The Trail: Kelso Ridge

Climbing 14,270-foot Grays and 14,276-foot Torreys peaks in the summer often requires navigating around more hikers than natural obstacles. Avoid the traffic and take the peaceful Kelso Ridge as an alternate route to the top. If you are comfortable with off-trail navigation (the ViewRanger GPS app on your phone or Apple Watch will help), short sections of exposure, and class 3 to low 4 scrambling, you’ll enjoy this 7.3-mile adventure with roughly 3,500 feet of climbing—and tag two of Colorado’s 54 peaks over 14,000 feet.

1. Stevens Gulch Trailhead
Plan for an early start (3 a.m. to beat afternoon thunderstorms) and take I-70 to Exit 221 toward Bakersville. If you have a low-clearance vehicle, park in the dirt area just to the south of the Interstate (this will add six hiking miles round-trip to your adventure). Otherwise, drive three miles to the trailhead. Take the well-defined Grays Peak Trail south and then west, working your way up the valley.

2. Carry On
After less than a mile, pass a turnoff heading north to Kelso Mountain. Stay on the main trail.

3. Leave the Crowds Behind
At 1.75 miles, watch for a junction with a less noticeable, but still well-trodden climbers’ trail.

4. Back in the Saddle
As you gain altitude, look for an abandoned mine shack built on the uphill slope. Pass it to reach the 12,400-foot saddle between 13,164-foot Kelso Mountain and Torreys Peak. Torreys’ summit is only a mile away, but the exposed route ahead will take longer than you think.

5. The Fun Begins
Turn left and head west to reach a rocky bulge where you can see the ridge laid out in front of you for the first time. Stay right. Around 12,700 feet, keep to the left, ascend to a notch and then drop a few feet to tackle the first class 3 section.

6. Movin’ On Up

Follow the ridge and regain the spine near 12,900 feet. From this perch, a point of chunky white rock ahead draws your attention. When you reach it, bear right to a dirt gully that will deliver you to the base of a wall. Scale this obstacle via an obvious class 3 line. At the top, hike toward the white rock’s pinnacle.

7. Riding the Crest

Continue along the crest, drop slightly to the right and ascend another prominent point to reach 13,350 feet. Scramble up along the left side of the ridge.

8. Views for Days

Reach the top of a conspicuous, 13,700-foot point, walk along the ridge and follow the path as it curves right around a smaller point offering views back down the route.

9. Rocky Road

Stay left of the crest to reach a bump of rock—your most challenging terrain to this point. At first, stay left to clear the bottom of this steep obstacle. Near 14,000 feet, with Dead Dog Couloir looming below to your left, it’s best to change directions and climb steeply to the right over a group of large, smooth, angled rocks that lead to the bump’s apex.

10. The Crux

From the top of this pitch, scramble to the spiny knife-edge. Take care: It isn’t long (about 15 feet), but the fin is unavoidable, completely exposed and offers no margin for error. After a two-move down climb (which looks way worse than it actually is), reach the notch at the top of Dead Dog Couloir. Skirt the right side of a white rock tower and turn left to climb the final broad shoulder to the summit.

11. Torreys Peak

You’ve made it! After a rest, descend the standard trail south toward the Grays-Torreys saddle.

12. Decision Point

If you’re wiped, head back to the trailhead here. If not, continue on.

13. Grays Peak

Follow the trail to the top of Grays. Enjoy the fast descent on the standard trail back to your vehicle.

Trail Gear


Sirocco Helmet 

Petzl updated this well ventilated, extremely comfy helmet for 2017. It’s stronger, lighter, and sleeker than its predecessors—and now comes in a variety of colors—not just construction cone orange. Handy clips hold headlamp or goggles. $130 |



Adidas Terrex Scope High GTX  

Featuring a sticky Stealth rubber sole for trustworthy grip on rocky surfaces (even wet ones), a high neoprene collar that adds protection and ankle support, a climbing-specific toe that will edge tough moves, and weighing just 18.3 ounces, this is our favorite technical scrambling shoe. $200 |



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