Having come 500 ft short of summiting Grays the week before, Nic and I were as determined as ever to get atop our first 14er and ride down. We had all the gear necessary and our plan was solid, now the weather just needed to cooperate. We checked the forecasts and Saturday, May 21st seemed like our best bet.
Expecting a warm day we made sure we gave ourselves plenty of time to summit Grays and Torreys Peaks before the sun warmed up the snow too much. This was important as our goal was to descend Tuning Fork which ranges from 30 to 50 degree slope angles. At 12:45 am our alarms went off and we rolled out of bed in Denver. An hour and a half later we rolled up to the Bakersville exit on I-70 to a pleasant surprise. The access road was passable all the way up to the split for Grays and Grizzly Gulch Rd. This meant we could eliminate 40 minutes of skinning on our approach.
We expected to be the only ones there at this ungodly hour only to find about 6 other cars with people awaking from their slumbers to start heading out as well. By 2:45 am we were geared up and started skinning in the moonlight. This was a pretty unique experience since we were under a full moon. I did my best to get some shots of the crazy colors that surrounded the moon as well as the way the mountains were illuminated at night but unfortunately the camera on my Samsung Galaxy S5 was not up for the task.
Right around 4:45 am we were at the Gray's trailhead with the outhouse. We were about 10 minutes ahead of our pace from the week before. This is also when we ran into a few of the other people we saw getting out of their cars earlier. Around here is also when you start getting above tree line and very exposed to the wind swooping through the valley. It was 45 degrees F at the car and by now it had dropped to around 30 with a wind chill bringing it down to the 20's. Needless to say, my jacket and hat went on pretty quickly.
A little over two hours later we passed the "lunch rocks" and started making our ascent. Feeling confident with my splitboard crampons we decided to make the quick steep ascent up the ridge line to our left rather than go around it. Nic opted out of putting his crampons on his skis and had a little trouble getting over some of the rocks. With mine on, I was pretty confident with the traction and stability they provided but ultimately we both decided to hike the last section of the ridge.
Although the initial ascent up the ridge was a pain, ultimately it paid off. It eliminated about 20 minutes of skinning. Once passed the ridge the rest of the ascent was much less technical but by no means any easier. At this point we were above 13,000 ft and you could feel the lack of oxygen with every step.
From here we were able to stay in skin mode making switchbacks along the east ridge of Grays Peak all the way to the summit. We reached the summit around 10:00 am. Excited to have just climbed my first 14er, we had a decision to make. We could stick to the objective and head across the west ridge to Torreys Peak or call it a day here and make it back to Denver in time to catch the Hudson Derby at The Three Lions.
Being tired and a very big New York Red Bulls fan I decided that one 14er was enough for the day. We cracked open our celebratory Rainiers, strapped, and dropped in. It wasn't the best snow or the gnarliest terrain but boy did those turns feel good!