| Mt. Evans - West Ridge from Guanella Pass
Left the house at 4:30 a.m. (north of Denver) to smooth-sailing highways. That is, until we had to come to a complete stop on I-70 (near Floyd Hill) to wait for some elk to cross the road. They took their sweet ol' time, too. Of course, my camera wasn't within reach. It was kind of funny how they casually stared at me and wondered what all the fuss was about. Good thing there was very little traffic at that time.
We pulled into the Guanella Pass parking lot at 6 a.m. and quickly jumped on the trail. Shortly after crossing the creek, I saw a path through the willows, as did my wife. We decided on her route and it turned out to be a pretty good one. But I suppose it really didn't matter, as there were many braided routes through the notorious willows.
Speaking of the willows, in the beginning, they didn't seem so bad. We just blasted through (long pants and long-sleeve tees were helpful) and managed to bypass most of the mud and swampy wet areas. A few sections were pretty bad, though, especially the sections that were taller than we were. I felt like a hobbit walking through a gauntlet of ghouls scraping me with their long finger nails.
At 7 a.m. we made it to the base of the gully. There wasn't really a defined route, but we stayed to the right of the creek (as recommended by the directions on 14ers.com, which were great, BTW). The gully started off with a bunch of grassy knolls and small cliffs, and then it slowly transformed into a scree and talus rock pile. Kind of reminded me of the Trough on Longs, actually. A steep (dirt and gravel) trail slowly emerged, but we stayed on the rocks because we thought it was easier.
There really wasn't a clearly defined top to the gully, but as the route description said, it began to level out at about 13,200 feet. We reached that point at 8 a.m.
That "leveled out" area continued on for quite a while – much longer than I expected – before reaching the rocky west ridge of Evans. The ridge didn't really have a clearly defined trail at first, but it was obvious where you were supposed to go.
We stayed to the right of the top of the ridge and climbed along the rocks, occasionally walking along the "trail." The scrambling was easy and a lot of fun. Some parts reminded me of the Ledges on Longs. Eventually, a more defined trail emerged, which soon met up with the super easy summit-parking-lot trail to the summit. Surprisingly enough, there weren't very many people (we only passed four people and a park ranger on that section of trail). We arrived on the summit at about 9:20 a.m. and shared it with just one other person, a friendly park ranger.
On top, we enjoyed some great weather and views while eating some Animal Crackers. Looking down toward the parking lot, many goats were loitering about. Then, just feet from the summit, we were rewarded with a rare view of a female sheep. I captured the most spectacular shot – in my mind – of the majestic animal standing on a rock, but I wasn't quick enough with the camera. I only managed to snag a pic with the head popping up, as it climbed down ... unfortunately, no zoom lens. (I'll post this pic under "more photos" on the Evans page.)
Climbing back down along the ridge we stumbled across a goat, as well as a few people who were hiking up from Summit Lake. (Other than those few people on the ridge, we didn't cross paths with anyone else on this route.)
Back down in the willows, I began to realize why so many people hate the damn things. Our willow navigational skills weren't so good on the return trip. A few minutes into it and we were "so done" with the things. And the mud was sloppier, too (sunk to my ankles in some sections). My water-resistant Asolo high-tops worked fabulously, though (high tops and a little water resistancy are definite musts on this route). Also, I wouldn't recommend bringing any ultralight (i.e., GoLite) packs, as they could tear easily. You and your gear will get scraped up pretty good.
Made it back to the car at noon. Glancing back up toward the gully, I thought it was a pretty good climb. But I doubt I'll do it again. Not sure if I could take another gauntlet through the muddy willows.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):