Peak(s):  Gray Wolf Mountain  -  13,602 feet
Mt. Spalding  -  13,842 feet
"West Evans" - 14,257 feet
Mt. Evans  -  14,268 feet
North Star Mountain  -  13,614 feet
Date Posted:  11/19/2012
Date Climbed:   11/16/2012
Author:  SurfNTurf
Additional Members:   Upstate Hiker, speth, kansas, wildlobo71
 Final Preparations   


I'm beginning to understand addiction. Goals I obsess over for weeks, months or even years are forgotten the second they're reached, replaced with searing new ambitions that burn white-hot until they too join the ranks of doused achievements. The ingredients required to obtain the feeling of total contentment, which often is as fleeting as the summit itself, become more and more costly. I once felt as if I'd found the peak of my being on something as simple as Quandary in January. Now even the afterglow of that muted adventure is gone, and I must go higher, longer, and faster to hear the same crescendo.

The 14ers drove my life for the better part of three years. I remember when even the thought of being a finisher seemed so distant and impossible I'd daydream about it for the entire length of a morning commute. I doubted more than a few times if I'd ever get there, or if it was worth it.

When I did finally stand atop Mt. Sneffels, my final 14er, I basked in the accomplishment. I reflected on the good times, the bad times and the friends I'd made along the way. The feeling can't be described in any other way than "perfect." The sad truth is that such euphoria is ephemeral. It was already fading by the time I began the descent.

And thus begins the quest to capture it again.

Pico de Orizaba (18,491 feet)

I have plenty to say about Orizaba, why it was chosen and what it means to me. I'll save that for my next trip report.

If I'm being honest, since finishing the 14ers in mid-September I've consumed entirely too much beer, relied too heavily on junk food and relegated myself to short, infrequent sorties into the mountains. The days of back-to-back 5,000-foot climbs that had me in the best shape of my life are months in the past. In October and November, I was content with getting in a 3,000-foot climb once every 7-10 days.

So it's probably too little too late, considering Orizaba is coming up Nov. 22-27, but I decided to get out as much as possible this past week. Monday was Sniktau and "Cupid" from Loveland Pass (started at 12:45 p.m. and didn't want to race darkness going after Grizzly D); Friday was Gray Wolf, "Spalding," "West Evans" and Evans from Guanella Pass; Saturday was North Star Mountain and Tuesday will likely be a walk/run up Bierstadt. Loveland Pass and Bierstadt are TR'd to death, but I feel I have some good information on the middle two hikes and decided to write a report.


DATE CLIMBED: Friday, Nov. 16
RT TIME: 10.5 hours
CLIMBERS: Bill (wildlobo71), Jen (Upstate Hiker)

I likely wouldn't have been able to complete this route without prior reports from nkan02, mt_turtle and CarpeDM. Despite two prior trips up Mt. Evans and three up Mt. Bierstadt, I'd never set foot in the willows. Thanks to those three folks, I kept that streak alive.

You see, there's a perfectly viable option to gain (or descend, if you're coming from The Sawtooth) Evans without crossing the dreaded willow marsh. There's even a freakin' trail most of the way. How this route isn't more popular or advertised, I'll never know.

From the Guanella Pass parking lot, follow the main Bierstadt trail for only a few minutes before you pass a sizable lake on your left. Turn left after the lake and head directly away from the Bierstadt trail over two small hills. What you'll find is a perfectly developed and gradual trail that leads all the way up to the Gray Wolf/"Spalding" saddle, well to hiker's left of the willows.

Trail into the trees (taken on descent).

The trail does become hard to follow in spots, but we were able to pick it back up within a few minutes each time we lost it. There are small cairns in places the trail becomes obscure. In general, head up and trend left through the trees. You'll eventually reach another lake, which the trail passes to the left. The trail steepens until you reach the wide-open tundra between Gray Wolf and "Spalding." Some snow is present on the route, but it's minimal. We never put on gaiters or microspikes.

We became slightly confused and only had a small printed topo map to work with, so by mistake we also climbed the little point between Gray Wolf and "Spalding." From its summit it was obvious Gray Wolf was farther north and we made short work of the gentle walk to the correct summit.

On the trail above the trees, nearing the lake.

Looking down on the lake, with the trail visible on the right.

Jen and Bill, happy to have avoided the willows.

The cairned trail continues above the lake.

Gray Wolf is the dominant point. "Spalding" is off to the right.

