Peak(s):  Gray Wolf Mtn  -  13,602 feet
Date Posted:  06/13/2020
Date Climbed:   06/13/2020
Author:  daway8
 A lone wolf on Gray Wolf   

This was the prefect warm-up hike to get back in the swing of things after a long absence due to all the shutdowns, restrictions, regulations, etc - it had a little bit of everything:

  • Easily accessible trailhead but quickly leave the masses.
  • Saw only a few people after leaving the main trail then zero people the entire morning until almost at the main trail again.
  • Some navigational practice going through the willows in dim light after making a wrong turn.
  • Some free-form route selection after leaving the established paths and crossing the stream.
  • Some easy, open sloped hills >13k = great for high altitude jogging to get re-acclimated.
  • Some fun exposure (purely by choice when going over to the spur between Gray Wolf and Spalding).
  • Some easy but enjoyable rock scrambling up some simple towers with views of the Chicago Lakes below.

Overall it was a perfect day and felt great to get back up at altitude again. Since there's not a lot of documentation on doing this peak from Guanella Pass I'm putting this together to add some directions/recommendations for anyone who wants to escape the masses and give it a try.

One of many little ponds on the way up to Gray Wolf from Guanella - much more secluded than what's right off the main Bierstadt trail...

The Willows

So the first main challenge is to turn off the main Bierstadt trail at the proper point so as to make the passage through the willows MUCH MUCH easier. Alas, I chose poorly...

While there seems to be multiple paths that have been made over the years, your best bet is to follow the GPX tracks for "Mt. Evans West Ridge from Guanella Pass" on this site up until you're next to the stream. I didn't look closely at the GPX tracks as I was going out since I was thinking that was more of a winter route and I saw what looked to be a good trail just in front of a large rock off to the left of the trail. But this was mostly just the "trail" over to Poser Rock - which people like to climb up on to get photos.

Turns out the trail I wanted was about 100ft further on. Might have still been able to connect to it if I made the proper turns but as is I went into crazy bog-land where the entire ground wiggled and shook in huge sheets and I had to push through some willows and wade through a lot of soupy ground while veering around huge puddles until I eventually connected to the "trail" (in quotes since it's far better than what I was doing but still sloppy and not always super well defined).

Poor early morning image of Poser Rock where I turned to enter the willows - I recommend you continue on about another 100ft...
Poser Rock off on path to left (there were people posing on it when I passed by) and a large wood post off to the right. Continue ~100ft.

The trail for "Mt. Evans West Ridge from Guanella Pass" begins rather faintly off to the left side of the Bierstadt trail about 100ft past Poser Rock.

The better starting point for an easier path through the willows (~100ft beyond Poser Rock).

The four photos below (taken at various times/places along the trail) show examples of the variable quality of the trail for "Mt. Evans West Ridge from Guanella Pass." But even at its worst this trail is MUCH better than slogging your own path through the willows and ponds - trust me, I now know...

Willow 1
Willow 2
Willow 3
Willow 4

Stream Crossing

The Mt. Evans trail will take you up very close to the stream before turning to go up the gullies. As the trail comes up onto some rocks near the stream you'll see a couple little mini cairns that someone put up at some point (or if they get knocked down just look for the landmarks in the photos below).

Rock cairns marking the stream crossing
Another angle with some landmarks for reference (Sawtooth at top right).

On this particular day (June 13, 2020) the stream was easy to cross by rock hopping without getting wet feet. Not sure if/when this stream might swell...

Looking back at the rock cairns (just right of center) and some unique rock formations nearby.

The band of rocks along the edge of the stream is fairly easy to spot as you come down through the willows.

Stream crossing as seen on the way back.
The crossing point below the cairns.

On the way back, after crossing the stream you'll want to take care to find the established trail before diving into the willows. It's a good idea to note your surroundings when you reach this point going up - wouldn't hurt to have a GPS just in case so you don't make the willow crossing needlessly painful.

After the stream crossing heading back to the trail. Just off the rocks you should spot a path through the willows.

More Willows

Once across the stream there are... more willows. Lots more. There might possibly be some manner of defined trail over there somewhere since someone left some cairns and I know various people trek up this way.

