Coming into the 2011 Climbing Season, I had climbed none of the 3 14ers visible from Denver. Each and every morning they taunted me from sunrise to sundown. Having knocked out the long slopes of Pikes in May, I turned my attention to Evans. Every single day, Evans stares at me on my drive down Evans Ave. I’d even driven to the parking lot just below the summit with my Uncle, but I’d never been on her true summit.
Fortunately, I was able to make my own schedule this summer. As camp was winding down and we had most things taken care of, I scheduled myself an off day on a Tuesday, figuring this would help me avoid the worst of the crowds. I was up an out around 5 AM for the quick jaunt up Guanella Pass.
I arrived at the TH at 6:15 and began getting ready. I was familiar with the area from a hike of Bierstadt last summer, so that made things much simpler. I actually enjoy the first part of the hike through the willows…when its dry. Thankfully today it was. On our previous venture up Bierstadt, we had seen a moose in the first lake to the north…and today, there was once gain a moose taking a morning dip. An eerie similiarity.
BsE (Bierstadt, Sawtooth, Evans) looked absolutely majestic in the early morning light (mid-morning by 14er standards), however, there were definitely some bothersome clouds hanging around. I took note of them and hoped they would burn off as the sun rose.
The turnoff from the Bierstadt trail is very faint, borderline non-existent and I was unable to pick it up. Not wanting to blindly whack through marshy willows, I decided to go up and over Bierstadt’s bottom slopes. It was worth the extra elevation to keep my feet dry. I would be even more thankful I chose this path when I had to bushwhack out.
When I picked up the Evans trail again, the Sawtooth loomed like an imposing beast over me.
Today, I would be heading just north of the Sawtooth and Bierstadt, up a gulley that lead to a meadow on the back side of Evans. Looking at it from a distance it looked steep. Standing at the base of it, it looked steeper. Climbing it felt beyond steep. Prior to the gulley, I had been averaging about 25 minute miles. Going up the gulley, my pace slowed to 58 minutes per mile. I would take a couple of steps, and stop. Take a couple of steps and stop. I was out of shape and felt like a rookie again. It had been a while since I felt this way.
At the top of the gulley, I was greeted with a decision to make. To continue or turn around.
After pausing for a minute to see which way the storms were blowing, I decided to continue. They were blowing east (away from me) and things seemed relatively stable behind me. However, I once again noted them and planned a quick escape route if needed.
There was not much of a trail through the meadow, but I was able to see the summit ridge of Evans now so I pointed in that general direction and hiked off. I had only seen a handful of people since I left the Bierstadt trail, but I picked up a few more coming off the summit of Sawtooth. We hiked along the south side of Evans, peering down at the aptly named Abyss Lake. I’m always amazed at how steep the east face of Bierstadt is. Its humble west side creates the image of a bump more than a mountain, but from this angle, it is definitely a mountain.
After talus hopping for a little while, I see the Mt. Evans road and I know I’m close. I find the parking lot and point towards the summit, where I’m greeted by lots of under-prepared tourists, (It’s quite windy now and chilly as well) but not nearly as many as I thought would be up here. I find my own spot and take a rest.
The dark clouds were officially starting to take over. I was getting the feeling that I was about to overstay my welcome so I hustled off the summit. Not wanting to down climb that gully, I headed north of it, towards the summit of Mt. Spalding in an effort to go around it. After a quick summit of Spaulding (13,842 ft), I headed down the alpine meadow, picking up bits and pieces of trail here and there, but never anything consistent for more than a few yards.
Finally, I arrive at the willows, where this hike became an exploratory venture. Casey and I started exploring different paths through the willows, finding occasional dead ends, but consistently working our way towards the TH. We hit the willows at about 12,000 feet, and it took us an hour or so to whack our way through the last 2 miles. Approximately 6 hours after leaving the TH, we got back and promptly grabbed a seat.
Mt. Evans (+Mt. Spaulding) Stats:
Distance: 11.38 miles
Elev. Gain: 4,181 ft.