Experience one of the most popular 14ers in Colorado, Grays peak, with half the crowds and twice the adventure. When hiked from the practically unknown South Ridge, you will come across only a handful of people. This side of the mountain takes you up through a much more lush and meadowy valley unlike the dry and exposed north slopes. After ascending over a plateau, you will experience an adrenaline rushing while scramble to the summit.
This scramble may seem exposed to those afraid of heights, but in reality the scramble stays on a wide path involving some class 2 scrambling meaning an occasional hand over hand but more often just high steps.
Overview of the Hike/ The Beta
Distance RT: 8 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,250 feet
Difficulty: Strenuous / Class 2 out of 5
Exposure: Class 2 out of 6
Starting elevation: 11,020 feet
Summit elevation: 14,270 feet
Trailhead: Argentine Pass
Things to Know
For a 14er, this hike is considered easier, but that’s not saying much. All 14ers are strenuous. This hike is considered strenuous mostly because of the immense elevation gain. Gaining more than 3,000 feet in only 4 miles is no joke especially at elevation. You should be have good physical fitness to tackle this route.
Like all 14ers, it’s important to be prepared with lots of layers and plenty of water. It’s really important to be ready to turn around before summiting if the weather isn’t looking so good. Don’t forget a warm jacket and gloves for the top.
You Won’t Bag Torrey’s
By hiking it from the South Face makes bagging both Grays and Torrey’s quite difficult because by doing so you’d really be hiking three 14ers in one day. What I mean by that is when hiking Grays and Torrey from the opposite side, the trailhead and two peaks form almost a triangle shape so you ascend Grays, then Torreys, then just head straight down after. When hiking it from the (better) South Face, you ascend up Grays peak, then if you continue on to Torrey’s, you would descend Grays, hike up Torreys, descend Torreys, then ascend Grays AGAIN before heading back down to the trailhead! It’s doable but if you’re obsessed with bagging as many peaks as possible, then this isn’t the best option for you.
In my personal opinion, getting to Torrey’s is nothing special. That is if you are already hiking Grays. Since they’re both in almost the same spot you don’t really get any better of views from Torreys AND the experience of hiking Grays from the South Face compared to the crowded, desolate South Slopes significantly outweighs the negative that you don’t get to “say” you hiked two 14ers in one day.
Limited Water Sources
There is pretty much nowhere to get water on this trail which mean it’s really important to pack enough water especially considering you are gaining a LOT of elevation and you’re at a high elevation. The only place you can get water if you’re desperate is at the little pond at the base of where the scrambling starts. You can fill water here but I wouldn’t count on it.
Basic route finding is required on this trail but it’s very straightforward and this blog should provide plenty of info so you feel comfortable on the trail.
Check the Weather
Colorado is known for it’s common afternoon thunderstorms and because of this, it’s a general rule to be off the summit after noon. The most trustworthy weather forecast is the NOAA website but don’t count on the predictions. Weather is unpredictable, especially at 14,000 feet.
Primarily because of the weather issue, be sure to start your hike no later than 8am. I would recommend starting even earlier on weekends because of the limited parking at the trailhead.
There are a lot of free camping options nearby. As I will mention below, the drive to the trailhead is on a dirt National Forest road which means you can free camp anywhere for up to 16 days. Free dispersed camping is an amazing resource so please follow Leave No Trace ethics. Camp at least 100 feet from any source of water, pack out all waste, and camp on dirt only if possible.
If you’re not big on free camping you can stay at one of the many state campgrounds in Frisco. It’s about a 1 hour commute to the trailhead from there.
Getting to Argentine Trailhead
Even getting to the trailhead is more adventurous than the typical Gray’s approach. This South Ridge approach to Gray’s starts from Argentine Pass Trailhead.
From Highway US-6, take the exit to Montezuma Road, just east of Keystone Resort, and head south. After 4.5 miles, make a left onto County Road 260, a bumpy dirt road. A 2wd vehicle can still make the trip but 4×4 or high clearance would be helpful otherwise it’ll be a really a long drive down this dirt road. This scenic road is filled with amazing free dispersed camping for about 5 miles, upon which, you’ll reach a small dirt parking lot that fits about 20 cars. Because of this, be sure to get there no later than 7 a.m. on weekends.
