Tag Archives: Mount Evans

A July 4th Hike Up Mount Evans

IMG_3942.jpgThis Independence Day was a strange one. It was a day with all sorts of mixed feelings. The first is related to the holiday. I love the United States of America, and feel extremely blessed to have been born and live here. However, something just feels a bit off right now. Without getting too into it, as travel and adventure is supposed to be an escape from all of this nonsense, I do not feel that our current political climate is in line with what this country was originally intended to be about. Based on the values of the Enlightenment, we escaped from tyranny and intended to set up a nation where the impact of politics and government on our lives is limited. People feeling that government is important enough that they will de-friend and even act violently towards those that support a different political party just doesn’t feel like America to me.

I was also somewhat mixed about the event. Mount Evans is one of two 14ers (peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation) with a paved road to the top, meaning that people can get to the top of this mountain in their cars (or on a bike). In fact, I know someone who drove to the very same peak on the same day.


I also wasn’t too crazy about leaving Denver at 4 in the morning to arrive at the Summit Lake parking lot just before sunrise.


14ers close to Denver are quite popular, and there was concern about parking availability. In many of my social circles, I find myself among the least cautious. It’s not that I want to go around being reckless, taking risks for the sake of risks. I would just rather deal with things occasionally going wrong than all the missed opportunities and additional stress that comes from being averse to risk.

However, the big picture is that I am hiking to the top of a tall mountain. Waking up two hours earlier than I wanted to guarantee a parking spot at the trailhead is a small compromise, and not one that takes me anywhere near a place where risk avoidance is costing me opportunities. There were also some benefits from starting that early, as each hour of the day is unique in the mountains, and the time around sunrise can be quite magnificent.


Less than twenty minutes into the hike, the sun emerged from behind both the clouds and mountain peaks on the horizon.


They do not call these mountains the Rocky Mountains for nothing. Many of these high elevation hikes are both steep and rocky.


I would definitely recommend some form of hiking boots or trail shoes to traverse terrain like this.


The trail climbs pretty quickly right from the start. Less than an hour into the hike, which is a slow hike, averaging little more than a mile per hour, I began to see Grays and Torreys Peaks, the first 14ers I ever climbed, five years ago.


It wouldn’t be long before that top of the world feeling emerged. This is because, the trek up Mount Evans from Summit Lake is actually two peaks. The first one, Mount Spalding, is only 158 feet shy of being a 14er itself, and has its own scramble to the top.


Like Grays and Torreys, there are many places where hikers conquer two peaks at once. This hike felt very much like this, despite the fact that Mount Spalding does not count as a “14er”.


Saddling between the two peaks was rocky, shaded, and breathtaking. It may have been my favorite part of the hike.

It was kind of strange to reach the summit only to see all the people who had just driven all the way up. We were also able to look down upon the lot where we had parked a couple of hours earlier.

From the top of the road, there is actually an additional 134 feet of climbing to the peak, at 14,264 feet.


We also got a chance to get up close and personal with the mountain goats, who seemed strangely inclined to hang out relatively close to the road.


With the steep rocky sections, and the climb back up Mount Spalding, the return hike was only slightly easier than the climb.

We also encountered a crew of trail maintenance volunteers. I cannot overstate how much I appreciate their work. I had not previously seen them working, but I know they work hard on behalf of the Colorado outdoors, and are an important part of the mission to encourage others to get outside, get active, and enjoy nature.

Then, at the bottom of the trail, we encountered more wildlife- sheep.


I am somewhat in awe of these animals, both the goats at the top and the sheep near Summit Lake. They live their lives on the steepest of all hills. I wonder if they ever fall over, but it feels like they don’t. I spent half the downward trek grabbing onto rocks with my hands for balance, despite having a good pair of hiking boots. The goats and the sheep, they just walk up and down these steep, slippery, and rocky hills like it’s nothing.


We got back to the car before noon. By the end of the hike, I really did not know what to feel. Hiking to the top of a tall mountain is no longer a new experience for me. It’s beautiful but familiar. 2018 so far has been quite emotional for me already, dealing with issues related to our mean spirited and way to identity-driven political climate, as well as drama related to my career, social standing, and even identity. Maybe, at this point in time, I do not need some kind of grand emotional response to my activities. I just need to enjoy them, laugh with friends, and see nature for the majesty that it is. That was good enough for me before I started writing this blog, and some things are indeed true regardless of time, place and culture.

Hell’s Hole: A Lesser Known Hike for a Busy Weekend

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It would be hard to find a day, or an event, that brings about more mixed emotions for me than Labor Day….

I love the fact that Americans get a holiday, the first Monday of every September. I hate the fact that so many Americans get so little time away from the office and their other daily responsibilities that Labor Day weekend represents a rare opportunity for travel, leisure, etc. As a result, roads, recreations areas, National Parks, and tourist attractions are very busy the entire weekend!

