Peak(s):  Mt. Evans  -  14,264 feet
Date Posted:  08/16/2011
Modified:  08/31/2011
Date Climbed:   08/01/2001
Author:  polaris
 In the Hall of the Mountain King  

... the Mountain King keeps watch over his castle of stone...
In the summer of 2009, your flatlander narrator, polaris, contemplated crossing the terrible teeth of the Bierstadt Sawtooth (see "River of Doubt" by polaris on 14ers) to gain the summit of Mt. Evans. I settled for the virtually unexplored Quandary instead. Now 2 years later the summit of Evans via the Sawtooth lay on my laptop. I researched and assessed all existing pics, videos, and testimony regarding the exact width of that ledge and the exact vertical drop for one who might fall from it. I matched these assessments to my 56 year old capabilities and insecurities and came to the same conclusion. I'm too old, too weak, too poorly acclimatized, and way too acrophobic. My brother-in-law Gary and I will attempt Evans from Echo Lake, up and over Spalding, and then crawl around Evans to the top. This route is 8 miles long and gains 5600 feet; very little of which can be seen from Echo Lake. A trail fit for a King!

Echo Lake Lodge a little Shaky

Echo Lake Lodge is known for its excellent pan fried trout and pie. I believe that a victory today will certainly include this treat!

We left bright and early from Idaho Springs and parked at the lodge. We saw one guy unloading his bike there for an unimaginable ride up and horrifying ride back down. The 14ers trail guide has one take the wheelchair trail around the south side of Echo Lake then down into the Chicago Creek Basin. I feel very comfortable here. The artistry in this picture is evidently metaphorical.

polaris on wheel chair accessible trail (shaky)

This morning is crisp, the trail soft from the downpour of the previous eve. The nose is rewarded; the eye is appeased. The trail drops about 400 feet through a soft forest on a decent trail to Chicago Creek. Gushing water has made the little bridge a little slick, but not too bad. Gary skittles across like a school kid. So far we are the only creatures on two legs up and about.

Dawn's arisin' from trail into Chicago Creek

After a little trail hiking and little road walking, Idaho Springs Reservoir comes into view. A careful observer will find a tree with bronze memorials dedicated to man's best friend.

Idaho Springs Reservoir

Near the south end of Idaho Springs Reservoir are a couple of cabins and the sign-in book for the Mount Evans Wilderness. What has been a walk (empty of others and completely beautiful) quickly becomes a hike! We are about 2 miles into the trek and I am thinking about that 5 hour energy drink already! Hang on polaris there is much more ahead. Fire and elevation have thinned the forest to a few young spruce. The meadows, nourished by this year's abundant moisture and ash, explode in wildflowers!

Fire and Flower

Indian Paintbrush

Oh my it is beautiful here! Gary and I are the only humans up here. I believe I touched the face of God just as the sun broke in Chicago Creek. We stir up a few muley's from their rest. Those included in the "we" will soon come into question.

Wildflowers in Abundance

Chicago Creek Basin opens above timberline and the first Chicago Lake, a glacial tarn is ahead. So is the dead end at Mt. Spalding. We are starting to get some good looks at the wall that must be scaled at the end of the basin. Gary, a local and mountain goat, is starting to trail ahead of me. He is somewhat concerned about what's in front of us.


... towers of stone in the Hall of the Mountain King...

Hall of the Mountain King

Holy Crap we spot the track of the Mountain King!!! It is fresh and almost as wide as my clumsy 12.5W Keen's at 3.5 inches. This is amazing and somewhat terrifying. We saw an inconclusive track but very similar about an hour earlier. This big cat knows we are here. I believe he might have had the muley's moving around just ahead of us. Anyway we remember the rule: look big, scary, and unintimidated no matter how freaking scared one might be to encounter a snarling mountain lion.

Mountain King

We crawl through a twisted grove of forest and cave. This is wilderness defined! No people, big cats, no way here except on foot, no way out except on foot; this is a dream!

What Lives in Here?

Crawl Space

We bust through the crawl space and out into full view of the headwall we must climb, Mt. Spalding. A large herd of bighorn sheep and their babies are frolicking in the snow. The "kids" seem to be especially joyous as they do their Herky's from a rock outcrop 15 feet above and down to a snow field. Oh my, will the wonders of this hike cease!

Mt. Spalding

Just ahead lies the wall! Let's down that 5 hour energy drink polaris. You're about 3 miles from the summit now. I heard that these Chicago Lakes are full of cutthroat trout. Why don't I just stop here and fish? These thoughts are contemplated seriously. This is going to kick my 56 year old oxygen starved butt. We must climb up toward the V. This is about a 1000 foot elevation gain over 1/2 mile. There are numerous mountain goats up there including Gary about half way up already.

