I chose this hike specifically because it’s supposed to be easy. It’s only a 3.5 mile hike with 1,475 feet of elevation gain in 1.75 miles. The route looked pretty standard and easy to follow. It’s a popular hike because it’s so close to Denver and visible to its residents. I chose it for this week because ALL the 14ers still have snow on them. I figured if I was going to hike a 14er this week I might as well chose Mt. Evans as I was going alone and the trail is difficult to get lost hiking. Indeed, there is a road that goes to the summit, making it the highest paved road in North America, and the entire trail is above treeline.
I’d be able to see this road for my entire hike. In addition, it was an easy hike that included snow, so it would give me some realistic practice, and make the hike more challenging. Oh, and since there WAS snow on the trail it was a sure indication it wouldn’t be swarmed with hikers. I’m not a fan of hiking with a lot of people.
I woke up at 2:30am and started some coffee. As a side note, I’m never hungry this early in the morning. I didn’t eat anything until I got back to my truck, and didn’t drink anything either besides that first cup of coffee (I did have a full camelback, I just don’t get thirsty hiking). I was out the door by 3 and at the trailhead by 5 after stopping for gas. I drove the entire way in the dark and actually kept to the speed limit because I wasn’t in much of a hurry. There was a full moon to follow the entire way. I figured if I was going to get up early and miss the gym for an ‘easy’ hike I’d at least enjoy myself. The road to the summit just officially opened this week due to snow, so it was also my first real chance to get the hike in. I stopped on Mt Evans road several times for pictures.
There was a small convenience center at the Summit Lake trailhead, as well as a way to pay to park during non-operating hours. It was $15 per car to stop on the side of the road or park anytime between 8am-5pm. I did some mental calculations as I put on several layers of gloves and clothes (snow/cold in general is dangerous for me because I have Raynauds, so I have to over prepare) and figured with just a 4 mile hike I’d be back well before 8am, so I didn’t pay the fee and hit the trail at 5:20am.
My directions said to follow the paved road for 0.6miles and look for the unmarked trailhead to the right. I kept looking to the right for the trailhead, but couldn’t resist also looking left at the sunrise.
After walking well over the 0.6mi looking for the trialhead I doubled back. I realized the trailhead was probably covered in snow, and maybe I’d see it coming from a different angle. I didn’t. Just for future reference, I did find the trail on the way back down. It’s between these two poles and yes, it’s covered in quite a bit of snow.
While I couldn’t find the trail to begin I could look over the piles of snow and see the visible steps from previous hikers further up the mountain. I figured I’d come this far and wasn’t going to lose the opportunity to hike due to a technicality. So I aimed toward those steps and did my best not to disturb the alpine tundra: I walked on the snow or boulders to avoid destroying tundra, which, due to the short growing seasons at 14,000 feet takes hundreds of years to grow. Stay on the trails people!
Luckily, most of the way up was covered in snow so this wasn’t much of an issue. While I was the first one to hike this morning, several other hikers must have hiked yesterday or earlier this week as there were postholes already made in the snow. Since it was early in the morning still they were frozen and there was little chance I’d posthole myself. I put my feet in their tracks and climbed the snow stairs.
I found a friend! The pikas here were actually a bit more sociable than on Pikes Peak. While I couldn’t get close to them, they didn’t run away if I took their picture.
This hike was indeed all uphill. It felt like I was climbing stairs (which I kind of was, stepping into other hikers tracks). About ¼ of a mile below the summit the snow dissipated, I found the trail and started maneuvering around and over rocks of all sizes.
Don’t be fooled by the above picture. This is actually a false summit. And it was really, really windy here! I’m not a big girl, and I was wearing a winter jacket that turned me into a kite. Several times the wind blew me into the mountain and I had to wait for it to stop before I could stand back up. The hike wasn’t too demanding (besides the trudging up stairs part) but I was at over 14,000 feet, and it was difficult to breathe. I had to stop to breathe (not necessarily because I was tired).
Once I reached the top of the false summit I was greeted by a parking lot, an abandoned summit house, and some educational signs about the area.
This was only a false summit however, and I still had a little ways to go. This is the actual summit. There’s a man standing on it taking pictures. He drove up today to get some pictures as it was the first day the road was really open (no one had advertised it’s opened until last night).
This trail was also covered in snow, so I just headed straight up towards the top. And when I got there, what an amazing view!
It was also really, really, really windy. So windy you can’t hear my narration of Mt. Evans in this video, but you can enjoy the view.
I found the summit marker!
I tried to take pictures, but the wind just wasn’t having it. I’d spent some quality time this week making a summit sign out of a Girl Scout Cookie box. I was really proud of it! It had the name, elevation, date, and #2 on it. It was the perfect size, lightweight, and fit into my pack. As soon as I took it out of my pack the wind blew it away. I was holding onto it and it was blown out of my hands. Ugh! So now I was a litterer and I didn’t have that sign. Oh well. I set up my camera to automatic and did my best. I’d just fill in the important info later with a picture editor.
The wind wasn’t happy (it kept blowing both my hair and the camera over) so I had to get creative. I got an ‘ok’ shot, but to keep the camera out of the wind I had to angle it weird, so I didn’t get a good view.
I was getting frustrated. I’d hiked all this way and wanted a good picture for my 14er Challenge Poster. This was the problem with hiking alone So I tied my hair back, balanced the camera on my water backpack, and set the timer. This one turned out ok. I added the important info to it since my sign had blown away.
It was now time to trek back down. I’d probably spent 30 minutes on the summit, which is an awful long time (but I really wanted a good picture!). The way down was more challenging than the way up because the snow was starting to melt and the footholds were now slippery. I had to lower my center of gravity to avoid falling and sliding. This was not snow to glissade on.
I did posthole a few times, but it wasn’t too bad.
I even found a snow spider friend! But not the mountain goats this hike is famous for. Oh well, maybe another time.
I was able to find the trail better on the way down and stuck to it as much as possible. When I made it back to the road (without seeing anyone on the entire trail, woot!) I stopped to put the snow into perspective.
Wow! That was a lot of snow! I took a selfie because I was really proud I’d made it without falling and sliding down and hurting myself. The wind had been torture on my hair: That had been in a bun when I’d left the summit, but I couldn’t re-do it because of my gloves… and the wind.
And here’s a shot that shows you how deep the snow was
After I made it back to the road I did see one other hiker. He was hiking the road to the summit, and also backpacking in general. The views from the road were beautiful!
I was back at my truck at 7:40am, changed out of a few layers of clothes, and headed to the gym to get in a few more miles (and a shower).
So I made it back down, and had even remembered to collect a ‘summit rock’ from the summit. This picture is of Mt. Evans, but not the route I took (I took a route to the back left of this picture)
If I had to compare this hike to anything, I’d say it was like hiking the last 2 miles of Pikes Peak, without the switchbacks and without being exhausted from already hiking another 11 miles to get there. It looked similar and the terrain was similar as well (but more slippery due to small rocks). #2 is bagged! Time to plan #3!
The Mt Evans Summit Sticker can be found here