Maybe the last 14er of 2017? I guess we’ll see, but it’s gonna be ski season any time now. Either way, pounding out some extra vertical won’t hurt when it comes time to dust off the climbing skins! Crawling out of our sleeping bags at the base at 7:30 in the morning to find ourselves shivering in 22 degrees certainly drove home the imminence of winter!
This is easily one of my favorite hikes of the year, both because it satisfies the ‘well-rounded adventure’ requirement and because of the amazing variety of terrain. It’s in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, which is accessed via 4th of July Road. Passing through the town of Eldora and riding up the 4th of July road is cool enough, and if you have a stout 4×4 you can mercifully knock a mile or so off of the 15 mile total. Depending on the weather, this may also prevent you from having to walk an appreciable distance through a giant puddle. Either way, you add a short but mildly technical off-road jaunt to your otherwise human-powered day. As icing on the cake, the final stretch deters most motorists, leaving the limited parking at the end of the road a pretty good bet.
We chose a doubleheader for our first 14ers of the year and it did not disappoint! The hike itself is pretty straightforward: am obvious trail departs from the road and leads you via the path of least resistance up Grays and then Torreys. An optional knife-edge trail descends from the summit of Torreys, which we omitted, but could be used as a nice way to vary the scenery on the return trip. It doesn’t really change the mileage but ads some exposure. Both summits offer glorious views of the Summit County mountains. But the factor that really takes the cake for me is the stunning alpine valley from whence you begin. The best way (IMHO) to tick off these peaks is to drive up Stevens Gulch Road the day before until you get to the end or until you’d rather not punish your vehicle any further. The road peters out nearby an extensive alpine meadow sprinkled with mining remains and ample opportunities for car camping. Get an early start, find a nice camp spot and take in some world-class views while you acclimate. Waking up at the trailhead really takes the edge off of a 14er and the ambiance is second to none!
If you’re up for a big day in the mountains but don’t feel like doing a 14er, this is your mountain. In fact, Sopris isn’t even a 13er; it tops out at 12,985 feet. Don’t take this as an excuse to let your guard down: with a round trip of about 14 miles and a net vertical of well over 4000′, this is a real hike!