| Mt. Evans Winter Summit Attempt - Guanella Pass
When I decided on Mt. Evans for a winter hike, I had been hearing about how little snow there has been this year up in the mountains. The ski resorts have been complaining about not having received enough snowfall for all of their runs to open...
Well, I now know where all of their missing snow is - it's up in the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area.
I met up with Ryan from Denver at the T-Rex parking lot at 4am on Saturday. We made the trip up through Georgetown to the road closure near the top of the Guanella Pass road. The hike was 1.7 miles from the gate to the trailhead, which took about 45 minutes.
At the trailhead we took in a view of Evans and Bierstadt at daybreak. The sky was partly cloud, but no wind and mild temperature.
A couple of minutes down the trail and a blanket of clouds had rolled in quickly. Still no wind, and relatively pleasant hiking conditions.
Me at the trailhead sign.
Ryan at the trailhead sign
We walked past a flock of Ptarmigan immediately off the trail. They seemed a little nervous when I leaned over them to take this picture. Wonder what they were thinking; "Hey, this guy acts like he knows we're here! But that's impossible, right? After all, we're invisible as long as we stay on the snow. At least that's what Mom told us."
By 8:30 we were coming around the bend up out of the willows, and weatherwise things seemed to be clearing up a bit. Much of the rest of the route was visible now.
By this time, although we were following the correct route, we we were no longer walking on an evident trail, and began to encounter deep snow. Soon we were postholing up to our waists through the willows. And to think, I had actually considered leaving my snowshoes in the car (because I had heard how little snow there was in the high country). Turns out they were indispensable.
After strapping on the snowshoes, and tracking along the right side of Scott Gomer Creek, we got to the base of the Gully around 9:30. This Gully climbs, nearly vertically at some points, over 1200 feet, and would prove to be the most difficult segment of the hike. The sky had become more gray again, but weather still seemed ok.
Ryan, with a frozen waterfall in the background.
Me, as the snow began to fall.
Beginning the long ascent up the Gully.
Neighboring Mt. Bierstadt.
A look back down at the route in.
Ryan carefully negotiating the loose rocks, ice, and snow near the top of the Gully. Cannot emphasize how difficult and demanding this part of the hike was. Very slippery and required much care.
Another frozen waterfall along the route.
Around 2pm, after a long and hard-fought climb, we were finally at the West Ridge of Evans. And that is when the weather began to deteriorate rapidly. The snow came again, but heavy this time, and accompanied by wind and thick cloud cover. According to the GPS we were less than a half mile from the actual summit with only 200 feet of elevation remaining to gain. But the weather was bad now, and the dreaded descent down the Gully waited for us on the return. The question we were asking ourselves at this point was "Do we chance it, and risk having to make that descent after the sun has gone down?"
It was a painful decision after having worked so hard to get so close, but we turned around and headed back. Clearly it was the right thing to do, in retrospect.
The descent down the Gully was a nightmare. The snow had blanketed everything, covering all of the footholds and making every step tedious. After a long, long drop back to Scott Gomer Creek, the sky was already beginning to get dark. So we put our headlamps back on and did our best to retrace the route in, which had been effectively buried by several inches of newly fallen snow. The temperature plummeted and the snow kept falling, but hey - who's complaining? After hiking a couple more hours in the dark and relying on the GPS to get out, we finally made it back to the road, and then only had to hike the last 1.7 miles down the road to get back to the car. Guess it could have been worse...
Well now I've got a fever, and the cure is more snowshoe.
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