Jen on "Upstate Hiker Point" between Gray Wolf and "Spalding."

We descended the way we came, crossed the flat tundra to the base of "Spalding," and started upward. This is the definition of a slog, and in my opinion the crux of the route. From "Spalding," the remaining hike to "West Evans" and Evans was obvious. "West Evans," an unranked 14er on the List of 73, is the last major point before the true Evans summit. It requires a Class 2+ or easy Class 3 climb to reach its zenith.

Evans was an eerie ghost town compared with my prior visits. It was quite unique and enjoyable to have the summit to ourselves. Given it was Friday, it was fun to look down on Denver and know most of y'all were slaving away down there at work.

Looking toward "Spalding" and Evans from near the summit of Gray Wolf.

Jen and Bill on the long slog up "Spalding." Gray Wolf is partially visible on the left, with "Upstate Hiker P

Grays and Torreys from the summit of "Spalding."

Frozen Summit Lake.

Mt. Evans Massif, from "Spalding."

"West Evans."

Mt. Evans from the summit of "West Evans."

Jen and Bill nearing "West Evans," framed by Bierstadt and Abyss Lake.

Looking back on "West Evans" from Evans.

Jen taking a breather and enjoying the solitude on a desolate Mt Evans.

Yours truly, with full No Shave November manbeard.

A rare sight.

We reversed our steps back to the "Spalding"/Evans saddle. This required the trickiest routefinding of the day. The goal is to cross back over Spalding's West Ridge, but if you go too low you'll have to regain elevation on the other side to avoid a tedious creek crossing. We aimed for about the midpoint of Spalding's West Ridge by pretty much contouring across the tundra with a slight elevation drop. It worked well. Our re-gain to the crest of the West Ridge was minimal.

From the West Ridge, continue straight and down. You should be able to see the alpine lake the trail skirts above treeline, but avoid the temptation to head that direction. Go straight N-NW until you cross the creek high in the drainage. Once across, take a hard left and beeline for the lake, which is now hidden from view. Large cairns become apparent on the tundra plateau before the drop-off to the lake. Welcome back to the trail. It's again slightly hard to follow in the trees, but if you lose it just head down. Once you pop out of the grove you should be able to locate the parking lot. If you're in the willows, head right (north) until you intersect the trail.

Bighorn Sheep on the tundra between Evans and "Spalding."

Past the West Ridge of "Spalding," continue straight until you cross the creek/drainage, then take a sharp left and

Cairns on the tundra just above the lake mark the trail.


DATE CLIMBED: Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012
RT TIME: 4.25 hours
CLIMBERS: Darrin (kansas), Matthew (Speth)

The East Ridge route is pure fun. It had been on my list for more than a year, ever since first reading about it in Dave Cooper's book Colorado Snow Climbs. It's a bit of a grind to reach the ridge, but once you're on it the route undulates for a breathtaking 1.3 miles to the summit. Be prepared, though. The elusive summit often looks closer than it really is. It can get demoralizing, and the ups-and-downs are no better on the descent.

We cheated a bit by taking Speth's CRV all the way to the Private Property gate, saving about three miles RT. We hiked up the road for a short distance before saying screw it and cutting hard right directly up the slope. A cairned trail eventually became apparent. It bypasses the first major ridge point on the left before gaining the crest at a low spot. From there, stay ridge proper all the way to the end. Some of the initial sections were surprisingly exposed, but the ridge widened for the last mile or so. I'm fairly sure the route can be kept Class 2, but be prepared for the occasional Class 2+ or Class 3 move, especially if you stay high.

Darrin and Matthew start up North Star, with the entire ridge and the summit in the background.

One of the few snowy spots on the route.

Me, beginning the ridge run. Ice ax completely unnecessary, but I prefer it to a trekking pole as a cane.

Darrin on one of the many false summits.

The summit comes as a relief, and it rewards. Finally! The views of Quandary and the Tenmile Range are exquisite, but Mt. Lincoln steals the show. The prominence of its North Face is striking and seldom-appreciated. It rises nearly 3,000 feet from the Middle Fork of the South Platte to the summit in one hulking mass. A careful eye can pick out the Lincoln Falls ice-climbing hotspot low on the eastern section of the face.

Again, the descent was every bit as tedious as the climb. The ups and downs are endless, and backtracking requires a significant amount of elevation gain. Once back on the trail before the last major ridge point, however, it's a pleasure cruise back to the road.

