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!

********************

Have you ever hiked a 14er?

30 Comments

  • Reply Kim @ Wonderings at

    So taking on a fourteener has been on my list of things to accomplish here is Colorado. If I have no gear (except basic hiking things) what would you suggest we take up with us?

    • Reply heather at

      You know, I actually wrote a post on this once! https://www.justacoloradogal.com/2012/09/how-to-hike-fourteener.html It’s old, definitely needs updated and formatted, but the idea is there! A few key factors– lots of sunscreen/chapstick/hat, tons of water, and clothing ranging from tank tops to waterproof shells and possibly insulating layers. Weather is bananas! Does that help?

  • Reply Alyssa at

    That is crazy that you’ve hiked so many super high mountains. That’s awesome that you got to do one with your parents and staff! I can’t imagine doing that now, much less in nearly 30 years!

    • Reply heather at

      I’m telling you, come visit one day and you could totally do it! I think the highest I’ve ever hiked was around 16k in South America…but I’m eyeballing a 19k in the next year! 😉

  • Reply Marisa @ Uproot from Oregon at

    I loved hiking Gray’s when I did it over 4th of July weekend! It was my first fourteener and I’m hooked. Love that you took us through your mom’s domination after frustration – I definitely went through all those feelings!

    • Reply heather at

      I feel like everyone hits a wall at SOME point while hiking at altitude. It just makes stuff HURT!

  • Reply Becki @ Bites 'n Brews at

    My friend and I hiked Gray’s last weekend and got our car stuck in that crappy ditch. Thankfully someone offered us a lift in their pickup! Props to you guys for taxi-ing others up. I can speak for them when I say how grateful I’m sure they were!

    • Reply heather at

      After my initial experiences hiking that road, I will ALWAYS pack as many hikers into my car as I can! 🙂

  • Reply Kate at

    I’ve only hiked two so far, but the downfill portion of both was spent by all of us swearing never to do this again! Then the next morning, we’re ready to plan the next one LOL.

  • Reply Somer Nelson at

    Nice work!! Absolutely breathe taking. I thought I was the only one who got sausage fingers:)

    • Reply heather at

      Ha nope! It’s actually a super common problem in women specifically; a friend emailed me about it yesterday! It’s called peripheral edema if you ever want to Google it.

  • Reply Sarah C at

    Looks like a great day hike. How’s the weather in those parts recently? I’m in NM and was planning an overnight backpacking trip to an alpine lake here for sometime in the next two weeks, but our monsoon season is acting awful – terrible lightening strikes and thunderstorms, so I’m not sure we should risk it. We’re trying to find some other place in the southwest (a day’s drive is our goal, and Denver is 6 hours from us so just about perfect) that isn’t having such awful weather.

    • Reply heather at

      The lightning has been pretty terrible here too– quite a few people have been struck in RMNP even! It’s been raining for the last 15-20 hours or so and is relatively rainy for the next few days too. It’s nice since it is so rare but I’m hoping it doesn’t thwart our weekend plans!

      • Reply Sarah C at

        Yikes. Yeah, I hate to be ungrateful for the rain, but I wish it wouldn’t happen when I want to be out in the mountains!

  • Reply Sandy at

    I have only hiked one 14er, Quandry south of Breckenridge. I would really like to do another but remember how hard it was several years ago. Hearing about your mom and dad gives me hope that I could do it again.

    • Reply heather at

      Give it a shot! Honestly, slow and steady is half the battle!

  • Reply Cassie @ Rural Running Redhead at

    I tried Gray’s once and got turned around by altitude sickness. It wasn’t nearly as pretty as it looks in your pictures — that was a few years ago when everything was so dry. I might have to try again if it’s pretty now!

    • Reply heather at

      Alpine meadows are gorgeous right now! They’re a little past peak but still plenty of color– plus, all this rain we’re getting right now can’t hurt!

