Roadtrip to the Rockies: Grey Rock Mountain

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Roadtrip with Friends to Hike Near Fort Collins

Trail(s): Greyrock Meadows Trail and Greyrock Trail
Location: Greyrock Mountain
Fees: Free
Website: Protrails
Distance: 7.1 miles

Normally my “Roadtrip to the Rockies” posts entail me heading west from Denver into the Rockies.  Today, however, we headed north toward Fort Collins to climb Grey Rock Mountain.

I found a few descriptions of the trail that ranged from beginner to strenuous.  If climbing to the summit, which is optional via a spur trail, I’d say this hike was strenuous and otherwise moderate.  It is not a for a beginner.

Mike and I drove the 1.5 hours (one of my criteria for a day hike near me) to the trailhead located on the opposite side of the two-lane highway from the parking area which fortunately had pit toilet.

The first steps we took after crossing the road was across a bridge that offered spectacular views of the snow covered river.  Upon reaching the other side, we strapped on our micro-spikes as despite our late morning start the trail was still rather icy.

We took the Greyrock Meadows Trail to the left of the junction as we crunched  past the dormant plants and remnants of dead wildflowers.  Knowing I could snap photos of colorful flowers in the summer may be why I find myself somewhat disappointed in winter hiking at times as the lifeless landscape seems so ugly.  Aside from admiring the river, I hardly snapped a photo for the next mile.  Then suddenly, after we had gained 1,000 feet over this short distance, our steep climb was rewarded with a magnificent view of the snow dusted mountain range.

We likely would have spent more time admiring the views if the wind hadn’t been gusting up to 50mph!  It blew me over once, but fortunately I was able to catch myself on a conveniently placed boulder.  In fact, I found the trail to be rather rocky.  That coupled with a few ice patches and a steep grade made for slow average pace.  Eventually, we reached the top of the ridge and looked out toward the view of Greyrock Mountain, a giant granite rock which jutted straight up from the grassy meadow.

From afar, it looked like climbing gear would be necessary to scale the rock.  It didn’t seem like hiking up it would be achievable.  We probably should have stopped for lunch at this viewpoint as we were relatively protected from the wind, but instead we continued on facing blistering wind as we descended to the valley.  Really?  We climbed 1,000 feet in a mile, hiked all the way back down to the grassy meadow, and then had to to take the spur trail up at least another 1,000 feet in a mile?  Hmm…well, the trail offered significant variety and a workout.

We were pleasantly surprised by the gradual grade of the switch backs at the start of the mountain.  Kudos to those who created this trail and to the Colorado Mountain Club and US Forest Service for maintaining it!  The hike got harder as we ascended as occasionally we scrambled up granite slabs and had to give Layla, my dog for the weekend, a boost.  With all the rocks, the dirt trail at times became indecipherable.  We weaved around while following cairns, some small signs, and occasionally referencing an interactive map on Mike’s phone.  As we kept climbing, we passed a frozen lake!  What an unusual place to see one…in the middle of this pointy rock.

By the time we reached the summit (I think it took us close to 3 hours to go 3 miles, sad!), the clear sunny skies had been engulfed by ominous storm clouds.  I climbed over a rock and off went my wool hat with a powerful gust of wind.  That was disappointing.  Who knows where it landed!  We briefly took in the magnificent views which we well worth the climb before taking cover in a small cave for a quick lunch.  Soon, to keep from getting chilled, we headed back down the mountain to Greyrock Trail in order to complete the 7.15 mile lollipop loop with the spur trail to the summit.

Amazingly, the dark clouds and light snow flurry passed over us within an hour.  Then we enjoyed the falling afternoon light that magnified the spares landscape encompassing a burnt forest covered in a light layer of snow.  While I certainly don’t encourage forest fires, the mountain side of dead trees made for an interesting hike.  At times, it felt like we were in an apocalyptic movie scene.  Overall, this challenging hike that took us 5.5 hours to complete; all be it we stopped for many photos, clothing changes, and a few detours, was quite spectacular.  I can understand why it is so popular among the Fort Collins locals, though today people must have been out skiing as thankfully the crowds were scarce.  It was definitely a great place to visit for a short road trip with friends.  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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