| Final Preparations
I’m beginning to understand addiction. Goals I obsess over for weeks, months or even years are forgotten the second they’re reached, replaced with searing new ambitions that burn white-hot until they too join the ranks of doused achievements. The ingredients required to obtain the feeling of total contentment, which often is as fleeting as the summit itself, become more and more costly. I once felt as if I’d found the peak of my being on something as simple as Quandary in January. Now even the afterglow of that muted adventure is gone, and I must go higher, longer, and faster to hear the same crescendo.
The 14ers drove my life for the better part of three years. I remember when even the thought of being a finisher seemed so distant and impossible I’d daydream about it for the entire length of a morning commute. I doubted more than a few times if I’d ever get there, or if it was worth it.
When I did finally stand atop Mt. Sneffels, my final 14er, I basked in the accomplishment. I reflected on the good times, the bad times and the friends I’d made along the way. The feeling can’t be described in any other way than “perfect.” The sad truth is that such euphoria is ephemeral. It was already fading by the time I began the descent.
And thus begins the quest to capture it again.
Pico de Orizaba (18,491 feet)
I have plenty to say about Orizaba, why it was chosen and what it means to me. I’ll save that for my next trip report.
If I’m being honest, since finishing the 14ers in mid-September I’ve consumed entirely too much beer, relied too heavily on junk food and relegated myself to short, infrequent sorties into the mountains. The days of back-to-back 5,000-foot climbs that had me in the best shape of my life are months in the past. In October and November, I was content with getting in a 3,000-foot climb once every 7-10 days.
So it’s probably too little too late, considering Orizaba is coming up Nov. 22-27, but I decided to get out as much as possible this past week. Monday was Sniktau and “Cupid” from Loveland Pass (started at 12:45 p.m. and didn’t want to race darkness going after Grizzly D); Friday was Gray Wolf, “Spalding,” “West Evans” and Evans from Guanella Pass; Saturday was North Star Mountain and Tuesday will likely be a walk/run up Bierstadt. Loveland Pass and Bierstadt are TR’d to death, but I feel I have some good information on the middle two hikes and decided to write a report.
DATE CLIMBED: Friday, Nov. 16
RT TIME: 10.5 hours
CLIMBERS: Bill (wildlobo71), Jen (Upstate Hiker)
I likely wouldn’t have been able to complete this route without prior reports from nkan02, mt_turtle and CarpeDM. Despite two prior trips up Mt. Evans and three up Mt. Bierstadt, I’d never set foot in the willows. Thanks to those three folks, I kept that streak alive.
You see, there’s a perfectly viable option to gain (or descend, if you’re coming from The Sawtooth) Evans without crossing the dreaded willow marsh. There’s even a freakin’ trail most of the way. How this route isn’t more popular or advertised, I’ll never know.
From the Guanella Pass parking lot, follow the main Bierstadt trail for only a few minutes before you pass a sizable lake on your left. Turn left after the lake and head directly away from the Bierstadt trail over two small hills. What you’ll find is a perfectly developed and gradual trail that leads all the way up to the Gray Wolf/"Spalding" saddle, well to hiker’s left of the willows.
Trail into the trees (taken on descent).
The trail does become hard to follow in spots, but we were able to pick it back up within a few minutes each time we lost it. There are small cairns in places the trail becomes obscure. In general, head up and trend left through the trees. You’ll eventually reach another lake, which the trail passes to the left. The trail steepens until you reach the wide-open tundra between Gray Wolf and "Spalding." Some snow is present on the route, but it’s minimal. We never put on gaiters or microspikes.
We became slightly confused and only had a small printed topo map to work with, so by mistake we also climbed the little point between Gray Wolf and “Spalding.” From its summit it was obvious Gray Wolf was farther north and we made short work of the gentle walk to the correct summit.
On the trail above the trees, nearing the lake.
Looking down on the lake, with the trail visible on the right.
Jen and Bill, happy to have avoided the willows.
The cairned trail continues above the lake.
Gray Wolf is the dominant point. "Spalding" is off to the right.
Jen on "Upstate Hiker Point" between Gray Wolf and "Spalding."
We descended the way we came, crossed the flat tundra to the base of “Spalding,” and started upward. This is the definition of a slog, and in my opinion the crux of the route. From “Spalding,” the remaining hike to “West Evans” and Evans was obvious. “West Evans,” an unranked 14er on the List of 73, is the last major point before the true Evans summit. It requires a Class 2+ or easy Class 3 climb to reach its zenith.
