A week ago yesterday, I made my way West to Colorado to transport gear and get a jumpstart on acclimatization at 11,300 feet. I knew those two or three days before Daniel, David, and Courtney (Daniel's wife) joined me would be critical in me being able to remotely keep pace with them.
Grays Peak is rated as one of the five easiest 14ers in Colorado. It is also close to Denver - a double edged sword - it made it easy for Daniel, Courtney, and David to fly into Denver and then be on the mountain within a couple of hours. It also makes it easy for throngs of Denverites to access the area, making a weekend climb pretty crowded.
Regardless of the level of difficulty of Grays, there is no getting around the fact that its elevation is 14,200'+. For someone who finds himself spending life at 600' of elevation in Missouri, regardless of physical preparation, that altitude is going to play a role in the ascent.
I have spent the last several months very slowly getting in better shape. I live in a very hilly region of the state (Missouri River Hills) where I am blessed by the fact that a 5 mile walk/hike includes multiple hills that are a quarter mile in length and 12-20% in grade. I had endeavored to get in 25-30 miles of these hikes per week along with 4,000'-5,000' in elevation gain. I had done this for over two months leading up to the trip. If you are middle aged and not in the best shape of your life, I suggest at a minimum such a routine.
I arrived on Wednesday night at about 6:30 PM Mountain Time after leaving Missouri at about 5 AM Central Time. Sterling (one of our dogs...he accompanied me) and I were thrilled to be off the road and in the midst of this incredible environment. I set up camp with both the tent that I (and eventually David) would occupy, as well as the tent Daniel and Courtney had sent for their use. I wanted to get everything established so that until the rest of the crew arrived, I could spend my time hiking in the mountains and getting acclimatized.
Thursday morning I got up and on the trail by about 7:30 am (late by mountain standards) with the idea that I'd just put in come ascent time and get as far as I felt comfortable going. I ended up getting to approximately 13,000', which I felt pretty good about. The scenery was so beautiful that I literally found myself feeling adrenaline course through my body from its grandeur.
Being a Thursday, not a weekend, while there were certainly people out on the trail, it was not overly crowded.
Friday morning was a completely different story. I knew I had a pretty limited time to get on the mountain before I needed to drive into Denver to pick up the "kids" at the airport. Even knowing this, I did not get on the trail until 8:30 or 9:00 AM. I was feeling very good that I was suffering none of the typical altitude related ailments that can afflict people. I was staying well hydrated, a huge factor in acclimatization, as well as sleeping lower than where I was "climbing."
I did not get quite as far, but did go some distance up the Kelso Ridge Trail, if for no other reason than to get away from the larger number of people on the trail this day.
After a stress free trip to the airport, but a decidedly bad night's sleep, we got a decently early start on our day where we would have one chance to summit Grays, and if everything went right, also summit Torrey's Peak, which is connected to Grays by a saddle ridge.
We awoke to an absolutely perfect day, but quite a crowd. In our party there were varying levels of ability to deal with the effects of altitude. But, for those who needed to go slower as a result, I will say that their toughness to keep putting one foot in front of the other was impressive! As a team, we all made it to the summit, and were rewarded with incredible beauty on the way up, as well as a summit vista as beautiful as any I have ever experienced. Though we did not get over to Torrey's, I was left with no sense of regret...only happiness to experience this scene with three incredible people!
The descent was successful but challenging. Camp that evening was that joyful mix of exhaustion and satisfaction with accomplishment.
It was one of those days that I will include as a highlight of my life. The opportunity to experience such beauty with people I love, and to feel that the preparation I had done was effective, left me with a true sense of peace. Creating challenges for myself and experiencing adventure with family is something I'd not trade.