  • Reply Laura at

    I just did my first 14er this weekend (Princeton), and had a HECK of a time on the road! It scared me so much that I’m now more focused on researching the roads to the trailheads rather than the hikes themselves 🙂 How long of a hike is it roundtrip if you don’t attempt the road to Gray’s at all? I have a Jeep Cherokee 4×4 but I’m honestly scared off from attempting the road to Gray’s after hearing about your experience and Becki’s experience.

    • Reply heather at

      If you have a Cherokee, you’re totally fine!! Honestly, right now, it’s just this one spot and a 4×4 can handle it easily. Besides, if you park at the base of the road, it adds another 6 miles round trip!

      How far did you take the road on Princeton? If you go up high, that road is definitely sketchy just because of the exposure on the one side! When I was younger, I drove my Pathfinder up to that cabin that is located around 13k (did you see that)? It was honestly one of the sketchiest things I’ve ever done– such an idiot. It was such a narrow road and my tires were slipping on the exposed side, but there was nowhere to turn around so I had to keep going! Princeton road is fine as long as you stop where they suggest 🙂

      • Reply Laura at

        What if I have a Cherokee but am not an experienced 4×4 driver? (I wasn’t the one driving on Princeton and I have not yet driven off-road myself.)

        On Princeton, we went all the way to the trailhead – not realizing we were supposed to stop sooner. So yes, right by that sketchy part! But we had exactly the same problem where there was no way to turn around and reversing down would have been an even worse idea. Here’s my recap of JUST the drive – I had enough to say about that to make it into two separate posts! http://www.50by25.com/2014/07/hiking-report-mount-princeton-part-1.html

        • Reply heather at

          After heading back up to Grays this past Saturday, I’d say definitely park below if you’re not experienced. I witness the world’s worst cluster on that road! Tons of people who weren’t experienced drove up to the one problem area, panicked, and tried to turn around and head down….but there was like 4 dozen other vehicles trying to come up. Will ended up directing traffic for a solid hour AND even drove someone else’s car when the owner got too scared! If you’re not 100% confident in your 4×4 skills, I’d ask a friend to drive or just accept hiking the road 🙂

          • Laura at

            THANK YOU! That is super helpful, and that kind of scenario is exactly what I want to avoid 🙂 Sorry to hear Will had to play traffic cop!

  • Reply Paige @ Your Trainer Paige at

    Grays and Torreys – or Bierstadt – is next on our list! I think in September…
    I still cannot believe you hiked 27 in one summer! That’s like…wait…more than one a weekend if my math is correct? Bad ass.
    One of the guy’s in my HIIT class just hiked the last one this past summer. Each Monday he’d come to class with a new bruise or skinned knee, haha.

    • Reply heather at

      OH yeah, I was obsessed! We did stupid stuff like hike Belford, Oxford, and Missouri all in the same day. Many people do Belford and Oxford together, but tagging the third on was silly. I think it was well over 10k of gain that day. Totally unnecessary 🙂

      Which ones have you done up until this point? Bierstadt is a great easy one but that trail is a shit show– jam packed with people! Plus, the Sawtooth to Evans is an awesome traverse so may be worth waiting til you feel skilled enough to handle that too. Have you ventured into the Collegiates yet? Down by Buena Vista?

  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb at

    Such a memorable experience. I was totally blindsided by sausage fingers on my Humphrey’s hike last year. Wish I would’ve know. Ha!

    • Reply heather at

      Yeah, the first time kinda blows your mind. You’re like, what in the hell is happening to me?! 🙂

  • Reply Lora at

    After reading your post, I’m very excited to hike Gray’s tomorrow. I’ve lived in Colorado for 14 years and it will be my very first fourteener! My lifted Tacoma has been nominated for the 4×4 trail, sounds like it’s for good reason!
    Funny you mention peripheral edema – I was hiking around Arches in Moab with friends in June and they were dumbfounded by their sausage fingers, ha!

    • Reply heather at

      How did Grays go this weekend?!!

  • Reply Hiking 14ers: Tips for Beginners -Just a Colorado Gal at

    […] options for beginners frequently include Mt. Bierstadt, Grays, Torreys, Sherman, Lincoln, Democrat, or Bross. These are all great choices but they will […]

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