Evans was an eerie ghost town compared with my prior visits. It was quite unique and enjoyable to have the summit to ourselves. Given it was Friday, it was fun to look down on Denver and know most of y’all were slaving away down there at work.
Looking toward "Spalding" and Evans from near the summit of Gray Wolf.
Jen and Bill on the long slog up "Spalding." Gray Wolf is partially visible on the left, with "Upstate Hiker Point" in between.
Grays and Torreys from the summit of "Spalding."
Frozen Summit Lake.
Mt. Evans Massif, from "Spalding."
Mt. Evans from the summit of "West Evans."
Jen and Bill nearing "West Evans," framed by Bierstadt and Abyss Lake.
Looking back on "West Evans" from Evans.
Jen taking a breather and enjoying the solitude on a desolate Mt Evans.
Yours truly, with full No Shave November manbeard.
A rare sight.
We reversed our steps back to the “Spalding”/Evans saddle. This required the trickiest routefinding of the day. The goal is to cross back over Spalding’s West Ridge, but if you go too low you’ll have to regain elevation on the other side to avoid a tedious creek crossing. We aimed for about the midpoint of Spalding’s West Ridge by pretty much contouring across the tundra with a slight elevation drop. It worked well. Our re-gain to the crest of the West Ridge was minimal.
From the West Ridge, continue straight and down. You should be able to see the alpine lake the trail skirts above treeline, but avoid the temptation to head that direction. Go straight N-NW until you cross the creek high in the drainage. Once across, take a hard left and beeline for the lake, which is now hidden from view. Large cairns become apparent on the tundra plateau before the drop-off to the lake. Welcome back to the trail. It’s again slightly hard to follow in the trees, but if you lose it just head down. Once you pop out of the grove you should be able to locate the parking lot. If you’re in the willows, head right (north) until you intersect the trail.
Bighorn Sheep on the tundra between Evans and "Spalding."
Past the West Ridge of "Spalding," continue straight until you cross the creek/drainage, then take a sharp left and head directly down.
Cairns on the tundra just above the lake mark the trail.
DATE CLIMBED: Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012
RT TIME: 4.25 hours
CLIMBERS: Darrin (kansas), Matthew (Speth)
The East Ridge route is pure fun. It had been on my list for more than a year, ever since first reading about it in Dave Cooper’s book Colorado Snow Climbs. It’s a bit of a grind to reach the ridge, but once you’re on it the route undulates for a breathtaking 1.3 miles to the summit. Be prepared, though. The elusive summit often looks closer than it really is. It can get demoralizing, and the ups-and-downs are no better on the descent.
We cheated a bit by taking Speth’s CRV all the way to the Private Property gate, saving about three miles RT. We hiked up the road for a short distance before saying screw it and cutting hard right directly up the slope. A cairned trail eventually became apparent. It bypasses the first major ridge point on the left before gaining the crest at a low spot. From there, stay ridge proper all the way to the end. Some of the initial sections were surprisingly exposed, but the ridge widened for the last mile or so. I’m fairly sure the route can be kept Class 2, but be prepared for the occasional Class 2+ or Class 3 move, especially if you stay high.
Darrin and Matthew start up North Star, with the entire ridge and the summit in the background.
One of the few snowy spots on the route.
Me, beginning the ridge run. Ice ax completely unnecessary, but I prefer it to a trekking pole as a cane.
Darrin on one of the many false summits.
The summit comes as a relief, and it rewards. Finally! The views of Quandary and the Tenmile Range are exquisite, but Mt. Lincoln steals the show. The prominence of its North Face is striking and seldom-appreciated. It rises nearly 3,000 feet from the Middle Fork of the South Platte to the summit in one hulking mass. A careful eye can pick out the Lincoln Falls ice-climbing hotspot low on the eastern section of the face.
Again, the descent was every bit as tedious as the climb. The ups and downs are endless, and backtracking requires a significant amount of elevation gain. Once back on the trail before the last major ridge point, however, it’s a pleasure cruise back to the road.
Matthew and Darrin FINALLY near the summit, which had looked "so close" for about an hour.
Darrin on the summit, with the morning's work in the background.
Mt. Lincoln, hulking out. Oh, and Mt. Democrat, too.
As an aside, the local name for Orizaba translates to “Star Mountain.” I guess North Star Mountain was a fitting warm-up. I hope y’all enjoy your Thanksgiving. Maybe Bill, Emily, Matt, Keegan and I will be able to find some sort of fitting meal down in Mexico. Or at least, someone save us some cornbread? Cookies? Noel?
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):