The history of the holiday is complex and contested. It started as a celebration of the Labor Movement, whose original purpose was to stand up for fair treatment of workers in the wake of industrialization. Leaving out some more controversial opinions, let’s just say I appreciate the fact that there is a Labor Movement and a lot of what it has done, but I do not always appreciate every manner in which it manifests.

Over the years, the workforce changed, and the holiday kind of morphed. Today, the holiday is less about parades celebrating the American worker, and more about recreation, parties, events, travel, and outdoor adventure. It also serves as the unofficial end of Summer. Yet another mixed emotion. I love seeing people get out and enjoy the world. But, I am bummed that Summer is ending.

The crowds also necessitate some outside the box thinking. The National Parks will be crowded. So will many highways, and other high-profile destinations. With the weather typically being pleasant, the three-day weekend ends up being a good opportunity to visit some lower-profile destinations, particularly for those of us that are fortunate enough to get more than three opportunities (Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day) for summer adventure and exploration.

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Mount Evans itself is a fairly high profile destination. Just over an hour’s drive from central Denver, it can be reached by driving up the highest paved road in North America. People also commonly hike or even cycle to the top of the 14,264 foot peak.

The Mount Evans Wilderness is a 116 square mile are surrounding the mountain, with rugged terrain, many other peaks, and numerous other trails to hike and backpack.

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Hell’s Hole (I have no idea why they call it that) is a trail that stretches a little over 4 miles (estimate vary depending on source, a common issue for hikes in Colorado) just to the West of Mount Evans.

Starting at an elevation just over 9500 feet, the trail climbs a total of roughly 2000 feet, making it moderate in difficulty- overall. However, that difficulty is not spread evenly throughout the hike. Most of the climb occurs in the first two miles, as the trail ascends, first through a forest of mainly Aspen trees, then into a dense forest of Pines. Near the top, the trees begin to thin, and Mount Evans, the giant 14,000 foot peak periodically appears through the trees.

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At a moderate pace, one should reach the end of the trail in roughly two hours, with the second half of the trek begin more gentle in slope. The gentler slop still manages to top out close to the “tree line”.

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Although the final mile and a half of trail offers periodic glimpses at the mountains in all directions, it is only the last quarter of a mile of the trail that is truly wide open. To get the full experience, I would seriously recommend hiking the entire length of the trail, which totals roughly nine miles round trip.

For some reason, it took until the second half of the hike, the descent back to the trailhead to notice any signs that summer was indeed coming to an end. An unseasonably hot day, reminiscent of mid-July, temperatures in parts of the Denver metro area hit 100F, and even weather stations near 10,000 feet in elevation peaked out above 80F. The entirety of the hike felt no different than mid-summer.


Yet, hints of fall appeared, and were suddenly noticeable when the ascent was complete. Shades of yellow began to appear in the shrubs that often dominate the landscape just above the treeline.

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Further down, gold colors even began to periodically appear in the Aspens closer to the trailhead.

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People often think of Labor Day as summer’s farewell, summer making one last appearance before ending. Of course, the weather does not always line up that way, and it is quite possible that many more hot days are still yet to come.

Emotionally, and sociologically, a lot more can be controlled. Most children have already returned to school. Those still on summer break will be back in the classroom shortly. Anyone on summer schedules or summer dress codes will return to normal within a week. For those in the most traditional types of corporate structures, the next holiday may not be coming until Thanksgiving (late November).

On the descent, we spent some time discussing topics related to work, finding purpose in life, and other topics that were less about travel and adventure and more about life at “home”. It was almost as if the weather, the physical appearance of everything around me, as well as the general mood, was lining up to serve the purpose Labor Day serves in the 21st Century; a farewell to summer before a new season takes hold.

For many, this new season represents a return to some form of structure, but could also represent new opportunities to learn, achieve, and reach the next level. In life, we all need breaks, time to do that in which we enjoy. We also need time to work, and get things done and serve other human beings. While our current society may not have found the right balance, that does not mean we need to shun work altogether, and not embrace the season that is to come.

Mount Evans The Easy Way

The United States of America is not perfect.  There are definitely some aspects of our history that seem a bit shady, and there are definitely some things I would change if I had my way.  But I still love this country, and feel lucky to live here.  One of the things I love about this country is that we attempt to accommodate nearly everybody.  We have lifestyles that range from the crowds of Manhattan to empty parts of Wyoming, and many other things in between.  Despite the fact that I have come across a few Americans who would like to eradicate one or more of our prevalent lifestyles, we remain a county that accommodates.  If anything, we are becoming more accommodating, as more and more places add bike lanes, and some communities allow people to follow their dreams of traveling everywhere by golf cart.

