| Mt. Evans - West Ridge from Guanella Pass
14,264 Feet (14th Highest in Colorado)
West Ridge from Guanella Pass
Mt. Bierstadt Trailhead, 11,669 Feet
July 30th, 2007
9.5 Miles Roundtrip
3,032 Feet Elevation Gained
Greenhouseguy and son Ian
Mt. Evans is the first introduction to fourteeners for many Coloradoans. Its close proximity to the Metro area and the paved road to the summit combine to make it a popular summer tourist destination. Mt. Evans provided me with my first glimpse of a fourteener summit more than 10 years ago. The bountiful wildlife, luxuriant tundra, and expansive views have always made this an attractive hiking objective for me. My first two summit attempts were failures; a severe hail and snowstorm turned me around last August, and deep snow kept me from the summit in September. I remained extremely motivated, and kept this peak as a top priority.
Mt. Evans is one of the busiest fourteener summits during the summer season, so I decided to take a personal day and make my third summit attempt during the workweek. My son Ian and I rolled out of the rack at 3:00 a.m. on Monday morning. My wife questions my sanity every time that I plan one of these predawn assaults, and I can't say that I blame her. Our gear was already prepared, so we were on the road by 3:30. We grabbed a bite to eat in Idaho Springs, and were switchbacking our way up Guanella Pass a few minutes later.
The wildlife outnumbered the humans in the wee hours; we passed a family of raccoons and three mule deer on our way up the pass. Some of the potholes were horrendous on the old paved portion of the road, but the recently renovated part was surprisingly smooth. The parking lot at the Mt. Bierstadt Trailhead was closed, so we had to park in the upper lot on the west side of the road. At 5:30, the first rays of light were beginning to appear behind the Sawtooth:
The Sawtooth at dawn
We geared up and hit the trail in short order. The boardwalks through the marshy areas in the willows were a blessing, but we still had to contend with some muddy spots:
Boardwalk through the willows on the Mt. Bierstadt Trail
The Colorado Fourteeners Initiative Trail to Mt. Evans diverges from the Mt. Bierstadt Trail after about 9/10 of a mile. A large boulder on the left marked the start of the narrow trail:
Boulder that marks the start of the C.F.I. Trail to Mt. Evans
More than a mile of dense willows stretched before us:
Patch of meadow and masses of willows at the base of Mt. Bierstadt
The trail was difficult to follow, but we were able to stay on course. The willows are short in the lower, wet areas, and are more than six feet tall in the higher, dry areas. The willows along the trail were mostly about chest high, and clawed at any exposed flesh with a vengeance. I stowed my gear carefully to keep the branches from pulling anything off of my backpack; last September, the branches pulled the straps off of my gaiters. I also removed the baskets from my trekking poles; they would have been useful in the mud, but they impeded progress by getting snagged in the willows.
The C.F.I. Trail through the infamous Bierstadt willows
The willows were formidable adversaries, but they should not deter anybody from taking this route. They were not nearly as impassable as some willow barrens in the trackless areas of the Lost Creek Wilderness. The C.F.I. Trail bore to the northeast to clear a wooded knoll. While I was passing over the foot of the knoll, I caught my first glimpse of Gomer Gully:
Gomer Gully between the Sawtooth (right) and Mt. Spalding (left)
Gomer Gully marks the boundary between the Sawtooth on the south and Mt. Spalding on the north. It is steep and rock-strewn, and a clear stream tumbles rapidly down the center. The trail through the gully is not hard to find, but it is forbiddingly steep. To make matters worse, some portions pass through loose scree. These loose portions are probably the crux of the journey. The mouth of the gully is inviting, with clusters of sky-blue Columbines and Scarlet Indian Paintbrush:
Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea) at the mouth of Gomer Gulley
I took a moment to appreciate the wildflowers at the mouth of the gully, but the love affair was soon over. The next ˝ mile would take us over 1,500 feet of rock and scree. We started out on the right (south) side of the gully:
Looking up Gomer Gully
Near the halfway point up the gully, we crossed the stream and continued on the lefthand side. The upper portion of the gully brought us no relief.
The upper part of Gomer Gully
By the time we reached about 12,600 feet, the beaver ponds below were starting to look pretty small.
Looking down Gomer Gully at the beaver ponds. This view gives a good idea of the gully's length and steepness
Somewhere among the talus, I noticed a specimen of the relatively scarce Rocky Mountain Blue Columbine (Aquilegia saximontana). This diminutive cousin of our state flower is only found in the mountains of north-central Colorado.