I failed to find any clear trail. However, there are a lot of deer in this area which have made routes through the willows. If you pick the proper paths you can pass through fairly easily. I did much better on the way down than on the way up (partly because it's easier to scout from above).

Sometimes a very slight meander along a clear section to the left or right can connect you to another path that leads where you want to go and avoids you needing to bash through willows.

Just over the stream
A little further up the hill into willow-land. The willows are very dense but there are good deer trails if you seek them out.

In the photo below you can see just how dense of a section I got into.

Bierstadt and the Sawtooth from Willow-land

As you go up the hill, off to the right is where water flows down from the peaks above. I went up that way last winter but concluded it was too willow-thick to do this time of year. Instead I veered a little more to climbers left over to where there are some pine trees - at which point the willows thin out significantly.

The willows start to thin out as you get near the pine trees.
To the right is a rocky section where the water flows down from above - went up it in winter but looked too thick with willows now.

There are even a few semi-flattish spots almost suitable for a tent - at least a very small one, if you're not too picky or maybe if you hunt around some.

View of the Sawtooth from one spot where you might have just enough room to camp.

Beyond the Willows

Once you reach the pine trees you'll see a minor cliff band with a series of ponds of varying size in front of it. There's one swath of green coming down through the "cliffs" (probably overkill to call these cliffs but it's a distinct and sudden change from what's been seen on the route so far).

That green swath has a lot of thick willows at the bottom so on the way up I opted to climb the rocks just to the right of it - slightly loose/sloppy but not too bad.

Small "cliff" band. Left of center is the green swath that provides an easy route up if you bypass the willows at the very bottom.
Rocks just to the right of the green swath. I went straight up on the way there but it was a little loose.

But to get to that point you must first navigate the ponds. Just to the right of the green swath coming down through the "cliffs" there was a smaller pond with a muddy but passable path over to the rocks.

Looking back over muddy path crossed to get to the rocks.
Looking back down - the crossing point I used is just right of center - this avoided willow bashing.

I'm sure there are other possible routes but if you've already reached a spot near here it may be easiest to just follow the navigation tips provided here since this region is a maze of ponds and willows as the image below shows.

Slightly different view - crossing point near bottom right. Lots of ponds/willows in this region.

For the return trip you can aim for the largest of the ponds and then look for the oval shaped rock below - drop down to it then cut left to go down the green swath described above.

The oval shaped rock near bottom right - loop around that to get to the green swath.

After swinging left around the oval shaped rock just drop down the green swath until the willows are about to block the path and then cut left in front on the large rock shown below and you'll be back at the muddy crossing point.

After looping around the oval shaped rock.
Near the bottom of the green swath is this large rock - thick willows to right, easy rock passage to the left.

The High Ground - Gray Wolf and beyond

After you've made it up over the "cliff band" you can mostly navigate around the remaining willow patches which gradually fade away to nothing.

Your main navigational aide at this point (if you have the light to see it) is the little knub opposite of the slopes going up to Mt Spalding. Aim to the right of the knub but the left of the slopes.

At right are the slopes going up to Spalding. Just left of the dip is a knub that you want to stay to the right of for easiest passage.

After the knub, you'll see the slopes of Gray Wolf appear. I picked a line going past a little cluster of rocks on the hill and up to a pair of rocks standing up on the horizon then followed the slope up, but really about any approach works fine here. I went for the horizon because it looked slightly less steep.

The slopes going up to Gray Wolf
I aimed for these rock formations in the middle then the two sticking up on the horizon before turning right to go up.

Not exactly a very exciting peak by itself nor even overly remarkable views as compared to some peaks but a great, easy warm-up hike and there's some better fun nearby...

Looking over to Grays and Torreys
Coming up to the top of Gray Wolf.

Beyond Gray Wolf

Just past Gray Wolf is another tiny hump. Nothing too exciting there either but it's easy to jog over there for a little >13k workout.

Little hump just past Gray Wolf.

