August 26, 2015

Solo Hiking Report: Mount Spaulding and Mount Evans

This has been a pretty busy few weeks for me! This week I am wrapping up the second of two major projects I’ve been working on over the last year, and I’m also gearing up to start my new project next Monday. (Stay tuned for more on all of those work things.) But last week, I was clocking 12-16 hours of work each day, and by Friday, I desperately needed a break. I knew that I would still be working a lot over the weekend, but I wanted at least a little bit of a reprieve.

After studying the weather forecast and finding that Saturday was going to be a gorgeous day, I made my plan – and decided to head west. Before I started work on Friday morning (at 5am, like you do), I threw a cooler packed with food, some hiking gear, and a tent and sleeping bag into my car. I have to say, packing up the car was a lot easier than I expected. I always really dread packing for trips, and camping in particular is really a chore since I’m so new to it and it takes me a lot of thought to figure out what to bring. But short trips like this make it pretty simple, and since I don’t have a camp stove or want to deal with building a fire, the food for my cooler is especially easy: a sandwich or salad, some protein bars, and a ton of water. Done! (Though arguably a lot less fun than yummy campfire meals.)

I got delayed at the office longer than I would have liked, but I still made it to the mountains before sunset. I had been unsure which mountain I was going to hike on Saturday, Bierstadt or Evans, particularly since my legs were really sore from a quick Pinterest workout I had done earlier in the week. Although you can drive to the top of Mount Evans, I was not taking that route… but the route I chose still sounded like it would be easier than Bierstadt, so that was where I headed. After checking in at the Echo Lake info booth, I learned that there were a few dispersed camping spots on Colorado 103 at mile 15 – just two miles further up the road. That meant it would only be about 30 minutes in the morning to get to the trailhead where I’d start, at Summit Lake. And it was free! (Aren’t all the best things in life?)

My little campsite. It was literally JUST off the road, but behind a stand of trees so it still felt secluded. Most cars/people couldn’t see me from the road unless they turned back and were really looking hard.

I pitched my little tent in about ten minutes, then ate my pasta salad dinner and watched the beautiful colors of the sunset. I didn’t have reception, which meant no work email (I had told everyone I would be unavailable until noon on Saturday), and being unplugged was just exactly what I needed.

The foreground is kind of boring, but the background of that pink-streaked sky? YES PLEASE!

Although I went to bed at 7:30pm, I unfortunately didn’t sleep very well – the wind was whipping the sides of my tent like crazy, and at one point, I woke up to hear an animal galloping by. (A deer? Maybe.) It was hard to tell whether my tent was getting blown by the wind, or if maybe THERE WERE ANIMALS ALL AROUND ME BRUSHING UP AGAINST THE WALLS OF MY TENT. Something about being in a tent in the wilderness by myself gives me an unfortunately vivid imagination! I had bear spray with me in the tent, but I definitely didn’t want to have to use it – and I also wasn’t quite sure I’d be capable of spraying an attacking bear without also spraying myself in the process. I think I need to learn more about camping wildlife and how exactly to stay safe, so that I can get a good night’s sleep without worrying about what I should do if an animal decides to get up close and personal with my tent πŸ™‚

But despite a rough night’s sleep, I woke up pretty alert and awake – even though it was still pitch black out. I didn’t want to try to take down my tent in the darkness (I did have a lantern but honestly I was afraid of attracting animals, because I am a baby like that), so I stayed in my sleeping bag and read for 15 minutes until there was just a tiny bit of light outside. I was pleasantly surprised to find it only took me ten minutes to pack up and hop in the car, which meant that I arrived at Summit Lake Trailhead just about at sunrise to begin my hike.

This picture is obviously from later in the day (I took it at the end of my hike), but it’s a great view of what was in store for me. Straight ahead is Mount Spaulding, the first mountain I would summit.

There were already a ton of other hikers at Summit Lake Trailhead, and I snagged one of the last spots in the parking lot – score! I was actually really happy it was crowded – part of the reason I had chosen to do Mount Evans was so that I could safely hike it solo while having lots of other hikers around. However, I hadn’t been sure whether the route I was taking (west ridge via Mount Spaulding) was a popular one that would attract a lot of other people. Turns out, it was – I didn’t go more than five minutes without passing someone/having someone pass me. A lot of people like solitude on a hike, but when I’m solo on a 14er, it’s comforting to know that there are plenty of others up on the mountain with me.

The hike started out pretty tough right from the beginning – with some steep climbing up a lot of huge rocks. There was a couple in front of me who had brought their two dogs on the hike, and the dogs had to be lifted up (about four feet) a whole bunch of times, which slowed everyone down. This was definitely not a great route for dogs! And for that matter, it was a little tough on me too – I hadn’t expected to be using my arm strength so much to get myself up. Fortunately, about a half mile in, things eased up considerably and it became more of a walking trail than a climbing trail.

