Hiking 14er Grays Peak, South Ridge: The Less Crowded Ascent

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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

It’s HARD

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.  

Be Prepared 

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. 

Route Finding

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.

Start Early

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.

 

Camping nearby

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.  

Hiking 14er Grays Peak, South Ridge: The Less Crowded Ascent

The start of the hike

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.  

Hiking 14er Grays Peak, South Ridge: The Less Crowded Ascent