Mount Evans 14,264′
One-way mileage: 3.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 2000′
Trailhead: Summit Lake Trail
Companions: Holly, Jacob, Janelle
Mount Evans dominates the Denver skyline, the closest 14,000′ peak to Colorado’s largest city. As the 14th highest 14er in the state, it is often people’s first 14er, with a variety of trails of varying difficulty and a road all the way to the summit- the highest auto road in the United States. Although a bit early in the season to tackle most of the high peaks in Colorado, a trip to the state in early June brought me an opportunity to tick a few more 14k summits off my list while acclimating for my trip to Borneo and climb of Mount Kinabalu. I had actually already climbed Mount Evans in 2013 via Mount Bierstadt and the Sawtooth, a fun class 3 route that I had highly recommend. But Holly had yet to climb a 14er in Colorado (she’s bagged a number in California), and this seemed like a good opportunity to acclimate her to our trip as well. We got a pretty late start from Denver, heading out with Janelle and Jacob, two friends we were staying with while in town. I had climbed Mount Princeton with Jacob last Thanksgiving, but this would be Janelle’s first CO 14er. We parked at Summit Lake sitting at just about 13,000′. With only about 1,400′ of elevation gain, it seemed like it would make for an easy introduction to Colorado’s high country, and we set out from the north, quickly reaching the saddle between Mount Spaulding and Mount Warren.
The trail was quickly lost in patches of snow, and we found the softening snow along with a complete lack of acclimatization would make things more difficult than expected almost from the start. The trail more or less followed the eastern ridge of Mount Spaulding, often traversing the southern slopes to avoid cliffs and rock pinnacles along the ridgeline proper. Fairly early on, we missed a turn off to regain the ridge in the snow, and wound up traversing for far too long, needing to backtrack and wasting a lot of energy plunging in the ever softening snow. By the time we regained the ridgeline, a small mutiny was growing, my routefinding in the snow wasting a good amount of time and bringing us no closer to the summit of Evans than when we started. I convinced the group to at least set a goal of the summit of Mount Spaulding 13,842′, just ahead along the ridgeline. The upper reaches of the ridge were more gentle and broad, the majority of the winter’s snow having melted with less accumulation from the constant wind.
The same wind that kept the snow to a minimum on the ridge over the winter was now pounding us, and we fought it with every step upward, compounded by our lack of acclimatization. When we finally reached Spaulding, we huddled behind a rock and discussed our options. The girls were thinking of turning back, the wind picking up and the day not quite being the fun outing we were hoping for. Jacob, who had yet to climb Evans, of course wanted to continue. We struck on a compromise- from the summit of Spaulding, continuing on to the summit of Evans would theoretically be about the same distance as turning back. So, for everyone to summit, we could press on and hitchhike a ride back to our car from the top. That seemed to get everyone back on board, and we dropped off Spaulding to the south through snow, deep in spots, to the saddle between Spaulding and Evans.
The trail was momentarily clear again and despite that extremely high winds, things were looking up. That is, until we reached the traverse beneath West Evans to the summit. Although this section is normally fairly flat, we turned the corner to find the trail buried in snow its’ entire length to the summit. From here, it was definitely fastest to continue on, so there was little discussion as what to do. Beating a path in the steep snow, we slow worked across the slopes, kicking steps where necessary. Some sections were particularly steep, with run outs over 1,000′ downslope. We cautiously moved across, at times choosing to scramble off trail and up the ridge to avoid the more exposed snow slopes.
The going was slow and tedious, battling wind, loose snow and altitude and ultimately took us several hours from Mount Spaulding. The final bit of trail to the summit from the Evans parking lot was particularly painful, mostly due to the staggering number of tourists that had driven up, quickly moving past us with fresh legs. There had been almost no one else on the route all day given the high winds and lingering snow, so it was a bit startling to have to suddenly share the summit with so many others.
After grabbing our summit photos, we dropped down to the parking lot and Jacob and I hitched a ride back to the car, driving back up to the summit to retrieve the girls and head back towards Denver for dinner and drinks.