View from the Mount Spaulding ridgeline. I am only about 3/4 mile into the hike and yet look how far below me the parking lot with my car is! This was definitely a steep incline.

Fortunately, the terrain got easier from there, and I followed the masses trekking across the ridge in order to reach the summit of Mount Spaulding.

View from the summit of Mount Spaulding! It was unfortunately kind of a hazy day thanks to smoke from the fires out west.

At 13,842 feet, this was already almost a fourteener… but I wasn’t even close to being done.

This was where I was headed next…

Mount Evans loomed to my right, but unfortunately I was going to have to drop down about 250 hard-earned feet to the saddle before I’d head all the way up to the summit of Evans at 14,264 feet.

On the plus side, dropping down to the saddle was delightful and easy. Wheeeeeeeee I love hiking (downhill)! But the saddle also was incredibly exposed to the wind, and winds were really strong on Saturday. There were a few times where I nearly toppled over when a huge gust of wind went blowing through, and I learned to stay close to the big rocks so that I could brace myself against them for support as need. This was not an easy hike!

Fortunately, I had layered up a ton so I wasn’t cold… just frustrated at the slow going. This wind was brutal!

The wind didn’t really subside once I started hiking on the west ridge, but the trail itself got a lot more fun. This part required some agility to navigate the rocks, and I liked it more than tramping along the grass. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that even though I was above 13,000 feet, I wasn’t getting the dizziness that I usually do at those altitudes. Maybe I’m becoming a Colorado girl at last?!

That cairn on the right marks the “trail” through the rocks. It was definitely pretty exposed, but the views were stunning! This was about a half mile from the top.

Finally, the trail turned around a corner and I arrived at… the parking lot. Boy, I am glad that Mount Evans is one of only two 14ers that has roads to the top, because it is pretty demoralizing to spend all morning hiking only to get to a spot where tons of other people have arrived at via sedan! Though it did feel satisfying to know that I had gotten up there on my own two feet πŸ˜‰

It’s so weird to see pavement and cars with these views in the background!

It was only about another ten minutes of hiking from the parking lot to the true summit – and that trail was a well-worn path that felt like a breeze compared to the rocks on the west ridge.Β  It was of course even colder up top, so I didn’t stay too long, but it was actually less windy than the saddle between Evans and Spaulding – so I definitely took some time to get some pictures and admire the views.

Second summit of the morning!
This is a pretty good view of the Summit Lake trailhead where I started and the ridgeline ascent to Mount Spaulding. I had come a long way!

Finally, to return to my car, I chose to go via the Northeast Face. That meant a very steep descent with lots of loose rocks, but also a very quick one: it had taken me about 3.5 hours to get up but less than an hour to get down.

The sky also cleared up considerably so the views were GORGEOUS! Here is a shot of the descent.

And then – home to check email and get back to work. I was fine with that!

The mountains were exactly what I needed to de-stress after a tough week at work, and I’m so grateful that I live close enough to do such a quick camping trip and then get right back to it. As I joked to Adam, when the going gets tough, the tough go to the mountains – and surprisingly, those tough and unyielding rocks offer a lot of comfort. In Sunday’s Links I Love, I noted that there have been some recent studies about how good being in nature is for the brain – specifically, that exposure to nature can have calming and stress-reducing effects. I know that is definitely true for me! I had left the office on Friday really worried about the work that lay ahead, but I returned home on Saturday feeling good about what I had done so far and knowing that the “summit” of my project was in sight and that I just needed to tough out the rocks and the wind for a few more days to make it there.


6 thoughts on “Solo Hiking Report: Mount Spaulding and Mount Evans”

  1. Such lovely description, Laura. I; can feel the night sweats, the rock scrambling aches, the whipping winds, AND the exhilaration! Congratulations, once again! :)!

  2. What a great hike. Just amazing to think of living in a place where you can go do this so (fairly) easily on a Saturday morning!
    The first time we did hiking that required bear spray, we got an extra container and went out in the woods to practice spraying it. I felt a lot more confident with it after that.

    1. That is a great idea about practice spraying… although the cost of bear spray is crazy! I know $50 is cheap insurance if a bear actually attacks, but I hesitate to spend it again just because I’m a scaredy cat πŸ™‚

  3. I have to think that as long as you also spray the bear in the eyes, spraying yourself wouldn’t be THAT big of a deal? As long as the bear isn’t eating/mauling you, I think the spray likely does it’s job!

    That is really great news that you’re starting to get used to the altitude. I’m sure hiking while not being dizzy is a lot more fun than constantly having vertigo.

    1. It is DEFINITELY a lot more fun to not get dizzy! I will be curious to see how long my altitude tolerance lasts with my new project though…

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