5 Great Weekend Summit Scrambles Near Denver/Boulder

Humans may not have the agility of our quadruped counterparts but there’s still something fun about using all fours to scale a mountain. Scrambling routes make use of hand and footholds but do not necessitate the use of ropes (though a helmet is advisable). Non-technical scrambles are classified as “class 3” and will require some route finding. Expect to be thrilled on five of our favorite scrambles, all within a 2 hour drive of the Denver/Boulder area.

Kelso Ridge (Torreys Peak – 14,267 ft., Grays Peak – 14,270 ft.)

Kelso Ridge - Photo by James Dziezynski
The knife edge crux of Kelso Ridge has some thrilling exposure.

Despite the swarms of hikers visiting Stevens Gulch to climb the twin 14ers Grays and Torreys, the fantastic ridgeline that connects Kelso Mountain with Torreys Peak sees relatively low traffic. After a modest two-mile warmup hike on the main Grays Peak trail, diverge north to a low saddle between Kelso and Torreys. From here, a fantastic 0.75 mile scramble awaits. Most of the route consists of scrambles over rocky towers, though there are always hiking options around the steeper terrain. Thrill seekers can try to stay on the ridge proper for a more exposed class 4 experience. The crux of the route can be found just under the summit of Torreys Peak, where an exposed, brief but solid knife edge leads to a solid white quartz block that marks the unofficial end of the scrambling. From there, a short walk leads to the summit of Torreys. Walk off the standard class 2 route or tack on Grays Peak (about a 40 minute walk from Torreys) to double your fun.

Directions: Take I-70 to exit #221 (Bakerville) and go south to the dirt road that leads to Stevens Gulch Trailhead. This road is 3 miles long and is rough for low-clearance cars but careful driving has seen plenty of passenger cars make the trailhead. Stay straight on the road towards Grays Peak at one mile where the road splits off west to Grizzly Gulch. Stay straight for two more miles, where a crowded trailhead awaits (arrive after 6:30 on a weekend and you’ll likely have to park along the road). Take the Grays Peak Trail 2 miles, then diverge north to the low point of Kelso/Torreys and follow Kelso Ridge west to the summit. Doing just Torreys with the walk off is about 6 miles while adding in Grays makes for a total of 7.5 miles. For more, check out this Kelso Ridge – Torreys Peak trip report.

Peak 1 / Numbers Peak Traverse (Peak 1 – 12,805 ft., Tenmile Peak – 12,933 ft. + more)

Dragon tenmile peak traverse.
A look at the “Stone Dragon” along the Tenmile Range traverse.

With its nearly perfect pyramid shape, Peak 1 is one of the more aesthetically pleasing mountains in Colorado. Located just off I-70 in Frisco, the hike up to Peak 1 can be steep at times but offers no technical terrain. The scrambly fun begins as the number peaks traverse begins. Connecting Peak 1 to Tenmile Peak is straightforward route finding, but progressing from Tenmile to Peaks 3,4 and 5 will require modest route finding (most of the easier terrain will be found on the west side). Staying on the ridge proper transforms the route into a class 4 affair, but class 3 options are always available with a little bit of searching. Highlighting the route is the famous “Stone Dragon” between peaks 2 and 3. After hitting Peak 5, loop back to your starting point along a well-used trail. Or if you’re feeling burly (and have two cars), roll along the class 2 numbers peaks all the way top Peak 10 in Breckenridge for an epic day!

Directions: From I-70, take exit #201 to Frisco. If you’re coming I-70 westbound, go left under the highway bridge and take a quick right after the highway exit ramp for eastbound traffic into a large paved parking lot. From here, walk the paved bike path left (south) until reaching the Mount Royal Trail sign 0.3 miles down. The trail goes up to Mount Royal’s lookout, then up to Peak 1. Out and back from Peak 1 is 8 miles, the longer loop over to Peak 5 then descending the Miners Creek/Colorado Trail between Peaks 5 and 6 to Rainbow Lake then the bike path is 12.8 miles round trip. An informative Tenmile Traverse report is found on 14ers.com.

Mount Audubon / Paiute Peak (Mount Audubon – 13,223 ft., Paiute Peak – 13,088 ft.)

Mount Audubon Southeast Ridge
Some of the great scrambling on Mount Audubon’s southeast ridge.