Once at the hump you might notice the spur between Gray Wolf and Spalding - again quite close over easy terrain that's over 13k and makes for another good workout to jog over there - or stroll if you prefer. Here's where this trip slowly gets more interesting...

Looking over to the spur between Gray Wolf and Spalding.
Looking down a gully on the way to the spur.

If you hug the edge as you reach the low point going over to the spur you'll see a couple neat gullies.

Another gully on the way over.
The slope up to the spur is gentle and easy.

The Rock Towers

This was my favorite part of the day. I'm always drawn like a magnet to the highest point around - even when not dealing with any official peak. So these little rock towers were just too tantalizing to pass up given how easy of a hike it had been so far, although I did warily eye the clouds on the opposite horizon.

The rock towers as seen from near the top of the spur.
Dropping down to the right - the highest point now blocked from view behind tower on the left.

I spotted a viable route over by dropping down to the right to cut under the base of the large towers so I could get closer and evaluate if it was going to be feasible to get up the highest one solo with no climbing gear.

Further along passing low to the right. The two towers on the right are the same two as in the far right of the previous photos.
Looking up to the left in among the towers.

Much to my delight, as I circled about the towers I found a pretty simple path up to the top that was no worse than class 2 or 3. In the photo below I looped around to the left of these rocks and was then able to easily step up.

Nearing the top of the highest tower.

This is a small enough but fun enough area for scrambling that I'm not bothering to put any additional detail on directions for ascending the towers - this is a great place to just come play and find your own routes around.

View looking over to Evans from the towers.
View looking back over to the spur - Spalding is off to the left, Gray Wolf off to the right.

The area of these towers also offers some more interesting views than what was visible from Gray Wolf.

Looking down on upper and lower Chicago Lakes.
Summit lake visible in center of the photo along with part of the route up from Echo Lake.

Below is one more glimpse of the towers as I was about ready to descend. This spot has been added to my list of those secluded little areas near heavily traveled 14ers that are worth coming back to at some point.

One last look at the towers.

Finally, for no particular reason, I had uploaded a photo of the stream crossing along the Bierstadt trail (having originally planned to go a different direction with this trip report) and found it easier just to toss it in rather than scroll and click to find the delete button...

Stream crossing along Bierstadt trail.

Map snapshot with annotations

The below GAIA screenshot shows my tracks and some of the main 14er routes plus a few notes.The entire area of the loop around Gray Wolf and the rock towers is very easy, open terrain. From the bottom of the loop to the bend for the "alternate route" there are scattered clumps of willows you can circumvent. A little below that is where willow mania begins again until you cross back over the stream and get back to the Mt. Evans trail.

Overview of route with some other reference routes and notes

My Stats/Times

Total distance ~10 miles (GAIA vs. the 14ers app put it either a little under or a little over that)

Total time: 7 hours 23 minutes (including breaks and playing on the towers)

4:30am arrive at Guanella Pass - nearly all the spots in the main lot already taken

~5am turn off into the willows (100ft too early)

~5:40am leave the Mt. Evans trail and cross the stream

6:50am Next to the "knub" that was my navigation marker above the willows

7:54am Gray Wolf summit

8:13am Leave for small hump past Gray Wolf

8:20am At high point of the small hump

~9am Slowly meandering along the edge spur overlooking Upper Chicago Lake - eyeing the towers just beyond...

9:15am top of far high point overlooking the lakes

9:33am back at top of high point after some tower scrambling

9:45am begin descent

10:23am overlooking massive array of cars all around Guanella Pass, far below

11:16am crossed the stream and regained Mt Evans trail

11:37am back on Bierstadt trail

11:59am Back at the Jeep at Guanella Pass

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50

Comments or Questions

That’s great...
06/14/2020 22:14
...that you went through the willows and we wanted to avoid going through them again. We did enjoy our alternate approach. BTW, I didnât see your report until after I posted mine.


06/24/2020 16:03
Looks like you had a great time! Fun route to take. Thanks for posting

08/03/2020 07:49
Awesome report! Very detailed, professional. Thank you for the insight


11/12/2020 16:17
What a great, unpopular route. I'll have to check it out someday. Thanks for the great pics.

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