#2 Grays Peak: Never Underestimate a Mountain

We were all gathered in the backyard of Walker's house on a beautiful Saturday afternoon day drinking. It was a warm, 72 degree day. Somewhere between our 3rd and 5th drink of the afternoon, Max and I started talking about what we wanted to ski tomorrow. We had successfully completed Shit For Brains the weekend before and Max had a week of rest after having COVID. We wanted to accomplish a bigger day and had heard someone had made it far up on Forest Road 189 in a car. We didn't know how exactly how far they made it and whether the information was reliable. All we went off of was one person's trailhead post on 14ers.com. We look up the mileage and vertical gain and thought... "7.5miles Round Trip? Only 3,000' of gain? Maybe add another mile and 500' to be safe with the road closures and we'll crush it". It was at this time that Lincoln and Emily were chiming into the conversation and the four of us decided, we'd all go together!

We were up early and arrived at the trailhead around 6:45am the next morning. The rattling transition between dirt and pavement rattled me awake and my attention was on a mysterious brick fireplace in the center of this parking lot with two chairs next to it. 
Where the fuck was I. Max, somehow read my mind and said, "We're at the base of the road. The fun starts here!" 
We rounded the first small bend on Forest Road 189 to find the snowline right. there. 
It was absolutely devastating. How long will we actually have to skin today??? We attempted to get a rough estimate, but no one could.
It was at this point that we all shrugged our shoulders and said I said, "I guess we'll find out!"

The mundane walk up the road.

Top of the 4x4 road. We had just reach the trailhead, the beginning of our known vertical gain marker.

Emily and I were feeling great. we talked and kept a solid cadence. Lincoln was not feeling too hot from yesterday's festive and Max was still cold after taking a shit halfway up the road. 

We began our way up the basin until we crossed paths with another group that was headed up Kelso Ridge. 

The group moves up the basin around 11,000' 

I looked up at the ridge to my right and wondered how they were going to climb that much exposed rock in ski boots.

We managed to get to around 11,200' and the mileage was beginning to add up for me and my frame bindings. The group was nice, waited for me and then we even took a break.

Moments before our 2nd break. We ate, dreaming of a future decent of Dead Dog Couloir

 Emily had brought an enormous amount of snacks while the three of us boys had not even 2L of water between us. We each huddled around Emily as she offered to share with us. We ate in sunshine and bliss and wondered where those two guys were on the ridge.

Snack time

We started climbing up Gray's Northern Slopes. Max, Emily and I were feeling the mileage and vertical feet while Lincoln made a miraculous recovery; claiming: "slow and steady wins the race". 

The group; Lincoln leads the way.

On cue, I started to deteriorate quickly. 

Dragging ass behind Emily

At ~12,800', I bonked. 
Max and Emily were two kick turns ahead of me. I began to dry heave and my stomach clenched in... I reached for my radio..."Max...", I said, "Do you still have the toilet paper? I think I might need it."

A long pause ensued. 
Abruptly, Max busts out laughing over the radio, and asks how I'm doing. I explain the situation at hand and he leaves the toilet paper in a Ziploc bag. 

I puked a little.
My only focus was on not shitting myself.
I had roughly 20 steps between me and the bag.
With each agonizing step, I would take a small break. It felt like I had a bucket of cement attached to each leg. 
I reached the plastic bag right before a good gust of wind struck me.
I had a critical decision to make: Was I about to take a shit above 13,000' with strong gusts of wind and no shelter or could I continue?

I considered the idea for a second. Then, shut it down. I looked up to see Max and Lincoln switching to boot packing, marking the beginning of the ridge and I could get these skis off my feet.

Max, Lincoln and Emily waited as I slowly climb the slopes below after I blew up

On the ridgeline, vertical was much easier for me.

Our view as we switched to booting. We decided to leave our skis here because the top was mostly rocky.

Topping out. The summit is near

All smiles in strong gusts of wind on the summit

Lincoln starting the descent toward our skis

Our time on the summit was short lived. Clouds and wind looked like they were coming in fast. 

We took a few photos and took off down the hill for our skis. We transitioned quickly and split up into two groups for the descent: Lincoln and I & Max and Emily. I was the first to ski.

Looking back up the mountain after my descent

Max skiing down Gray's Northern Slopes. The sun began to open back up

A brief look at Dead Dog again. We heard a rumble earlier and realized that this was fresh avalanche activity

The next part of the descent was easy low angle terrain until we crossed the bridge onto the road. The road had melted out since our early morning ascent.

Watch where you ski

Max had mentioned something about needing a base grind?

The rest of the road was very much the same as the photo above. There was one last uphill skate to the car. I dreaded these steps and thought, "Why are these skis so heavy?!"
Exhausted at the car. Hangry, tired and ready to go to sleep.

At the bottom, I was relieved, hangry and ready to get my wet, smelly, blistery socks off of my feet. I needed food and urgently rushed to Smokin' Yards.

                    The day's total:

I just barely made it through Grays. I learned the importance of bringing plenty of food and water. Furthermore, I learned to always carry toilet paper and a Ziploc bag. From now on, I will have to get more carbs to accomplish bigger days like this, especially with 10 pound bricks on each of my feet. I was getting stronger, more confident in the mountains and was excited for what the rest of the spring would bring.


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