Kelso Mountain (13,164′) | CO Rank: 510/637
Front Range | Arapaho National Forest | Georgetown, CO
10/19/19 | 5.02 miles | 1,969′ gain | Class 2
Allie and I had been talking about climbing Kelso Mountain for a long time and we finally had an opportunity right before a big snowstorm blew in! We both had things going on in the morning so we planned a sunset hike.
The route up Kelso starts at the Grays Peak Trailhead. The drive in was much easier (and not at all icy) like we’d expected, and we were surprised to arrive to a half full parking lot. Where is everybody!? We thought we’d have to park way down the road since this trailhead is always insanely busy, but I guess the cold kept most people away.
As we were getting our gear ready, a guy kept looking over at us, probably wondering why we were getting started so late. He looked about ready to come over and talk to us before we bundled up in multiple layers and put on our full backpacks. Don’t worry, we have come prepared! (Side note: normally it’s not recommended to start up a mountain so late, but that tends to only matter during monsoon season when afternoon thunderstorms pose a threat. We made sure we had a clear weather window before setting out.)
We followed the Grays Peak Trail for a mile or so and turned off at a large cairn. The gentle south slopes of Kelso provide many route options and we chose a line that looked good to us.
We avoided the willows and patches of snow whenever possible, walking on grass and the occasional rock.
The slope was steep (though not dangerously so) and it took a while to ascend as I constantly had to stop to catch my breath. A huge mountain goat watched us from afar, and we kept an eye on him to make sure he didn’t come any closer. Once we topped out on the ridge, we had views for days.
The summit was close now and the views gave us new energy. We plunge stepped through the snow drifts and finally summited. It was freezing up there and windy so we didn’t even sit down. Just grab summit pictures and go!
We decided to make a sort of loop and descended a different way than we’d come up. We followed the ridge down (until it became harder than Class 1/2) and then cut back to the trail from there.
Once we hit the trail, it was smooth sailing and we cruised all the way back to the car, but not before snapping some sunset photos!
We’d watched a number of people heading back down the trail while we were on Kelso, but we never imagined we’d get back to a completely empty parking lot. We’d had the basin to ourselves for at least an hour! What a great way to spend an afternoon.
4 thoughts on “Kelso Mountain (13,164′) | Colorado | 10/19/19”
Gorgeous! I love Kelso. The view up the 14ers and down the gulch is so epic.
I had a fun summer day of ascending Torreys via Kelso Ridge (the knife edge was memorable), descending to Grays, and then making a refreshing butt glissade down a couloir after the switchbacks. Chilly cheeks!
This was back in the 90s when there was no parking lot, no signs, no bridges, just a nasty washboard road up to a little dirt field where hippies camped. I remember sudden electric hail storms and Rocky Mountain Columbine nearly as big as my fist. Good times.
That sounds fun! I’d love to hit Kelso Ridge one day, but that’s a bit out of my comfort level at the moment. I will get there though!
The road is still a nasty washboard but there’s a real trailhead sign and parking spots now! And it’s INSANELY busy.
Beautiful pics, and well written, reminds me of the hikes I did in the pacific NW!
Thank you! I have never hiked in the PNW but hope to get there one day 🙂