Monday, June 25, 2012

Mount Evans Road - A Highway to the Summit

Summit Lake

After a delicious Father's Day breakfast served in bed by my two boys, we decided to drive to the summit of Mount Evans. To get to the top is a 30 mile drive from our front door. As we ascended the highest paved road in North America, our first wildlife sighting was a herd of elk, grazing high above timberline. In the summer the elk move up to higher elevations and cooler temperatures. Rocky Mountain Elk are built for the cold and don't tolerate heat very well.

Our first stop was Summit Lake nestled high in a glacial basin just below the summit. This cold, clear lake is the headwater for Bear Creek and flows down into Evergreen Lake and then all the way to Denver. We really got our blood pumping by ascending to the top of Mount Spalding and looked down into the beautiful Chicago Basin. After getting some pictures of the lake, we drove the treacherous, winding road up to the summit parking lot.

At the top, we explored a rocky structure know as the castle in the sky and then scrambled our way up to the true summit. The views were stunning and it reminded me of the time my brother and I climbed from Summit Lake to Mount Bierstadt and back to Mount Evans via the Sawtooth, a jagged, rocky ridge that connects the two Front Range 14ers. The highlight of the trip had to be the wildlife. Despite the harsh conditions that exist in this ecosystem, an amazing variety of plants and animals not only survive but thrive at the high elevations. We saw elk, pikas, yellow-bellied marmots, bighorn sheep and rocky mountain goats.

On the way back down we stopped at Mount Goliath Nature Area. In this protected area lives a stand of 2,000 year old Bristlecone Pine trees. Their gnarled trunks a testament to the high winds that blow down from the high peaks. A short nature trail features these battered warriors, beautiful wildflowers and wonderful songbirds. We had a great Father's Day and I would definitely recommend this day trip for anyone looking to escape the heat and explore the wonder of life above treeline.

Chicago Basin from Mount Spalding

The castle in the sky

Mount Evans summit parking lot

Rocky Mountain Goats

Yellow-Bellied Marmot

Bristlecone pine trees at Mount Goliath Nature Area