Rocky Mountain Blue Columbine
After we exited the gully, we found ourselves on the slopes of the saddle between the Sawtooth and Mt. Spalding. The gentle grade was a relief, but we still had a lot of altitude to gain. We headed for the right side of the large mound that marked the western end of Mt. Evans' West Ridge.
Mound that marks the western end of Mt. Evans' West Ridge
As we proceeded, we started to notice stone cairns that marked the trail from the Sawtooth to the West Ridge. We made good time on the faint trail through the rocky terrain.
Note the cairn in the right foreground that marks the trail to the West Ridge
When we reached the west end of the West Ridge, the trail dipped a bit and ran along the south side of the ridge.
The trail on the West Ridge begins to the right of this cairn
We continued to ascend as we headed east. The trail was well marked, and I could usually see several cairns at any given time.
Crossing Mt. Evans' West Ridge
We stayed below the crest, so we were unable to see the summit until we had nearly reached the end of the mile-long ridge. Along the way, we saw a marmot sunning himself on a rock.
Pugnacious Marmot on Mt. Evans' West Ridge
I turned around for a good view of Mt. Bierstadt and the Sawtooth from the east:
Mt. Bierstadt and the Sawtooth viewed from Mt. Evans' West Ridge
When we reached West Evans, the trail leveled off. We followed a family of mountain goats down the trail to the parking area near the summit. The three young ones were a riot to watch. They were head-butting each other, hurdling over each other, and leaping spontaneously into the air. One of them managed to climb to the top of the remains of the burned-out Crest House.
Family of Mountain Goats near summit on Mt. Evans
We proceeded to the summit, and were astonished to have it all to ourselves. The summit register tube had no paper, was missing an end cap, and the threads were buggered up so badly that it would be impossible to replace the end cap. Such is the short life of a summit register tube.
The lonesome summit of Mt. Evans
Ian on the summit
Greenhouseguy on the summit
From the summit, we had a good view of Summit Lake to the north and Mt. Bierstadt to the west. I could barely see several hikers on Bierstadt's summit.
Summit Lake seen from Mt. Evans' summit
Mt. Bierstadt from Mt. Evans' summit
There were puffy white clouds in the sky, but I had no faith that the weather would remain calm. When the entire hike is above treeline, it pays to err on the side of caution. We spent about 15 minutes on the summit, and then we headed back down to the West Ridge. Near the west end of the ridge, I looked down towards the abyss and saw a bighorn sheep enjoying the sunshine.
Bighorn Sheep on Mt. Evans' West Ridge
When we got back to the Sawtooth/Spalding saddle, I noticed the view of the Continental divide. Square Top Mountain, Argentine Peak, Mt. Edwards, Gray's Peak, Torrey's Peak, and Kelso Mountain were all clearly visible.
View from the Sawtooth/Spalding saddle. Gray's and Torrey's are the tallest peaks in the background
Descending the gully was nearly as difficult as the ascent. The loose scree made the footing treacherous. Fortunately, there was no exposure; a bad fall probably would have resulted in scrapes and bruises. We were relieved to reach the mouth of the gully. As we headed towards the beaver dams, we passed through a pleasant meadow filled with Scarlet Indian Paintbrush and Dusky Penstemon.
Looking over the meadow, past the beaver dams, and towards the wooded knoll
The sound of rushing water filled the air; water cascaded down the gully behind us, and melting snow fed a waterfall that tumbled over a ridge in front of the Sawtooth. It seemed like water was everywhere as we hopped the creek and head back to the dreaded willows.
Waterfall on the west side of the Sawtooth
I took one last look at the gully as I dove into the willows. It looked much more innocent in the bright sunlight.
Gomer Gully in the afternoon
The return trip was uneventful. I had nailed the C.F.I. Trail in the morning, and had a stored GPS track to follow in the afternoon. We made excellent time through the willows, but still managed to kick up plenty of black mud. Our socks and boots were a mess. We hit the Bierstadt Trail at about 1:30, and there were still people headed up the trail in spite of the building storm clouds.
Storm clouds building over the Sawtooth
We got back to the car by 2:00, for a roundtrip time of 8.5 hours. About 10 minutes later, raindrops started to hit the windshield. It was a perfect day.