Peak: Mt. Evans via Scott Gomer Creek
Distance: 11 Miles
Vert: 3,400 Feet
Climbers: Zambo & Josh
Well, I’ll never leave my good camera behind again. That’s the lesson from this past Tuesday’s outing on Evans.
Usually I am pretty good about bringing the photography tools. But sometimes in winter the added weight, bulk, and hassle of hauling a big expensive camera just becomes too annoying to deal with. Besides, I am not really the best photographer in the world anyway. Usually I just get lucky – taking winter pictures in the rockies is like cheating.
With all that in mind, I decided to leave the big guy behind this weekend on Evans. Thankfully, my partner did not. What a day it was…
Above the Clouds on Evans
This final week of the 14/15 winter season in Colorado brought record heat, sun, and temps across the Rockies. Combine this with an average to below-average snow pack, and it just felt right to go after one final peak.
I had been itching to take a day off and get up something for the past few weeks. Josh is currently focused on prepping for an expedition up Denali this spring. So, the chance to stretch out the legs up high was a welcome opportunity for him as he was eager to test both his gear and his fitness. With open schedules aligning at the last minute, a 5:00 meeting in Denver saw us happily on our way to the Silver Pick Trailhead just south of Georgetown.
Evans might not be the sexiest winter choice in the world, but it does have a lot of benefits: it has a safe route, sees some traffic, sits in a familiar area, and is close to Denver. That last point was the main factor in our peak choice as we needed to be back by the early evening. We decided to take the ‘standard’ winter route up Scott Gomer Creek as this offered low angle terrain and a relatively straightforward approach.
As we ascended the bone-dry road towards Guanella Pass in the dark, we were surprised to be driving through a thick fog. Visibility was very limited even with the help of fog lamps on the vehicle. This got us talking about cloud inversions. The forecast called for a cloudy day, but we began to wonder if we might get lucky with an inversion or two. I casually remarked that I had never really been out on one of these days. Little did I know what we were in for.
Although dawn was breaking as we set out from the Guanella Pass Campground, visibility remained low. We were quickly able to ascend the road, making full use of the well-trenched shortcuts cutting off each successive switchback. Soon we found ourselves exiting the trees and moving quickly on the deep, well packed trench leading up Scott Gomer Creek. Even with the trench, navigation was tricky in the fog. We couldn’t see any of the slopes above, so we relied on topo and GPS to take us up the creek bed and onto the northwest shoulder of Spaulding. The orienteering challenge was an added bonus for Josh, who had hoped to freshen up his skills on this very thing.
As we neared the ridge on Spaulding, we caught a glimpse of our first blue skies of the morning. Peering through the mist, we began to realize what a special day this was turning out to be.
As we rolled past 12,500 feet, we finally breached the clouds. There, in all directions laid out before us, was a cloud inversion of the most beautiful kind. Stretched out for miles and miles in every direction lay a sea of rolling white pillows. The only break in them were the spires and summits of Colorado’s highest peaks. We took the opportunity to stop, sit, and simply gaze in wonder and the scene unfolding around us.
The gentle northwest slopes of Evans afforded the perfect chance to ascend and watch the show roll on. The higher we got, the further we could see, and the better it got.
Of course, I was kicking myself for forgetting the good camera. This was, quite literally, the worst day to have left it behind. Thankfully, however, Josh had his and was able to capture the moments. Most of these images are his.
As we reached the corner to turn out onto the west face of Evans, this was a good spot to finally stow the snowshoes. There had been plenty of snow to this point, but as expected, the west ridge of Evans was stripped bare by the winds. The easily visible cairns made for easy route finding. It would be easy rock hopping from there to the summit.
The previous two times I had been on Evans I had literally no view. Clouds has descended each time and I couldn’t see much further than Summit Lake. It seems I got my fair repayment topping out on this day. The sun was out, the winds were low, the parking lot was gaper-free, and we had made great time. This was a great chance to kick back and simply enjoy a remarkable day.
At one point we had kicked around the idea of an attempt on the Sawtooth. However, with our time constraints (not to mention leaving the Axes and crampons in the car) we knew this was not going to be the day for it. No matter though as we turned around and enjoyed the rapidly warming day on the descent.
Thankfully, the willows only afforded us one or two post-holing wipeouts apiece on the way home. The snow highway we had enjoyed on the way end continued to hold firm and allowed for a relatively quick exit back to the road. From there, a few short minutes had us back to the car just over 8 hours after setting out.
Looking back on it, this one was special. The climb, the peak, and the company were as good as always. But what really set it apart was the absolute beauty of the inversions. In the dozens and dozens of days I have gotten to enjoy the Rockies, this one was a first. It was a day to remember with views as good as anything you could find on earth. For that, I think it safe to say that Josh and I were both full of gratitude. Sometimes you get these gifts in the hills – all you can do is be thankful for them.
Thanks for reading it if you did – happy climbing.
PS: Oh – and I will still never forgive myself for leaving the good camera behind. Like I said at the beginning, lesson learned. Thankfully, Josh remembered his point and shoot. Almost all of the photos above are thanks to him.