Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Grays Peak

When the alarm clock beeps at 2:30 a.m. it is natural to question one's motives, even for those who are used to beating the sun by several hours to engage in bird or photography hikes. Bed seems awfully nice when the reason for that alarm is an upcoming 8 mile hike with 3,000+ feet of vertical gain, and a summit of 14,270 feet lay ahead. But, after coffee, picking up friends and gear, just over an hour of driving, and a 5:00 start; everything begins to make sense:

Sun kissed Grays (left) and Torreys (right) peaks

I had gotten a bit of a head start on my group, knowing that with my cameras I would be a bit slower once I started taking pictures. As a result I had these couple of views all to myself, a rare treat because later in the day there are literally hundreds of hikers lining these trails like ants.

Looking back past the shoulder of Torreys - beautiful country

Soon the views began to be paid for in vertical feet. The first half of the hike, up to my location for the first two shots was a relatively gentle climb up a glacial valley. From here though it was switchbacks right on up to the summit.

A view back towards the trailhead, including Kelso Mountain (center) and Stevens Gulch (bending behind it from the right) trailhead sits just back out of view behind Kelso Mountain

I climbed Grays back in 2002 or 2003, and it was painful. My boots didn't fit well, I was wearing jeans with no belt, and as a twenty something I raced up, suffered down, and when it was over and the blisters and soreness had passed I realized I really hadn't savored much while I had worked hard to get up there.
This year was different. Once I got up high I took my time, I tried to memorize the views, and capture the moments, not to mention I had targets on my hike. The first were Rocky Mountain Goats. I have seen this species while driving up Mt. Evans years ago, but not since I had begun keeping lists or taking pictures. It was a species that I wanted to get on a hike, walking into its environment, not just driving by. I got them, seeing a group first on the ridge shortly after dawn, when they were just brilliant spots of gold high on red rock. About halfway up the ascent of the switchbacks I got a closer look, and at that point I was glad I had brought 5 plus pounds of camera along.

Rocky Mountain Goat

There was an even more elusive target though, one that I had tried for an missed many times in the past, and had never seen - the Brown-capped Rosy-Finch.

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch

My fellow hikers were a bit surprised when I shouted "Brown-capped Rosy-Finch"! There isn't much air up there for shouting, but I found some. I cruised to the summit, knowing that I had already bagged my two target species on the way up. Then the celebratory picture at the top, I'm squinting on the left - 'note to self - wear sunglasses for future mountaintop pictures'.


With my camera gear I headed back down with a part of the group, while some headed on and bagged Torreys as well. In hindsight I wish I had done Torreys as well, I wanted to get back down to the willow clumps in the valley below to look for Ptarmigan. When I got to that section I found two White-crowned Sparrows, and nothing else. I guess hundreds of hikers can have that effect. Oh well, now I have a reason to go back.

2010 Count: 196
Lifetime: 241


  1. Great photos, Dave! That is beautiful scenery, and I'm envious of the photo of the goat!

  2. Awesome....I think I feel lazy. But the photos are beautiful!