Snow has been slow to accumulate in the Front Range this fall so Gnuella Pass is still passable in mid-November. Combined with a fine forecast, that was a invitation for hiking and peak hopping. After a quick email conversation with byoung1141, a climbing plan was made!
With the high winds forecasted to drop by mid-morning, we pushed our meeting at Georgetown to 9 AM. Our drive up the pass was livened by roadside greetings from a couple of bighorn sheep. Good morning, guys! Who brought the Starbucks?
Route for Gray Wolf to Spalding to Evans
We parked about half a mile below the trailhead for Mount Bierstadt and pushed down the steep slope at 10 AM. Shortly after hiking up from the drainage, our day's agenda spread out before us. Our plan was to cross from the road to the base of Peak 12988, thus minimizing contact with the dreaded willows of Scott Gomer drainage. After climbing Peak 12988, we were to traverse to Gray Wolf Mountain, press onward to Spalding Mountain and then join the trail to the summit of Mount Evans.
Gray Wolf - Spalding - Evans - Bierstadt
Bryan the Willow Whisperer
The route forced us through willows only briefly. Bryan had never hiked in willows before but immediately displayed a knack for threading easy paths through the vicious veg. We laughingly nicknamed him the "Willow Whisperer" for his innate talent, but this ability would prove helpful before the day was done.
Dave in front of Gray Wolf
The winds dropped as promised and we hiked up about 1700' to Peak 12988 in beautiful sunshine. After climbing to almost 13K, the easy traverse to Gray Wolf Mountain awaits behind me in the picture.
Spalding Mountain summit
After hiking over fine meadow and rock hopping to Gray Wolf Mountain and then ascending onto Spalding Mountain, Bryan takes a short celebration break at Spalding's summit. Bryan is a recent immigrant to Colorado and kept repeating "This is sooo awesome!" every five minutes with infectious enthusiasm. He may have a brain aneurysm when he climbs Longs Peak.
North Face of Evans
We enjoyed a dramatic view of the North Face Mount Evans from the top of Spalding Mountain.
View from shoulder of Evans
From the shoulder of Mount Evans near the junction with the Sawtooth, we paused to look back on our route from Peak 12988 to Gray Wolf and Spalding. Onwards to the longish traverse to the actual summit of Evans!
From the traverse across Mount Evans, the east side of the Sawtooth looks almost as fearsome as it's famous west face.
Evans summit and summit buildings
About a half of a mile of fun Class 2 rock-hopping, we finally spotted the Mount Evans summit and the summit buildings.
Dave's summit shot
We wound up the last switchbacks from the parking lot area, and then Dave gets to pose for a happiness summit shot!
Bryan's summit shot
Bryan poses on the summit with the sign he brought in case AMS made him forget where he was.
North faces of Spalding and Gray Wolf Mts
Were you wondering if Summit Lake had frozen yet? Question answered!
Bierstadt and Abyss Lake
Abyss Lake, Mount Bierstadt and the Sawtooth. Is there a bad angle to photograph the Sawtooth?
Spectacular sunset during descent
We traversed back across Mount Evans and Spalding Mountain where we were treated to a glorious alpine sunset. Yes, it hit Bryan's "Awesome" button again.
So, this is the point where the day went less than perfect. We descended on the Spalding Mountain side of the Scott Gomer drainage (red arrow). We had planned to cross the drainage lower down and then head west to join and reverse our ascent route back to the car, but the drainage steepened as we descended and the creek was flowing rapidly so we descended far too long. Willow-wallowing awaited at the base of Spalding Mountain and the "Willow Whisperer" (Bryan) had to lead us back to the road. In retrospective, we should have crossed the drainage high and traversed Gray Wolf Mountain to the base of Peak 12988 (blue arrow) to meet up with the easy crossing back to the road.
We adjourned to Idaho Springs where Bryan introduced me to the Buffalo Restaurant for post-climb festivities. It was a fine day in the mountains with a great new partner. Thanks again, Bryan!