Kelso Ridge (Torrey’s Peak)

Torrey’s Peak (Front Range) – Kelso Ridge Approach (Class 3)

  • Attempted 7/29/15
  • 7.25 miles round trip (3.25 miles to summit, 4 miles to return down standard route)
  • 4.5 hrs RT (3 hrs up, 1.5 hrs down – but I rolled my ankle on the descent again, which slowed me down considerably).
  • Difficult 14er (Class 3)
  • +3,100′ net elevation gain (14,267′)
  • Equipment:
    • sunblock (at that elevation, you’ll feel the sun)
    • tech shell (you will want a shell to protect you from the wind)
    • Nanopuff jacket (always layer when attempting a 14er)
    • headlamp (you’ll have to be starting this hike earlier than most 14ers)
    • light gloves (for climbing and warmth)
    • hiking poles (save the knees!) – and ankles!
    • Lunch and lots of snacks
    • Climbing helmet (or really any helmet will do, but climbing helmets are quite light)
    • Lots of water!

While we had all done Torrey’s Peak before, we wanted to try our hands at some class 3 climbing with some decent exposure thrown in the mix!  The solution was Kelso Ridge: A class 3 approach to a nearby 14er that can be walked down on the standard path if you feel like it.  Given the amount of loose scree and exposure on Kelso Ridge, I would have to be feeling pretty motivated to go down Kelso Ridge; but going up Kelso Ridge proved to be lots of fun!  We left Arvada around 4a and began hiking around 5:30a.  We hadn’t done too much research, just enough to have a general idea.  Save for a few sections,  Kelso Ridge has a pretty well-carved out path that is easy to follow.  It takes 2.25 miles (by my GPS watch) to reach the fork in the trail to take the ridge.  It was fairly quick and we even tackled most of the ridge rather quickly.  It was the final 0.75 miles or so that was slow and tough.

The OR trial to get to the TH starts out at a rating of a hard 2 (most any crossover or SUV will be fine) and then transitions into a 2-3 (higher clearance SUVs only) about two-thirds of the way up.  I have been up there in a 2006 Subaru Outback and now a 90s Jeep Wrangler stock.  At the top I saw a Mazda Microvan, some crossovers, and then higher clearance vehicles.  The one section that makes it a 2-3 can be done as a 2 if you are careful and choose your line wisely.

Kelso's branch off as seen from the descent (you'll keep left on the ascent).  Super easy to spot, obviously leads to a beaten path to the ridge.
Kelso’s branch off as seen from the descent (you’ll keep left on the ascent). Super easy to spot, obviously leads to a beaten path to the ridge.
Gray's (Left) and Torrey's (Right)
Gray’s (Left) and Torrey’s (Right)
The ridge as seen from the main trail
The ridge as seen from the main trail
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Beginning up the ridge
She didn't think I would post this
She didn’t think I would post this

This was the first class 3 section where Sarah and I put on our helmets.  Kevin and Sarah stayed left, which appeared to be the standard route over this wall.  I instead went up on the right side, basically where the shadow meets the light.  There were fewer handholds, but it all leads to the top of the wall, so either route is okay.

The first class 3 climbing
The first class 3 climbing

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A daunting view of the remaining route.
A daunting view of the remaining route.

A difficult class 2 climb is shortly ahead, as seen in the photo below.  Of course, we decided to take the more difficult approach over the wall.  There were a plethora of handholds and footholds, so it really wasn’t that bad.

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Stay right for the standard difficult class 2 climb, stay left for a class 3 variation

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After this, it was pretty much a tough scramble to the knife edge.  I am sure that I missed a wall or two of climbing, as I recall there being more than what I have pictures of, but nothing was overly challenging.  There was one wall where I had difficulty finding a suitable handhold once I was in an awkward position, so I just grabbed whatever I could to haul myself up the next part.  It was likely on a non-standard variation up a wall and just slight impatience, but I didn’t ever think I was going to fall (except the time that Sarah threw a rock at me… wait, that was more than once).

