Above the Clouds on Evans

      13 Comments on Above the Clouds on Evans

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.

Our Ascent route for the day up Scott Gomer Creek to Evans’ west slopes.

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.

Climbing Spaudling’s west shoulder in the clouds. Thankfully, not really being able to see where you are going makes the time pass quickly.

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.

Gray Wolf was the first peak to poke his head out from the clouds.

Right at eye level, Square Top, Argentine, and Wilcox followed next.

Grays and Torreys.

Katniss would be proud.

A mid-week winter outing into the Colorado high country with nothing but clouds beneath your feet? Hard to make a happier trip than that.

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.

Looking towards Bierstadt and The Sawtooth.

Holy Cross to the distant west.

Panorama of the open and gentle alpine slopes between Evans and Bierstadt.

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.

Through the gap to the Ten-Mile beyond.

Bierstadt’s East Face.

Clouds rolling and dancing over the sawtooth, as they would all morning long.

Nearly there now, a ‘Colorado Geyser’ greets us on the final ridge.

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.

Dedicated to Chloe, and everyone else who bagged 30+ peaks this winter.

Rosalie to the south.

If you close your eyes, bend your ears, and listen very carefully you can almost hear it: the shrill, excited cries of a thousand gapers, gasping for breath from the 100ft walk from the parking lot.

Denali Dreamin’

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.

The sun finally beginning to do its work in breaking everything up. We were thankful for the snow being in the shade all morning, as this saved us plenty of post-holing on the way out.

Making quick work of the descent, looking back on the Sawtooth.

Ice climbing opportunities in upper Scott Gomer. In the morning, we had debated when we should leave the trench we were using in the drianage. With visibility now full, we could see at least a few parties had gone to the ice, not the upper slopes beyond.

With the fog now lifted, it was plain to see that the northwest couloir would have been a reasonable option. We saw tracks leading through it, which would have shortened the distance on the day.

Quick beta shot. We crossed the creek and ascended essentially directly along the line of my pole here.

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.

13 thoughts on “Above the Clouds on Evans

  1. Dillon

    Zambo, taking any pictures in the rockies is like cheating my friend. Now that’s how to spend a Tuesday! Well done. Best of luck to you on Denali, Josh! As of last weekend, the camp chairs are back in the jeep. Spring is here, Zambarino. See you on the flip side. Hope you solved that algebra problemo. 🙂

  2. jschmidt55

    Sweet write-up Zambo! I’m glad we both have flexible enough jobs to play hooky every once in awhile. Thanks for the original invite. It was also fun to see how well our collaborative efforts paid off in full IFR conditions. Nicely done, my man! Cloud inversions are indeed a rare gift in Colorado. That was quite a show! Cheers bro…

  3. Brian

    I’ve experienced those inversions – really catapults the outing to the next level thats for sure. Must be cool being up there sans gapers. I’d take a 100% vacated city of Detroit with smog, run down buildings and stray dogs running around rather than Maroon Bells in the middle of summer – to be perfectly honest.

    1. DKYarian (Zambo) Post author

      Thanks Brandon! hope to get out there soon on something, bud. Hope you and the fam are well!

  4. Ben

    Sweet pics Zambo! Glad you managed to get this one in right at the end there. I know it’d been on your radar all winter!

    1. DKYarian (Zambo) Post author

      Thanks Benny. Yes – it feels good to have it done. It had been on the mind for a few years now.

  5. Floyd

    Nice winter jaunt there Zambo. I can’t believe we’re so spoiled with views that we’ll leave a camera at home when climbing a 14er in winter. I didn’t take one picture on a Rosalie climb in January… Lessons learned since about every trip to the hills has its surprises.
    By the way, I’m still waiting for the pictures with the footless onsy PJs.

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