Summit County, just a short distance from Denver, offers a variety of adrenaline-fueled peak climbs and scrambling routes. From the imposing ridge lines of the Tenmile Range to the thrilling scrambling routes up some of the highest peaks in the lower 48, there is rock for every type of scramble junkie.
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A Note About Safety and Leave No Trace
The following climbs are not for beginners. Class 3 routes require the use of hands and often travel over exposed terrain. Slips and falls can result in serious injury or worse. Be sure to have plenty of 14ers and 13ers under your belt before attempting a Class 3 route. As always, come prepared, watch the weather, and wear a helmet.
Part of being prepared is understanding the basic principles of Leave No Trace. Do not leave trash or human waste on the mountain. Pack out your trash, don’t trample pristine areas, and avoid using the bathroom within 100 feet of water sources. Leave the mountain a better place than how you found it.
1. The Classic: Kelso Ridge on Torrey’s Peak
Kelso Ridge offers classic Class 3 terrain on one of Colorado’s most iconic 14ers. Deviating from the Grays Peak Trail at 1.75 miles, this offers plenty of Class 3 moves and can be as hard as you want to make it. There is a small knife edge towards the top where scramblers can get their adrenaline fix traversing the pointy feature.
The route up the mountain is 6.75 miles total with around 3,100 feet of vertical gain. Torrey’s Peak is typically crowded with people who opt to do the standard route. However, if you tackle the approach before dawn, you might score some summit time without the crowds.
2. The Long Grind: Pacific Peak’s West Ridge
Start at the Mayflower Gulch Trailhead at the Boston Mine (4WD required) or the paved lot. The steady, steep West Ridge of Pacific Peak is an exhausting climb that maintains a minimum Class 3 difficulty the second you hit rock. The approach is only two miles from the mine, making this four-mile round trip run and roughly 2,600 vertical feet of gain. Tack on an extra two miles round trip if you start on pavement.
Avoid the first large rock outcropping by staying climbers right, unless you want to dive into Class 5 terrain. With a few steep, highly exposed technical points and patches of loose rock, this route provides ample challenges. As a bonus, if you are confident with route finding, there are plenty of areas where you can avoid the loose gullies and ascend Class 4 segments instead.
3. The Alternative: West Ridge of Quandary
Nestled at the end of Blue Lakes Road Quandary’s West Ridge offers plenty of skill-worthy scrambling. This route has prominent rock features and starts off by gaining the saddle between Quandary and Fletcher Mountain. Towards the top of the route, climb a near-vertical crack. Next, the crux of the climb provides airy goodness and exposure to get the blood pumping. The route starts out at the Blue Lakes Trailhead, right next to the reservoir.
The total mileage is four miles with 2,650 feet of sweet elevation gain. Most of the route involves exhausting Class 3 scrambling with little to no options to bail once you’ve started. Although Quandary is considered a beginner’s 14er, this route is for the more advanced scrambler. Take care route finding, as going off route can quickly result in getting cliffed out.
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4. The Whole Enchilada: The Tenmile Traverse
This 17-mile ridge run gains over 8,000 vertical feet of climbing and summits 12 peaks (five if you go by the 300’ saddle rule). Start your journey at the Royal Trailhead in Frisco and end at the Burro Trailhead near Peak 9. The Tenmile Traverse is one of the most strenuous ridge climbs in all of Colorado. Expect to be out all day and do not attempt this climb if you’re not physically ready for it, if you don’t have adequate experience, and if it looks like inclement weather.
After gaining Mt. Royal and Mt. Victoria, the scrambling fun begins. Peaks 1 through 4 require plenty of careful route finding over Class 3 and 4 terrain. The main feature, known as the Dragon, is a large gendarme that will challenge even the experienced scrambler. You can work around it by descending climbers right or up the ante to lower Class 5 difficulty by attempting the left side. Peaks 5 through 8 are gentle green ridges and rolling summits. Followed by the grueling Peaks 9 and 10 that offer plenty of talus and rock-hoping to round out this challenging climb.
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5. Intro to Scrambling: East Ridge of Father Dyer
Start your climb at the Upper Spruce Creek Trailhead for this six-mile round trip climb. The approach is relatively short and mellow, gently ascending to tree line where the trail meets the shores of the stunning Crystal Lake. Follow the East Ridge of Father Dyer roughly at the ridge line the entire route, gaining just over 2,700 feet of vertical. There’s plenty of scrambling, without the extreme exposure you see on other routes, making it the perfect spot for those looking to try a Class 3 climb in the Tenmile Range.
Even if you’re a seasoned scrambler, this route certainly provides ample entertainment. The views of the connecting ridge offer the sense of being among giants. From the summit, the vistas don’t disappoint. On a clear day, you can see as far as Snowmass Mountain and the striking features of the Alphabet Ridge of the Gore Range.