Peak(s):  Mt. Evans  -  14,264 feet
Spalding, Mt  -  13,842 feet
Date Posted:  07/31/2010
Date Climbed:   07/29/2010
Author:  spontaneous weekends

 The 'secret' trail..and WILD!! Mt. Evans from Guanella Pass  

I follow the min. 3000' rule and that's gaining 3,000 ft. before summiting. While I enjoy the test of a very long day hike to the top if that's what it takes to stay on a trail, I didn't think I would enjoy that for Evans because of the 'cheapness' of this mountain with the road to the top. I found that summiting Mt. Spalding before Evans via the west ridge route just barely satisfied my need for a valid 14er ascent. I filtered through many trip reports for Evans and found that all reports about the west ridge route mentioned the muck, the mud, the wet socks. I thought my plan was foiled until one trip report mentioned a 'secret' trail about a quarter mile north of the Bierstadt trail that begins from nowhere and that you must bushwhack to find.

I now had a plan. I ate a large, warm breakfast at IHOP in Denver about 3a.m. and got to Guanella about 5a.m. I began the hike at 5:10 with a little twilight and a lot of animal noises coming from the direction of where I was to be on the secret trail, mostly coyote. By the time I got to where I had to go off-trail to go find the hidden one there was just enough light to see everything I needed to, which was perfect timing. I was so happy when I found it:

the trail at it's beginning, looking west towards the pass

same spot as previous picture but now looking east before the trail bashes through a host of willows

The above image is the trail at it's most obvious and it's only that obvious for a short time until it winds through the willows almost indiscernibly. Even though I was able to avoid stepping in muck or water through the willows, my feet and legs got soaked anyway by all the water I shaked off of them as the skinniest, faintest trail I've ever seen took me directly through them. Not too far out of the willows, just after the trail began it's ascent I saw my first moose in Colorado (in my 40 years of living here). We stared at each other about 20 yards apart and she left. I continued upward after she got out of view of me and began noticing more and more scat on the trail. By the time I got out of the trees, I found the trail to be littered with signs of danger. There was every type of scat and tracks imaginable, some I knew and others I'm perplexed over such as the 'ropy' scat. What makes ropy scat (the exact size of gummy worms)? But the most popular scat and track was bear and it was as fresh as could be. I estimated about 40 instances of bear scat along the way.

The trail disappeared right after it ascended away from the trees and I was left with trampling tundra which is part of the reason why I didn't include many pics, I'm recommending against this 'route.' Another reason for the absence of pics is because I prefer not to take many on the way up 'cause I figure I'll have time for that on the descent, which I didn't.

The journey up to Spalding was a slog, took about 2 hours after the trail evaporated. I think it was a slog 'cause the view and the terrain harldy changed with the exception of a startled coyote (up this high?!) and over a dozen moutain goats. I added a mile or two to the hike because I had to stay up high on the north side of Scott Gomer creek on an angled traverse to avoid the still sopping flatter section towards the creek. My route was akin to a bicyclist on a velodrome as I 'ramped' my way all the way to the final pitch of Spalding. I summited Spalding at 8:30 as I recall and Evans at 10:10. Like one trip report about Pikes Peak reads, I was like a tourist attraction at the top being the only hiker there at that time amongst all drivers, which was a fun little muse to play off of for a minute or two before it was just too much civilization to enjoy it anymore. One interesting aspect was how my feet and back hurt walking on pavement after having been so used to the extra soft and cushiony tundra.

On the way down, I bypassed Spalding on it's west shoulder like Roach says to do. I didn't have time for but one last pic because my memory card was suddenly full and I didn't have time to choose what to erase because of an impending storm.

More great wildflower viewing this summer

I wasn't sure if I could find the trail coming back but again I was so happy when I did. Coming down I felt as though there was still even more scat and tracks and I realized that, in all practical sense, this is really a game trail, not meant for humans even though it has several cairns sporadically placed which don't really help much.

In the middle of the short section of trees, the only trees on the whole route, my fears became realized. I heard a very low frequency, gutteral was a bear in the foliage right below me and I think I saw it but I'm not sure. I froze at first but then regained calmness and continued down the path about 20 feet when I saw that the trail did a u-turn, right back towards the bear. I had to follow the path, it was either that or wade through the marshes! The bear growled again as I got closer. Damn! Then the trail switchbacked and headed away but I only got a few steps past a couple of trees when I was met by a gigantic bull moose and he wasn't having any of my company. He was about 15 yards below me but standing within a few yards of the trail. I immediatley sensed attitude! I started talking to him, thinking a human voice may just dissuade him. No. I got louder and threw a rock in front of him and he gave me a look like 'you're an idiot and you're beginning to piss me off!' I looked behind me for the bear and whipped my head around as the moose thrashed through some willows. He was moving away. Yes!...but no! He stopped. I took out my air horn and pepper spray (which I carry just for an incident like this) and got both ready for firing, both hands were armed with deterrence. I took a couple steps towards him which I thought worked because he started moving away again but then suddenly bee-lined for the trail, turned around, took a couple confident steps toward me and stood with the full breadth of his 'chest' flexing in a display of belligerent defiance. It worked because this was the biggest, most powerful looking animal I've seen in the wild! I took a couple steps back and the bear growled at me again. Now I'm terrified. Moose or bear? I looked behind me to see where the bear might be and once again, it took a lack of eye contact for the moose to loose interest and he finally walked out of the way above the trail. I seized the moment and calmly descended, 'weapons' still at the ready. I heard some heavy breathing as I walked down, knowing it was him nearby but I couldn't see him. I made it past the wildlife guantlet and hurried the rest of the way as the storm began. Got back to my car at 1:10 p.m., pretty soaked because I didn't care about putting my raincoat on, it just felt too refreshing without it.

As far as I know, this route has no name and is scarcely known which seems obvious given the frequent evidence of reclusive animals and the complete absence of any other humans but me on a day where the other, more common routes in the area saw as many people as most other 14er's see on a weekend. If my encounter wasn't scary enough then add-on the fact of how much tundra-trampling you have to do above the wildlife gauntlet and it just doesn't seem right to go this way. This is why I'm not describing how to find it even though I found a better, drier way than described on the trip report I mentioned. Please don't look for this trail, it's just too wild!


 Comments or Questions
Doctor No

Very nice!
08/12/2010 05:42
This was one of the trip reports I read in the wee hours prior to my trip (since I literally changed from West Chicago Creek to Guanella Pass at 3:00 in the morning). As I neared the saddle between Spalding and Evans, I remember thinking that IHOP would have been a good idea (my girlfriend and I ended up going over the weekend )

spontaneous weekends

08/13/2010 06:18
After fueling up with pancakes for my last two 14ers, I didn't have to stop to eat a thing until I summitted, it was great! Unless it's an easy hike, it's all about the pancakes...and sausage! I'm really surprised that you didn't run into animal trouble like I did, but did you notice the abundance of scat? Was anyone else doing that route when you were there?

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