Guide to Hiking the South Face of Grays
Argentine Pass Trailhead (11,020′) to End of Doubletrack Road (12,300′)
Time: 50 minutes
Distance and elevation gain: 1.7 miles, 1,280 feet gain
The beginning is the easiest place to get lost but the most simple. You’ll start the hike by going through the side of a gate next to the old mine and hiking up a double track dirt road.
Within a few minutes you’ll reach a small y-shaped junction. Don’t go left. Stay right/straight and continue on the double track path.
Continue on this path until it dead ends by a cairn. Here there will be a large cairn where you will turn sharply left on a new trail.
End of Doubletrack Road (12,300′) to Base of the Scramble (12,400′)
Time: 15 minutes
Distance and elevation gain: .6 miles, 100 feet gain
Here, you’ll follow the obvious trail around to a sharp switchback that will bring you up alongside a hill.
When you crest the hill there be a large stack of rocks. While the trail may seem to head right here, don’t go that way. Instead you will be heading straight up to the obvious mountain peak ahead of you.
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Base of the Scramble (12,400′) to the Steep Ascent (13,200′)
Time: 1 hour
Distance and elevation gain: .6 miles, 800 feet gain
This section is the least well marked but the most straightforward. You pretty much just want to head straight toward the ridgeline. While steep, this section does not involve any scrambling. You will just be walking up the grassy terrain.
Here you will get absolutely stunning views of Ruby Peak, a fitting name for the red striped peak, and a beautiful blue lake below.
The Steep Ascent (13,200′) to The South Ridge (13,900′)
Time: 30 minutes
Distance and elevation gain: .4 miles, 700 feet gain
Soon enough, you will reach steep terrain. This is the most challenging part of the hike. Here there is some unexposed class 2 scrambling and lots of high steps.
While at times it may seem less scary to stay right, as far away from the ridge as possible, the closer you stay to the ridgeline, the easier it is. This is because there is more scree further right and more solid rock further left.
While it’s only .4 miles to on this steep terrain, you will move very slow and it will take about 30 minutes. As you’re climbing, you will notice a small crest ahead of you, that’s the South Ridge. You will be going over that crest before you traverse the ridge to Grays summit.
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The South Ridge (13,900′) to Gray’s Summit (14,270′)
Time: 15 minutes
Distance and elevation gain: .2 miles, 370 feet gain
Once you crest the South Ridge you’re only 10 minutes away.
Ahead you’ll see another small rock face. From below, it will seem like the safest and easiest way up it is to come up from the right side, however, it’s deceiving. Coming down, it’s much easier to see that it’s safer and easier to head straight up this crest instead.
You’ll then see the final stretch ahead of you. Ascend a few rocky switchbacks and finally you be standing atop Colorado 14er, Grays Peak.
Be sure to take in the view, have a snack, and grab a photo with the cardboard elevation markers left under rocks at the summit.
Option: As I mentioned before, it is very difficult to do Torreys and Grays in one day from this side but it is possible. To get to Torrey’s, continue hiking along the ridge of Grays summit.
You’ll see the trail up Torreys come into view and the steep trail may make you reconsider doing both. Descend the rocky switchbacks and get ready for another steep ascent.
View of Torrey’s Peak while descending Grays. Note: We attempted Torrey’s Peak after summiting Grays but unfortunately we didn’t reach the top. Sadly we had already gotten to the bottom of the Grays and Torrey’s col so we had to reascend Grays, basically hiking two of the same 14er in one day. Bad weather was rolling in and we didn’t want to descend the steep South Ridge in the rain, there was no treeline we could get to fast, and some members of our group reached the bottom of Torrey’s and didn’t have the energy to ascend three 14ers that day. Use our mistake as a lesson. Be aware of the weather and know your limits.
After taking in the views or bagging Torrey’s, you will continue back the way you came. Remembering how scree-like the slopes were, you may dread going back down but fear not, it’s not that bad. The descent is, of course, much faster than the ascent. In a short 2 hours you will be back at the Argentine Pass trailhead.
If you need more info check out the super helpful 14ers.com.
Have you hikes Grays or Torrey’s peaks? Share your experience with us in the comments section below! If you have questions about the South Ridge ascent, feel free to ask us!