Dead End

Marmots demand their respect and permit those with adequate humility to pass. Gasping for every breath and becoming increasingly humiliated, I am permitted to pass. (I could be hallucinating a bit) I leave a little pile of nuts from my trail mix. Seriously, maybe two or three, I know one shouldn't feed wildlife.

Guardians of the Trail

Looking back at the Upper Chicago Lake. Leaving the Hall of the Mountain King! Glad I didn't run into him!

Upper Chicago Lake

After 5.5 miles we reach Summit Lake and civilization. We spot our first humans of the day. (Pretty nice compared to other 14er Conga lines) I feel pretty good. The weather is holding fairly well, but I still have 2.5 miles to go mostly around 14000 feet give or take a couple hundred. We are going to get picked up on top. Thank God someone made that call! We could get picked up at Summit Lake and call it quits. One foot, one breath, one stone, many stones and it can be accomplished. I need to find a sustainable speed to get off the mountain, in the car and back to Echo Lake Lodge for trout and pie.

Summit Lake Civilization

The elevation of Summit Lake is 12850. The elevation of Mt. Spalding is 13842. We have 1000 vertical feet to summit this. Many hikers have left their cars at Summit Lake to take this trail to the top. They stream past old polaris like I'm standing still. I admire their youth and strength. From the top of Spalding you can really appreciate the Chicago Basin with it's two upper glacial tarns and long draining valley. What an amazing sight!

Chicago Creek from Atop Spalding

Speaking of strength, my brother-in-law, Gary, who is somewhere around 10 years older than me, is racing toward the summit just like the kids. I admire his strength, patience, and his love of the outdoors. Grays and Torreys arise like two perfect mountain tops. There is still a ton of snow for the first day of August. The mountains are very green this year! Grays was my first 14er and Torreys my third. You can read about them under my name, polaris, "Unfinished Business, Youthful Vitality, and Pine Beetle Infestation". Parenthetically, and of no consequence to mountaineering knowledge, the beautiful girl in my previous reports is now my wife and will meet us at the top.

Grays and Torreys

Okay back to business. One must make a horseshoe like turn from Spalding, across the connecting saddle adjoining Evans and the Sawtooth, and scramble around a LONG boulder field to gain the Summit.

Evans on the other side of the Horseshoe

I am really slowing down now and the clouds are really speeding up. I dig out one of those energy bars and take about a 5 minute siesta. The saddle is just ahead and I can see people coming off the Sawtooth. I am going to need to interview them about their experience.

Bierstadt and its Terrible Teeth


The other side of the horseshoe greets the mountaineer with a very long pile of boulders to scramble through. It is marked pretty decently with cairns. There is a lot of crawling, scooting, hopping, and general snaking through there. It would have really been a gas to do this if I hadn't run out of it, and I am hearing distant thunder. Honestly, the exposure to the weather would not be good here. Might be able to crawl in a hole, but these boulders would be much less fun if wet and electrified. Need a little gut check here but there is nowhere else to go but get my tail over to the summit, take a pic, and beat cheeks to the car.


I met a hiker who had summited Bierstadt, crossed the Sawtooth, and was racing past me. I slowed him down long enough to get some information about my nightmares. This young athletic dude said the ledge wasn't too bad, maybe 18 inches at it's narrowest and maybe a thousand foot drop (enough said for me), but the gendarme or last tooth was trickier than he thought it would be. He said it was loose and steep on that pitch and one had better not take it for granted. In fact, a woman died earlier this summer losing her footing on a snowfield on the east side of the Sawtooth and fell to her death. People are moving pretty fast now and the thunder is a little closer. I move from cairn to cairn taking quick breathers. Finally I see my wife on the tourist trail just up ahead. She sees my red tuke and waves enthusiastically. This is a great sight. I limp up the tourist trail with the same feelings every other writer has penned about sharing the summit with those who came from the parking lot. We find a day old piece of paper naming the summit hidden in the boulders.

Summit with Day Old Sign

When one is alone and confronts their fears, one feels very much alive. When one shares the trail with a creature that can and has killed humans, one feels very much alive. Compared to the span of human life, this huge glaciated massif Mt Evans and it's brothers Spalding, Warren, and Bierstadt are eternal. Walking the halls of the Mountain King erases our fear of being insignificant. Fearing and fighting reassures that on this day one is very much alive. In the Hall of the Mountain King one admires the beauty of youth, fears the fang of death, feels the sting of the fight, and touches the face of God.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Mountain Keen
08/31/2011 04:33
In less than a week, I will follow the trail you cut so bravely, but I suspect the mountain king may have fled in fear of the animal whose slightly larger paws left slightly larger tracks. The mountain Keen (12.5w) is crowned.

Great report!

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