Mount Audubon is a popular walk-up in the Indian Peaks that also has some fine scrambling potential, especially if you tack on Paiute Peak. Scramblers can opt for the southeast ridge route on Audubon. This route has one major obstacle in the form of a deep notch blocking access to the summit proper. The easiest way around this is to scramble down a steep gully to the south, then gain the main ridge by climbing into the main notch gully and scrambling up from there. Bolder climbers may prefer the class 4 downclimb into the notch to save time. From Audubon, the western route to Paiute Peak is a fun class 2+/easy 3 scramble. Return the way you came, or for bonus points, continue the scramble over to Mount Toll (with some tricky route finding) and Pawnee Peak, making an epic loop down Pawnee Pass.

Directions: The turnoff to Brainard Lake is 12 miles north from Nederland on Highway 72 or 10.2 miles from Lyons. An easier way from Boulder is to take Left Hand Canyon off highway 36 and follow it 17 miles west through the town of Ward where it terminates at Highway 72. Turn right then a quick left to get on the road to Brainard Lake. Follow this road 5.5 miles to the Beaver Creek Trailhead. There is a $10 fee per vehicle to enter the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Follow the Mount Audubon Trail 4.1 miles (or scramble the east ridge) to the summit of Audubon. Paiute is 0.85 miles one-way from the summit of Audubon and if you want to make a full loop of Paiute/Toll/Pawnee, descend via Pawnee Pass to Long Lake Trailhead and walk back on the road to the Beaver Creek Trailhead (roughly 13 miles round trip). Summitpost.org has a nice write on the Audubon – Pawnee Pass Traverse.

Pettingell Peak East Ridge (Pettingell Peak – 13,553 ft.)

Pettingell Peak - Jenny Salentine
The start of the Pettingell peak east ridge route.

Most folks who visit Herman Gulch are there to enjoy a pleasant day hike to Herman Lake. Very few find their way up Pettingell Peak, namely because there are no established trails. The class 3 east ridge requires a little work to gain, either by walking up steep grassy slopes or scrambling up broken class 3 rock to the ridge. Once there, a 0.75 mile scramble to reach the summit is classic. Imposing obstacles become much more manageable close up, though some route finding will be required to pinpoint the paths of least resistance that shift from one side of the ridge to the other. A large fin near the end of the route seems to present the most difficulty but upon arrival, it is an easy scramble over the fin (or simply avoid it by hiking on the south (left) side of the fin). Steep, grassy, flower-festooned, class 2 slopes return to Herman Lake and the well-worn trail back home.

Directions: From either direction on I-70, take exit 218. If coming westbound, go right at the exit ramp and immediately take your first right to the Herman Gulch trailhead parking. If coming eastbound, turn left off the exit and proceed under I-70 to the parking lot. This parking lot is a couple hundred feet from the exit. Proceed to take the Herman Lake Trail 3 miles, then diverge north to gain the east ridge. Follow the ridge 0.75 miles to the summit, then descend via grassy slopes to Herman Lake. Download the free Pettingell Peak East Ridge guide here.

Mount Alice (Mount Alice – 13,310 ft., Tanima Peak – 12,420 ft.)

Mount Alice Hourglass Ridge
The start of Hourglass Ridge on Mount Alice.

If you’re ready to go big and dive into one of the most beautiful areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, Mount Alice is calling your name. The prelude to this incredible summit takes you into Wild Basin and past the beautiful Lion Lakes before gaining Hourglass Ridge, a fun and solid class 3 line connecting Mount Alice and Chiefs Head. From the summit of Alice, retrace your steps or make a fine loop out of the day by descending via Boulder Grand Pass. It’s not unreasonable to tack on Tanima Peak for more fun. A little off trail bushwacking to Thunder Lake brings you back to the main, established trail and a lovely (but long) wooded hike back to the trailhead.

Directions: The road to the trailhead is off Colorado Highway 7. From the south, this is 6.5 miles north of the junction with CO 7 and Hwy. 72 after the town of Allenspark; from the north it is 13 miles from the junction of 36 and CO 7. Turn into the well-signed entrance for Wild Basin (entrance fee for Rocky Mountain National Park applies, $20) and follow the road 2.6 miles to the parking area. Follow the trail to Lion Lakes until it disappears, then go off trail to Hourglass Ridge, finally reaching Mount Alice’s summit at 8.0 miles. Return from here, or continue over 1.7 miles to Tanima Peak. Tag it, retrace your steps to Boulder Grand Pass where a somewhat hidden gully will lead you to the Lake of Many Winds. Buchwack from there to Thunder Lake about a half mile and regain the well worn trail back to the trailhead from Thunder Lake for a long 16 mile loop. Check out the Mount Alice – Tanima Peak traverse trip report or download the free Mount Alice – Tanima Peak trip guide.

jd-thumbElevation Outdoors contributing editor James Dziezynski is the author of Best Summit Hikes in Colorado. Visit his Mountain Air Blog or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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