe it to be true: why would Anton Krupicka be here? I mean, if I got an invite, it couldn’t be that important of an event?!

I briefly asked Marissa if I was crazy, but since she was less familiar with the ultra running icon, she couldn’t give me an answer. I assumed I was a lunatic, changed the topic, and went about the business of trying on my new Foam Fresh trail shoes. {Review to come once I’ve had them longer than four days!}

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The driver had dropped us at the Fowler Trail in Eldorado Canyon. After bouncing around in various Fresh Foam shoes until we found the perfect fit, the group split into two sections: the quicker runners and the slower runners. Will, ever the gentleman, chose to stay with me when I opted for the slow crowd along with the girls. Out of the gates, we were running up a semi-intense climb at an 8 minute pace, so I knew that I wouldn’t be hanging with the front crowd. I still didn’t know who those guys and gals were, but man, they were fast!

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The 4-mile trail run was beautiful and I enjoyed exploring a new-to-me trail. Will and I broke off from the girls when they turned around, and we found ourselves enjoying the quiet—yet blazing hot!—morning. We even laughed when a PR guy directed me down the wrong trail and I ended up on the side of a cliff. Because, of course—who else would that happen to?!

Always an adventure!

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We also ran into one of the NB photographers who asked us for a mini photo shoot, so needless to say, we were definitely the last runners back to the parking lot! We filmed a quick “initial reactions” video with the filming crew, Will headed back to work, and I met up with everyone for lunch.

The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur: after lunch, we sat down for an athlete Q & A session where I quickly learned that I was not, in fact, an idiot. Not only was the long-haired wonder Krupicka, but I had also been running behind with Dominic Grossman, Brandy Erholtz and Gina Lucrezi!

Y’all, listening to them answer our questions was an awesome experience! I commiserated with Brandy as she spoke on juggling her life as a teacher, a wife, mom, and a sponsored athlete. I was impressed with Dominic when he mentioned that, in addition to his awesome running career, he is also a full-time engineer. I nodded my head at Gina when she said she loved trails because, “It is okay to be slow!”; and I laughed with disbelief when Krupicka mentioned that he would never consider a crazy long race; you know, like those ones that are 200 or 300 miles.

I ended up seated next to Dominic and Anton at dinner, and I continued to be impressed with them as people, in addition to their running super powers. They were both incredibly friendly, answered all my ridiculous questions, and even peppered me with a few once they discovered Will and I were engaged. In short, dinner was a fantastic night cap on an already spectacular day!

As for the new Fresh Foam shoes? Like I mentioned, I haven’t put nearly enough miles on them to feel comfortable offering an opinion. Out of the gates, I will say that I was initially impressed. And did I mention that I really love the colors?!

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Do you have a favorite runner, ultra or not?

Coolest person you’ve ever met?

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