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.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication