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Peak(s):  Mt. Evans  -  14,264 feet
Post Date:  01/08/2012
Modified:  01/09/2012
Date Climbed:   01/07/2012
Posted By:  mountaindude

 Mt. Evans Winter Summit Attempt - Guanella Pass   

When I decided on Mt. Evans for a winter hike, I had been hearing about how little snow there has been this year up in the mountains. The ski resorts have been complaining about not having received enough snowfall for all of their runs to open...

Well, I now know where all of their missing snow is - it's up in the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area.

I met up with Ryan from Denver at the T-Rex parking lot at 4am on Saturday. We made the trip up through Georgetown to the road closure near the top of the Guanella Pass road. The hike was 1.7 miles from the gate to the trailhead, which took about 45 minutes.

At the trailhead we took in a view of Evans and Bierstadt at daybreak. The sky was partly cloud, but no wind and mild temperature.

A couple of minutes down the trail and a blanket of clouds had rolled in quickly. Still no wind, and relatively pleasant hiking conditions.

Me at the trailhead sign.

Ryan at the trailhead sign

We walked past a flock of Ptarmigan immediately off the trail. They seemed a little nervous when I leaned over them to take this picture. Wonder what they were thinking; "Hey, this guy acts like he knows we're here! But that's impossible, right? After all, we're invisible as long as we stay on the snow. At least that's what Mom told us."

By 8:30 we were coming around the bend up out of the willows, and weatherwise things seemed to be clearing up a bit. Much of the rest of the route was visible now.

By this time, although we were following the correct route, we we were no longer walking on an evident trail, and began to encounter deep snow. Soon we were postholing up to our waists through the willows. And to think, I had actually considered leaving my snowshoes in the car (because I had heard how little snow there was in the high country). Turns out they were indispensable.

After strapping on the snowshoes, and tracking along the right side of Scott Gomer Creek, we got to the base of the Gully around 9:30. This Gully climbs, nearly vertically at some points, over 1200 feet, and would prove to be the most difficult segment of the hike. The sky had become more gray again, but weather still seemed ok.

Ryan, with a frozen waterfall in the background.

Me, as the snow began to fall.

Beginning the long ascent up the Gully.

Neighboring Mt. Bierstadt.

A look back down at the route in.

Ryan carefully negotiating the loose rocks, ice, and snow near the top of the Gully. Cannot emphasize how difficult and demanding this part of the hike was. Very slippery and required much care.

Another frozen waterfall along the route.

Around 2pm, after a long and hard-fought climb, we were finally at the West Ridge of Evans. And that is when the weather began to deteriorate rapidly. The snow came again, but heavy this time, and accompanied by wind and thick cloud cover. According to the GPS we were less than a half mile from the actual summit with only 200 feet of elevation remaining to gain. But the weather was bad now, and the dreaded descent down the Gully waited for us on the return. The question we were asking ourselves at this point was "Do we chance it, and risk having to make that descent after the sun has gone down?"

It was a painful decision after having worked so hard to get so close, but we turned around and headed back. Clearly it was the right thing to do, in retrospect.

The descent down the Gully was a nightmare. The snow had blanketed everything, covering all of the footholds and making every step tedious. After a long, long drop back to Scott Gomer Creek, the sky was already beginning to get dark. So we put our headlamps back on and did our best to retrace the route in, which had been effectively buried by several inches of newly fallen snow. The temperature plummeted and the snow kept falling, but hey - who's complaining? After hiking a couple more hours in the dark and relying on the GPS to get out, we finally made it back to the road, and then only had to hike the last 1.7 miles down the road to get back to the car. Guess it could have been worse...

Well now I've got a fever, and the cure is more snowshoe.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

Almost made it     01/09/2012 18:56
Thanks for the report, what time did you get back to your car?


Evans from Guanella     01/09/2012 20:10
Got back to the car at 7:10.


Keep your chin up...     01/10/2012 04:38
You can bypass that gully in the future by staying left and following Scot Gomer Creek up and then hanging a hard right. Check out a topo and you'll see it. This is a mellow option if the gully is not to your liking or you start running out of daylight on the return.

The snow in the willows can be a mess. Later in the season (March/April), it should be firm enough for you to cross in the A.M. without snowshoes or postholing but the afternoon return will be a sufferfest.

The West Ridge itself can also be slow if there is fresh snow.

But the summit of Evans when the road is closed is very worthwhile. I hope you return and get this in the ensuing months...


Bypass     01/10/2012 16:20
Thanks for the info, and encouragement. I think my next step is to spend time with a topo and try to find the other route you mentioned. I would like to go back and reattempt before summer.

Doctor No

Gully bypass     01/10/2012 17:25
It's from summer, but hopefully my TR helps with the bypass:

Looks like you had a great time regardless!


Gully Bypass     01/10/2012 17:50
Thanks for the trip rpt! Good stuff.

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