Colorado's Fourteeners

In the Shadow of the Twin Summits, Grays and Torreys Peaks
Gorp.com
Stevens Gulch Route

                                                                                                            Stevens Mine to Grays and Torreys: 4.3 miles, 3,500 feet.

route profile

From Georgetown, once the mining metropolis of the Clear Creek Valley, drive west on I-70 six miles to the Bakerville (once called Graymont) exit. En route, one passes the Georgetown Loop Historic Mining Area, a Colorado Historical Society project featuring the restored Georgetown Loop of the old Georgetown, Breckenridge & Leadville Railway.

At Bakerville (what little there is left of it), a dirt road climbs south up Stevens Gulch for three miles almost to the Stevens Mine. One mile from Bakerville, the road forks as Kelso Mountain looms ahead. Take the left-hand (east) fork past a delightfully photogenic old millhouse.

The road is passable in two-wheel-drive cars if it is dry, and it makes a fine cross-country-ski approach for winter ascents if one can avoid the snowmobiles that frequent the valley. From just below the Stevens Mine, a trail crosses the creek west (11,300 feet) and winds southwest two miles into the large cirque between Grays and Torreys. From here, the standard old horse trail (with some variations) climbs a circuitous one and one-half miles to the summit of Grays. Torreys is one-half mile north, with a five-hundred-foot drop.

The proximity to Denver and the easy nature of the main trail make the"GT" a natural for beginner and family climbs. Unfortunately, this also makes them among the most crowded. Try to avoid weekends or midsummer climbs, and please stay on the trail.

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During the 1870s and 1880s, when reference was made to Colorado's most famous mountains, it was not the peaks of Pike and Long that were mentioned but rather twin summits named after two of America's most noted botanists.

Asa Gray and John Torrey first achieved fame in 1838 by publishing the first part of their monumental Flora of North America. Reference to"Torrey and Gray" in botanical circles soon became as widely accepted as reference to "Ormes" among Colorado climbers.

In 1861, Charles C. Parry, a student and coworker of Torrey and Gray who was destined to become an eminent botanist in his own right, climbed the higher peaks of the Front Range and took altitude readings. The prominent "Twin Peaks" or "Ant Hills," as Indians called them, Parry named after his colleagues, Torrey and Gray. A lesser peak, just to the north, he named after botanist George Engelmann.

Four years later, in the summer of 1865, three rip-roaring prospectors, Richard Irwin, John Baker, and Fletcher Kelso, stormed into the large valley north of the peaks to hunt the ever-elusive glimmer of gold and silver. Locally, Torreys Peak became known as Irwins Peak, while Baker gave his name to the little town of Bakerville, and Kelso replaced Engelmann's name with his own on Kelso Mountain. Always a promoter, Dick Irwin soon had a horse trail leading up Grays Peak, the easier of the twin peaks, and was encouraging tourists to take in the view.

The names of Torreys, Grays, and Irwins peaks changed back and forth until 1872, when visits by Parry, Gray, and Torrey to the peaks helped to establish Grays as the eastern summit and Torreys as the western summit. Gray made a climb of Grays Peak with Parry in July of 1872; Torrey visited Georgetown in August and was content his daughter reached its summit.Dick Irwin moved on to give his name to a boom-town silver camp in the Gunnison country in 1879, and for twenty-five years continued to follow the lure of the mining frontier, eventually finding his way to Nome, Alaska, in 1901.

The tourist business he first encouraged on Grays and Torreys, however, reached boom proportions during the 1870s and 1880s. Tourists came from all over the country, and accounts of the climbs made national news. Published accounts appeared in such premier magazines of the day as Atlantic Monthly, Overland Monthly, Appleton Journal, Scribner's, and the Appalachia Journal.

By 1884, when the Colorado Central Railroad had completed the famous Georgetown Loop and passengers could ride in comfort to Silver Plume, Grays and Torreys were musts for tourists bent on seeing Colorado. The ascents were described as"an easy day for a lady," providing of course, that one rode horseback to the top, as most did!

Despite their reputations on the tourist circuit, Grays and Torreys were very much mining mountains. In the late 1800s, when Georgetown and the Clear Creek Valley were one of the key mining regions of the state, claims were staked and major properties developed in the high valley surrounding Grays and Torreys. Of particular note were the Waldorf and Santiago mines on McClellan Mountain to the east and the National Treasure and Peruvian mines in Horseshoe Basin to the south. Perhaps the most famous, however, was the Stevens Mine in Stevens Gulch, northeast of the peaks, where Dick Irwin and his cronies first prospected in 1865. Several decaying buildings and a large tailings dump remain today as testaments to the once-booming operation that filled the innards of McClellan Mountain with a series of tunnels and shafts.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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