To get to the top of the mountains in Colorado, we also accommodate many different methods.  Most Coloradans prefer to hike up our tallest peaks, and nearly every tall mountain here has multiple hiking trails to the top.  Two of Colorado’s tallest peaks, Mount Evans and Pike’s Peak, have paved roads to the top.  During the summertime, people can drive or ride a bicycle to the top of these peaks.  In fact, the ride from Idaho Springs to the top of Mount Evans was featured as one of Bicycling Magazine’s Top Bike Rides.  Pike’s Peak can even be reached by train.

The easiest way to the top of a mountain is to drive.  Having already hiked three of these peaks this summer, I decide to take a drive (or, more accurately, go along for a ride) up Mount Evans.  The road up to Mount Evans is actually North America’s highest paved road, and a very scenic one.  There are plenty of wonderful places on the way up this highway, including dense pine forests, alpine lakes, and places where you can see the mountains in the distance.  These are the kinds of images you will often find on a calender.

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One added bonus of taking this trip in late September was the fall colors.  The fall colors here in Colorado come primarily from the Aspen trees, and primarily turn the color yellow.  This makes a fall image here in Colorado quite different than what you would see in the east.  Firstly, with more pine trees here, not all of the trees are changing colors.  And, with the trees mostly changing the same color, yellow, there is less variety.  In that sense, I would say anyone looking to take a vacation for the primary purpose of viewing fall foliage would be better off going to New England or the Smoky Mountains.  But, the colors did add an extra element to the views on this trip.


Some places in higher terrain just recently received their first snow of the season.  The snowfall was not particularly heavy, but it still could be seen, especially from the shaded areas once we climbed above 9,000 feet.


As a result of this recent snowfall, as well as a heavier snowfall at the highest peaks (during the floods a couple of weeks ago), the road was not open all the way to the top of Mount Evans.  The farthest up we could go is Summit Lake, which is around 12,800 feet in elevation.  This is not too atypical, as these higher elevations typically start receiving snow in September, and plowing a road at this elevation is not an easy task.

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I love science!  I love the way some scientific phenomenon can create some unique observations, and I love the process of figuring it all out.  It was a very windy day at Summit Lake, and I could feel it as soon as I got out of the car.  In fact, the wind confirmed for me that it would have been quite unpleasant to try to hike at this elevation.  What I observed on this lake is a phenomenon I had seen years back when I was living in Madison, WI.  On a cold, windy morning, the wind blows water off of the lake onto nearby grass and rocks.  If it is cold enough, those water particles freeze on contact, much as they would in an ice storm.

When I observed this in Madison, WI, it was a similar situation.  In that case it was December, as it gets cold a lot earlier in the year at high elevations, but the progression of events is the same.  Water has a higher heat capacity and therefore both warms up and cools down slower than air.  It takes more than a few cold mornings to freeze over a lake, even a smaller lake like this one.  So, at the time of year when winter-like chill first arrives, this phenomenon can be observed near lakes.  Larger lakes like Lake Michigan and Lake Superior never freeze over in the winter, and sea spray events like this one can be observed pretty much all winter long.  Although I have seen the result of this combination of weather conditions a couple of times, I am now kind of curious to see it actually occurring.

The world is a tough place to understand.  Life often seems to unfold in ways that do not make too much sense.  Often times, after a particular endeavor does not turn out the way I had hoped, I spend a good deal of time scratching my head, wondering why.  When something impacts my life in a negative way, my response is always to try to figure out where it went wrong, as to avoid making the same mistakes.  But, most of the time it does not work that way, particularly when social interactions and group dynamics are involved.

In a way, I feel like I can take comfort in science.  In science, there are universal laws, and certain things that will always behave the same way, even in an unfamiliar place.  The cold windy night on Summit Lake created the same ice patters that it did on Lake Mendota.  No matter where you are light waves of 550nm will appear green to the human eye.  This, and a host of other things, can be counted on, will always make sense, and can provide some comfort in unfamiliar situations.  Yet, unlike some predictable things, like re-watching movies and T.V. reruns, it does not become mundane and uninteresting over time.  There is always something new to be discovered, a new phenomenon to be observed and investigated, and a new possibility to be opened up.

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On the return trip, we stopped in Idaho Springs, walked around and ate lunch.  I have driven by this town many times, but never really spent much time here.  In a narrow valley, with steep terrain on either side, the town actually has some houses on higher terrain.  From the highway, it’s appearance consistently reminds me of model train sets.  In addition, the town, which champions itself as “Where the Gold Rush Began”, actually named it’s high school team the “Golddiggers”.  I still wonder if the the marching band plays that Kanye West song when the team comes out onto the field.

I was pretty impressed with the downtown.  It is a nice, kind of small, western town.  It is not over touristy, as it is not adjacent to a big attraction the way Estes Park is.  The shops seem well kept, and also seemed to have variety.  We ate at Tommyknockers, a microbrewery downtown with bar food, and also a lot of buffalo burgers.  From walking around town, I see several other places I would like to try, on subsequent trips.  But, I really do not know when I will be coming into town again, as it is not a typical stop-off for me on ski trips and such.