Friday, August 3, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Torreys Peak (14,267 ft) via Kelso Ridge

The return of the Thursday Adventure posts! Hopefully I'll be a bit more regular with these now that I'm no longer in frantic writing/editing mode.  This week's adventure features a peak climb I did back in June, when I found I desperately needed a break from the keyboard. I talked my hiking partner into doing his very first third class ridge route: Kelso Ridge up Torreys Peak.

On the trail leading toward Grays (left) and Torreys (right) Peaks. Kelso Ridge is the righthand skyline leading up to Torreys peak.  (Dead Dog couloir, visible on the right of Torreys' summit, is a popular snow climb.)
Torreys is a 14,267 ft. peak quite close to Denver (only about an hour's drive away).  By the standard trail, both Torreys and its close neighbor Grays Peak are an excellent, easy introduction to 14er hiking. (You can hike both peaks in a couple hours.)  Scrambling up Kelso Ridge instead of tromping up the "yak route" standard trail makes the ascent a little more exciting.  Kelso is designated 3rd class, which means it requires no rope or technical climbing gear to ascend, but several sections are comparable to climbing a high ladder: handholds and footholds are plentiful, but you really don't want to fall.

Dustin climbing the first 3rd class section of Kelso Ridge
Ascending another third class section
Me, partway up Kelso Ridge
Kelso even has a nice little "knife edge" section with a 1000-foot drop on each side; most climbers choose to straddle the knife edge and scoot  across.  (Ironically, the knife-edge is probably one of the safest parts of the ridge, since the rock is so solid.)

Me scooting along Kelso's knife edge section
I'd done Kelso once many years ago with my husband as part of a Colorado Mountain Club day trip.  It was a new experience for my hiking partner, who had done quite a few 14ers but as hikes, not scrambles.  Heh, he found the knife edge...quite exhilarating.  When he staggered up to the summit after negotiating the knife edge, the first words out of his mouth were, "F***!  F***!  I'm never doing that again!"  Yet 5 minutes later when his hands & knees stopped shaking, he was all, "That was AWESOME!"  Ah, adrenaline.  It's a wonderful thing.
Dustin ascending the final section of Kelso Ridge to Torreys' summit. (Knife edge section is the white rock visible just below him.)

Me on Torreys' summit, enjoying the terrific views
One of the nice things about Kelso Ridge as an introduction to 3rd class climbing is that you don't have to descend the interesting bits - you can take the ordinary trail back down.  (Dustin was quite relieved we didn't have to retrace our route!)  Turned out to be an extra good thing on this particular day, as a thunderstorm rolled into the valley when we were only halfway back to the car.  (Afternoon thunderstorms are endemic in the CO mountains in July/August, but this one came a bit earlier than normal - it was still before noon.)

Heading down the "yak route" (look at all those people! One reason I prefer 3rd class ascents...) with a storm on the way
We jogged back to the car with thunder booming in our ears...and as always, I was floored by the number of people on popular trails like this who ignore the lightning risk and keep right on going up.  (Once on South Arapaho Peak with a nasty storm moving in fast, I tentatively said to one lone climber who was still ascending, "Er...didn't you hear the thunder?"  He said, "It's all right, I've made my peace with God."  Well, kind of hard to argue with that...but in my case, I'd prefer not to die on a day hike.) 


  1. So what are the various classes?

    And those are some terrific views! Thank you for sharing them, Courtney!

    1. Class 1: hiking on a trail
      Class 2: hiking off-trail, but without consistent need to use hands to ascend (e.g. ascending talus or scree slopes, where you might occasionally need a hand for balance)
      Class 3: Ascending rock with plentiful hand & footholds (the "climbing a ladder" scenario)
      Class 4: Ascending rock with plentiful hand & footholds, but serious, sustained exposure: if you fall, you will die. (Some people prefer a rope for protection.)
      Class 5: Technical rock climbing, where a rope is necessary for all but free soloists. This class is further divided into degrees of difficulty via the Yosemite decimal system (see, which runs 5.0 to 5.14 and beyond.

      This is complicated further by the tendency of routes in certain mountain ranges to be called "Class 3" regardless of the danger, if the first ascent was done unroped. (I remember once in the Sierra Nevada we were eyeing this so-called Class 3 ridge route that made us all break out in a cold sweat just looking at it, and my husband announcing, "That's not 3rd class, that's DEATH CLASS!")

    2. Thank you.

      So a complete newbie should not tackle anything harder than, say, Class 2, if that?

    3. Well, it all depends on your comfort level (some people are fearless natural climbers), but yeah, I usually recommend newbies work up through the classes. Do some class 1 14er hikes, then some class 2 scrambles, then some routes with a few class 3 moves (e.g. Longs Peak's standard route), then some sustained Class 3 ridge routes, etc.

  2. Thanks for taking us along on another climb - I really enjoy these posts.

    And what's the difference between a hike and a scramble? Does a scramble involve getting on your hands and knees, like on that knife edge? Or does it simply involve swearing?

    1. I call a route a "scramble" if it involves ascending over trail-less rock (whether it's a simple talus slope where you occasionally need to use your hands, or a true class 3 climb). But I like your swearing definition. :)

  3. That is too funny. I just climbed Grey's Peak a few days back. Unfortunately, we couldn't climb Torrey's because we started too late in the day. It looks like fun, though.

    1. Nice! I definitely recommend Kelso Ridge as a fun alternative to the main trail, if you go back to revisit Torreys. And hey, thanks for commenting - always fun to hear from another 14er climber!