How Hard Is Kelso Ridge? This 14er Route Is Deadly Difficult

Considering climbing Torreys Peak along the infamous Kelso Ridge? This narrow ridge connects Kelso Mountain and Torreys Peak with various sections of class 3, exposed climbing. So how hard is Kelso Ridge? It’s not easy, to be sure, with over a dozen rescue calls in the past 4 years. The steep cliffs and difficult route climbing mean it’s easy to get into trouble here if you don’t know what you’re doing or if something goes wrong. Here’s an assessments of the difficult of Kelso Ridge, along with best practices for a safe climb if you do choose to go.

Kelso Ridge is Not a Hike. It is a Climb.

To start, many people get stuck on Kelso Ridge because they underestimate it in the first place and expect a trail to hike to the summit. This route is not a hike – it is a class 3 climb with significant exposure (that is, steep cliffs), requiring scrambling that uses hand and foot holds, and where a fall may be fatal. If that does not sound appealing, consider summiting Torreys Peak using the safer class 2 standard route. 

There is a Big Jump in Risk from Class 2 to 3 Routes

If you started the 14ers by hiking them, and moved on to scrambling up class 2 peaks, you know it’s not a big jump in risk or difficulty – most people would probably describe it as tedious. However the jump from class 2 scrambling to class 3 terrain is much bigger, both in difficulty and the objective risk posed by the routes. Most class 3 routes, including Kelso Ridge, include steep drop-off’s, so while the climbing isn’t difficult, even a small mistake can be deadly. How hard is Kelso Ridge? Thanks to this jump, it’s much harder than the standard class 2 route.

It Is Easy To Drift Into Difficult Class 4 or 5 Terrain

Even if you think you’re comfortable with class 3 terrain, Kelso Ridge also presents route-finding difficulty that poses a threat. If you accidentally stray from the route, which is not signed or marked in any way, you may end up into dangerous class 4 and 5 terrain which includes deadly falls, loose rock, and difficult climbing where ropes are usually used. If you find yourself in such a position, it may be necessary to stop moving and call for help. If this seems unappealing to you, it may be best to wait to visit until you gain experience.

How Hard is Kelso Ridge?

Just a Little Weather Makes The Route Highly Technical

If you still plan to climb Kelso Ridge, remember that the weather affects how hard is kelso ridge. Even an inch of snow on the ridge makes it slippery and treacherous to those without the right gear. This kind of snow is not uncommon in June or August. Thunderstorms during the summer also complicates climbs where you are exposed to lightning, and where wet rock becomes slick. Check the weather before your climb and the day of your trip, and postpone if things look grim.

The Number of SAR Calls Has Grown by 183%

These hazards and risks are not hypothetical. Over the past 4 years, search and rescue calls to the route have increased to the Alpine Rescue Team by 183% – nearly tripling. They attribute it in part due to over-confident peak baggers who attempt this route without the level of skill or the right preparation and gear to successfully and safely summit. Don’t become another statistic. Take the time to prepare for your climb and work up to Kelso Ridge.

How hard is Kelso Ridge
Kelso Ridge is the rocky ridge to the right of the summit.

How Hard Is Kelso Ridge? It's Not Easy - Now You Know!

How hard is Kelso Ridge? Now you know the answer: It’s deadly and difficult, with class 3 exposed climbing, complex route-finding and notoriously unpredictable weather. Without the right experience and gear, you may find yourself injured, lost, cliffed out or worse. Research this route well, bring a mentor or experienced partner, and wait until you’ve got experience on easier class 3 14ers before you head to Kelso Ridge. 

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Alex Derr

Alex is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others explore the mountains, stay safe, and preserve the peaks for the future. Subscribe to the Next Summit Newsletter here.

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