Peak(s):  Mt. Evans  -  14,264 feet
Spalding, Mt  -  13,842 feet
Date Posted:  06/23/2008
Date Climbed:   06/22/2008
Author:  Nathan Hale
 Mount Evans West Slopes  

Mount Evans (14264)
Mount Spalding (13842)


Distance: ~8.5 miles
Vertical Gain: ~3200 feet
Climbed With: Solo

A late night on Saturday necessitated a close-by peak for Sunday--can‘t get much closer than Mount Evans.

Working on limited sleep I didn‘t feel like heading all the way up from Echo Lake, so I decided to take the West Slopes route from Guanella Pass. I slept in later than I normally would have and set out from my car at around 8:50, my latest morning start ever on a mountain. I‘d forgotten how impressive the Sawtooth looks from Guanella Pass.

The Bierstadt trail makes for quick hiking and I found myself hiking double time for a short while trying to make up a bit for my late start. After crossing the creek, the real fun began as I tried to find my way through the marsh and the maze of willows. Having first climbed in this area in 2003, several years after the CFI trail through the willows was constructed, I had never had to opportunity to "engage the Bierstadt willows," as Roach puts it. This was my opportunity to get in touch with those bold Bierstadt mountaineers of years gone by. Having now gone through it, I give them kudos.

I passed another group shortly after "engaging the willows", but other than that I saw no one on the route. The main Bierstadt trail had been fairly muddy, but this was a whole new level of mud. I bashed my way through the willows while trying to stay as close as possible to the trees on Bierstadt‘s slopes, and I occasionally found things that appeared to be trails. I eventually made it to a place where I crossed the creek, at which point I took stock of the situation.

I was sick of fighting the willows, and from here it appeared that there were more willows going to the standard west slopes route than to the gully, so I opted for the latter. I headed in that direction with some more willow bashing and then mercifully started up the gully. I stopped for some food around 12,000 feet and was shocked to see that I had been fighting the willows for 70 minutes already.

I reached the saddle between the Sawtooth and Evans within another hour, at which point I started to see other hikers on their way up from Summit Lake and the Sawtooth. Another 30 minutes or so found me on Evans‘ summit, though I‘d forgotten just how long the west ridge of Evans is. I stayed on the summit for quite some time, eating some food and just sitting down. Surprisingly there were more hikers on the summit than other folks, but they had mostly come up from Summit Lake. They were mostly newer at the whole hiking 14ers thing and the things they discussed reminded me a bit of my earlier climbing days when peaks in the Sawatch seemed intimidating.

I made quick work of the west ridge on the way out and since the weather was still quite nice I headed over to Mount Spalding. I‘d never seen Evans from that angle and it was an impressive view. I again took my time on the summit before finally heading down.

I decided to head down the west slopes proper in hopes that the willow bashing would be less bad that way and also with the intent of avoiding the scree near the top of the shortcut gully. The plan generally worked because I was able to find a cairned trail in certain places that helped me avoid most of the willow bashing before I arrived back at the creek crossing. From there I also was better at finding the trails on the way back out and had less willow bashing to worry about.

While it was quite clear when I left Spalding, a storm had managed to develop by the time I was bashing my way through the willows, so I got a bit of a refreshing sprinkle as I made my way up the main Bierstadt trail and back to the car. I arrived back at the car at 3:15, about 6.5 hours after I left.

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