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Hiking with Heather

This hike of Grays (14,270 ft) and Torreys (14,267 ft) might be my favorite hike of all the 45 fourteeners I have done. Not because of the mountains; they aren’t very challenging as fourteeners go. Not because of the scenery; you can find better elsewhere. And not because of the solitude; Grays and Torreys are probably the most crowded peaks in Colorado, except for Pikes or Evans. No, this hike was special because I got to do it with Heather, my niece from Cincinnati.

Heather came to visit me in August of 1999. She was 20 at the time and I think she wanted to start seeing the world. I’m glad she picked Colorado as her first stop on her world tour.

She surprised me when she said she wanted to hike a fourteener. You just don’t see that many young people on the peaks these days. Mostly you see old farts like me out to prove they are still young. And I didn’t know what kind of shape she was in. So the first thing we did was drive up to Mt. Evans (14,264 ft.) to see how she reacted to altitude and the heights.

She did great! I was impressed. And scared. She showed no fear at all when she went to the edge of the 1000 ft. cliff and looked down. I almost couldn’t look. I have a great fear of heights and sometimes have trouble on the tougher climbs.

Anyway, on August 18, we went to Leadville to stay in Miriam’s cabin and the next day we set out for Grays. I originally planned on just hiking Grays because I wasn’t sure how much energy either Heather or myself would have. I hadn’t done that many mountains that year.

I think Heather was well equipped. She had the right layers for cold and wet weather, plenty of water, food, sunscreen, etc. We started around 7 and hiked steadily for a mile or so. Because we were being fairly quiet and didn’t have dogs with us or anything, we were rewarded with a rare sight, a weasel. Then we saw another. What a rare treat! I have only seen weasels one other time in 12 years of hiking and that was over on Huron.

We also saw the very common beggar marmots all over. But that was about it for wildlife. As we got higher on the mountain, we started to leapfrog with other hikers and got to know them. We met Norm and Judy and their dog, whose name I forget. Of course, they didn’t see the weasels. Dogs are great, but they can chase a lot of wildlife away.

Heather was hiking faster than me so I got acquainted with Norm and Judy. When we met, I introduced Heather as my niece and myself as her Uncle Tom. Norm seemed to get a big kick out of that and called me Uncle Tom all day.

We were noticing a lot of hikers that looked a little different from the average hiker and found out that the Denver Rescue Mission had driven a van full of guys up here for the hike. Some were doing better than others. I remember one man that appeared to be about 40 or so and a little overweight. He was huffing and puffing like a freight train and I thought he would have a heart attack. I didn’t see him on top at all that day and I heard he turned around.

Heather met a nice guy close to her age named Cameron. They headed up the mountain together and I tried to keep up. I was holding down the middle ground between Heather and Cameron ahead and Norm behind. Judy probably could have made better time, but Norm said he only did one or two peaks a year and Judy stuck with him.

I think we got to the top around 11:30 or so. I really don’t remember. I was having a ball just yacking with everyone and Heather had found someone her own age so we were all having a ball. The top was very interesting. We found a family up there which included an 8 year old boy. We also found a very old man. I think he said he was 80. Amazing!! I only wish I am able to keep up at that age. There were probably 20 or so people on the peak and we were having a great party. There were 2 or 3 other Denver Rescue Mission people on top also and Heather joined in as they all lit up cigarettes on the peak. Norm also got me going when he popped a can of beer. No comment on either one.

We stayed there for quite a while and had lunch. Heather seemed to be doing very good, so I brought up the subject of Torreys to the whole group. Most weren’t sure, but I told them it was only 45 minutes to the other peak. Heather seemed ready. After some thought, so did Norm and Judy. And Cameron and the other mission guys also wanted to head over. So we all headed out for the saddle.

I am really glad we did. On the way from Grays to the saddle, we saw a herd of mountain goats. One even took a crap for us. I wasn’t sure how well Heather would do because this was no longer a very nice trail like on Grays. It didn’t require hands or anything, but it was more of a scramble. But she did fine, as usual. Cameron was hanging back for a while, then suddenly he spurted ahead and damn near ran down the ridge.

After a short break at the saddle, we started up the other side. We saw more goats and marmots and made it up to Torreys in about the 45 minutes I had said. I always love it when I can tackle more than one peak in a day. But I was getting a little tired and Heather even said afterwards that she was tired also. Norm opened his last beer and Heather and her buddies smoked some more and we all had a great time. But good things must come to an end. I noticed clouds rolling in and suggested we start down. This was about 1 p.m., the normal time for the afternoon storms. I didn’t want to be on the peak when the lightning came rolling in.

Two of the mission guys wanted to go down the other ridge, Kelso ridge. This ridge is tougher than what we had seen so far. Also it was much better going up than down, and it would be wet soon. I said no and Heather and Cameron agreed. So we parted company and Heather, Cameron, Norm, Judy, and I headed back to saddle while the other 2 headed down Kelso Ridge.

Sure enough, we got some grauple soon after hitting the saddle. It hurt until we put our jackets on. Then it started raining on us when we were about halfway down. Just a normal peak. We trudged back to car on the excellent trail, arriving about 3:30.

We waited for 30 minutes or so for the other two, but they never showed. Heather said she heard from one of them later that they did finally make it, but it took them a long time. Another lesson courtesy of the Rockies: the shortest route is not always the easiest. We finally left for the cabin, very tired but happy. What a completely great trip.