(G & M: #508)
Kelso Mountain is an easy Class 2 hike from the Stevens Gulch trailhead, which primarily serves as the trailhead for Grays and Torreys Peaks. We highly recommend hiking Kelso on a weekday because weekends bring hordes of 14er-baggers to this area. The trailhead can be reached by way of a rough & rocky gravel road that requires higher ground clearance if you value your car. The hike is mostly a tundra hike on a steep hillside.
Kelso Mountain East Flank Route
Short Day // A Wee Little Climb
RT From Stevens Gulch:
The trailhead for Kelso is the same as the trailhead for Grays and Torreys Peak. The trail to those peaks is now actually a segment of the Continental Divide Trail. From I-70 either east or west bound, take the Bakerville exit #221 and head south on CR321 that goes all the way up Stevens Gulch. The road initially makes a broader switchback turn then heads in the southerly direction, followed by another brief pair of switchbacks. Beyond there is a winter closure gate. The turnoff for Grizzly Gulch comes in 1.1 mile. If climbing Kelso from Grizzly Gulch you will need to exit right here, otherwise continue on to the trailhead parking for Grays & Torreys Peaks, a total of 3.2 miles from the interstate. The Stevens Gulch Road is gravel and tends to be rough and rocky because of all the traffic it receives. As of summer of 2017, we would recommend that you at least go up this road in a higher clearance vehicle, even though you can see some "sedan" type cars up there. You'll worry a lot less. Even though parking has been improved over the decades, finding a spot in close proximity to the trailhead can be very difficult on weekends. On weekends, expect to see dozens of vehicles parked along the road well before arriving at the trailhead. Early start is almost imperative. There is some limited parking at the Bakerville exit, but hiking from there adds 6.4 miles RT to the overall mileage for the day. If in a group that has multiple vehicles, leave as many vehicles down at Bakerville and cram everyone into a single car. There is a vault toilet available at the trailhead. A fancy bridge takes you across the creek nowadays and joins the old roadbed that is now the official Grays & Torreys trail.
Though we are indicating camping available nearby, this can be a little difficult. There is no designated Forest Service campground nearby in the vicinity. First of all, there are private property concerns all the way up to near the trailhead. Please respect all posted signs. Secondly, you will likely find "car-campers" at the trailhead, mainly pickups with shells, pop-ups, and a variety of roof top tents, etc. Don't expect any privacy or wilderness quiet and solitude for that matter. Since this trailhead is located so close to the Front Range cities, most hikers can make the climbs of Kelso, Grays and Torreys Peaks as a day-climb from home. We suggest doing that. Western slope hikers looking for overnight camping places will do best in the Silverthorne-Dillon area, Peru Creek or Montezuma or up the Guanella Pass road.
Click thumbnail to view full-size photo + caption
Year Climbed: 2008
From the trailhead parking area, walk across the nice bridge (wish we had enjoyed something like that back when we were climbing the 14ers in the late 70's), and follow the usual path up toward Grays and Torreys. The old roadbed - now trail is actually a part of the Continental Divide Trail now all the way to the summit of Grays Peak. At the top of the second switchback at 11,885 ft., head north following an older, unused roadbed for a short while, then pick a place and just head straight up the side of the peak (Kelso) on almost all tundra, all the way to the summit. At times you may encounter small scree depending on the exact route you take, but there are no major obstacles. Just steer clear of the prominent gully system that divides the east slopes from the north ridge. There's nothing more exciting to report here. We crested out at 70 minutes from leaving the parking lot, but we were booking it. The alternate ascent route we show on the map is 1.3 miles to the summit.
Take your time at the top taking in the view. Return as you came or consider the following descent route: Begin a descent by hiking along the SSW ridge that connects over to Torreys Peak. That portion of this ridge which is actually on Torrey's is often referred to as the "Kelso Ridge." Don't confuse what you read about that section of ridge with the portion that comes off the summit of Kelso down to the Kelso-Torreys saddle. We did this descent more for interest than anything. The hiking along the ridge is all Class 2 until you come to about 12,590 ft. At that point the ridge becomes rocky and offers a little bit of scrambling. We found a few obstacles along the descent on the ridge proper, but nothing difficult and it made an otherwise boring hike a little more enjoyable. We've seen more than one source report these last 150 feet to the saddle as 3rd class. If it is, there's no threatening exposure. The only reason we can think of for avoiding this last section of ridge would be if you had younger family members along. From the Kelso-Torreys saddle, drop off the ridge on the east side and follow a trail back to the main Grays-Torreys trail. Hike back down to wherever you managed to park. Old-Man-On-the-Mountain makes for a few pictures as do some clumps of columbine and paintbrush back along the road. Also, there's frequently some mountain goats in the vicinity to enjoy and photograph.
Alternate routes: 1. Reverse the descent route and go up the Kelso-Torreys ridge to the summit of Kelso. 2. For far less human activity, head up the old road that leads into Grizzly Gulch. The turnoff for this is about 1.1 mile up the Stevens Gulch road. Hike about 1.5 miles SW up that road and then turnoff to bushwhack SE, then south into the basin below the Kelso-Torreys ridge and saddle. Aim for that saddle, then head up the Kelso ridge NNE to the summit.
Links to other information, routes & trip reports for this peak that may be helpful.
Mountain Handbook ›
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"Setting off by lantern-light, witnessing the birth of a new day as one climbs to meet the sun, this is a wonderful experience." Gaston Rebuffat