Matthew and Darrin FINALLY near the summit, which had looked "so close" for about an hour.

Darrin on the summit, with the morning's work in the background.

Mt. Lincoln, hulking out. Oh, and Mt. Democrat, too.

As an aside, the local name for Orizaba translates to "Star Mountain." I guess North Star Mountain was a fitting warm-up. I hope y'all enjoy your Thanksgiving. Maybe Bill, Emily, Matt, Keegan and I will be able to find some sort of fitting meal down in Mexico. Or at least, someone save us some cornbread? Cookies? Noel?

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
Upstate Hiker
Mountains are my crack
11/19/2012 21:11
I understand the obsession that drives us to walk somewhere just to turn around and go back. Happy to help you prepare for Mexico!

Nice TR!
11/19/2012 21:16
Looks like you managed to find the trail on the way up and avoid the willows. I was not so fortunate last spring. Good luck on Orizaba! The next TR should be grand!

Willows Bypass
11/19/2012 21:27
Wow, I wish I would have swapped notes with you before shoving off

Good Luck, Jeff.
11/19/2012 21:36
Great to get out with you again, on a route that was better than expected.

Nice to see you
11/19/2012 22:40
Saw you guys on my way down. Good luck on Orizaba

Have fun Jeff
11/19/2012 22:57
I just met a guy Thursday who is to summit Orizaba tomorrow. Be safe and have fun.

Non-willow route.
11/19/2012 23:04
The key to avoiding the willows is to stay north of Scott Gomer Creek. It's been many years since I hiked that area, but I made one attempt of Evans that came up short, one successful summit of Evans and one summit of Spalding from Guanella Pass. What I did on all of them was to stay on the drainage divide between Scott Gomer Peak and South Clear Creek (drainage on the Georgetown side of the pass). This route avoids the willows entirely with just one very short slightly marshy section.

Most route descriptions and trip reports I have read for Evans, the Sawtooth, Spalding, etc. from Guanella Pass seem to start on the Bierstadt trail, which I am not mistaken, crosses Scott Gomer Creek on a bridge, then leave that trail to bushwack through the willows and cross Scott Gomer Creek again (no bridge). This is probably a bit shorter but makes for more difficult hiking with the willows and the unnecessary creek crossing.

Better conditions
11/19/2012 23:29
... on North Star than we saw last week. Not that you could have seen much of anything up on that ridge with all the blowing snow! We couldn't drive past the pass either. Quite a bit of snow must have melted or been blown off in the intervening week, we had to plow through a bunch of drifts.

Good luck down South!

Upstate Hiker's Crack
11/20/2012 01:20
Such a lovely image.
Nice TR, Jeff.
We came to North Star from Wheeler and only descended that interminable ridge. I do not envy you, at least for this one.
Best of luck on Orizaba. Eat well, just don't drink the water.

11/20/2012 16:49
Good Luck in Mexico!

Good luck on Orizaba, big man
11/20/2012 17:26
Show that beast your ”O” Face. I miss your scent

Good Luck!
11/20/2012 18:01
When I first saw that picture, I thought I was looking at Mt Shasta, same type of volcano. I liked your out and back of the Evans Massif, I stupidly did a loop of those from Hell's Hole TH and had a very long and ugly day! Living in CO has it's advantages, you will do just fine on Orizaba!

Cutting the umbilical cord.
11/20/2012 21:48
I'm sorry I can drag you to the top of Orizaba like I did Rainier.

11/20/2012 22:04
I may be on to something here.

Best of luck and be safe man!!

Hipster Problems
11/21/2012 00:03
Was it hard riding up the Evans Road on your fixie?

11/21/2012 00:41
Crush IT!!!!

11/21/2012 01:44
Look at yourself on Orizababababa.


I can definitely relate to the obsession....
11/21/2012 03:35
Eloquently stated, Jeff. All the best to you and your partners on Pico de Gallo!

Ed Viesturs wants me to tell you to have fun conquering Mexico's highest trophy summit. Safe travels!

11/21/2012 15:36
Thanks everyone! Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Evans willows
04/02/2015 19:45
There‘s even a freakin‘ trail most of the way. How this route isn‘t more popular or advertised, I‘ll never know.
Neither do I (which only means we will hear more complains about the Evans willows...). Glad to see you found the TRs helpful. Good luck on big O!

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