On that note, I was climbing last in our group, and more than once Kevin and Sarah dropped loose rock onto me below by no fault of their own.  I wouldn’t ever do Kelso Ridge without a helmet because of how much loose scree and loose rock there is when climbing.  And since the climbing walls are so skinny, it is hard to avoid rocks.  The best tip is to wait for the person in front of you to finish the wall before you begin climbing, but even when you thin they are above the wall they can drop stuff onto you.  Kevin didn’t bring his helmet, so we had him climb first, avoiding issues of having rocks fall on you.  I definitely had a few hit my helmet, so I was VERY happy to have bought Black Diamond’s Half Dome climbing helmet.  Amazing!

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Don’t fall
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Some exposed scrambling shortly before the knife edge
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The knife edge is just behind this point to the right. The summit is to the left.

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And finally, the moment we had all been waiting for the whole hike – the knife edge!  While we didn’t expect it to be as long as Capitol’s knife edge – by any means – we found this to be much shorter and not as exposed as we had expected.  Falling off the knife edge would likely result in serious injury, maybe death off of the right side, but the left side dropped into Dead Dog Col and would have just sent you down a steep snowy slide to the basin.

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The “white rock” seen here is just after the knife edge. Stay right after the knife edge and navigate around the back of the white rock to gain the scramble to the summit. I thought the exposure behind the white rock was worse than the knife edge, but to each their own.
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Right off the knife edge
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Left off the knife edge leading to Dead Dog Col.

And a plethora of selfie’s on the knife edge began…

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While it had some solid exposure, it looks worse than it felt! I never felt afraid going across this, it was actually a lot of fun! But I definitely would be worried to attempt this in the wind because of how few footholds and handholds existed on the knife edge. You pretty much had to scoot across it, no way to “climb” across like people do on Capitol’s knife edge.

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After that is the loosest scramble you have faced yet to reach the summit.  There is decent exposure if you were to slip, so make sure to be careful and make switchbacks here to avoid falling.

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I found it much easier to just climb on the “rib” of rocks that extended through most of the scree here.
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On Torrey’s Peak looking back to Kelso Mountain

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Overall I would be happy to do this climb again any day of the week!  We never had wet sections or snow to worry about on Kelso Ridge (we did going down Torrey’s standard route).  If I was motivated, I would have gone down Kelso Ridge, but that was a lot of unnecessary work considering I could take the standard route down Torrey’s and not risk dying or injurying myself.  There was a lot of loose scree, so going down Kelso Ridge would be much more dangerous than going up – not exactly fun in my books.  As I said earlier, I wouldn’t dare climb Kelso Ridge without a helmet and a climbing buddy.  Everything has loose rocks that get dropped down onto your head, so be sure to call out rocks you drop below you.

*To note, I leaned against a rock (on the “white rock”) to try and take a selfie with the knife edge behind me and the earth underneath the rock began to give out, so I quickly leaned forward to catch myself.  I hope no one else leans against it, because it is huge and looks stable, but clearly isn’t.  I could have pushed it off down the col, as no one was climbing dead dog as far as I saw, but decided that was a worse idea than just leaving this seemingly safe rock put.

While on the class 3 climbing walls, there are lots of handholds that aren’t set well into the wall and will slip out if you put weight on them, so be sure to give each rock a little “test’ before you put your weight on it.  I had maybe two incidents where something looked stable while climbing but fell right out when I gave it a little yank.  I know Sarah had a couple she told me not to use too, so it is easy to be fooled!

A great climb close to Denver that has very few crowds (until you get to the summit, then you can expect company).  It makes for great climbing practice, scrambling practice, and will help you get used to exposure if heights aren’t your friend.  Overall, this is the most challenging approach to a 14er I have yet to do (ranks above Long’s Peak and Sneffels, for sure).  Yet, I would do this again in a heartbeat if a friend wanted to summit Torrey’s and do some climbing!

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