I was finally able to catch the Mount Evans Road open early in the morning on a day when I wanted to try Spalding and Gray Wolf from Summit Lake. Unlike late June and early July, there hasn't been occasional snowfall to be removed from the road. Anyway, I'm rapidly running out of time in Colorado, but can't do any particularly strenuous hikes due to my slow recovery from hernia surgery. So, my plan was to take advantage of some remaining vacation time and the fact that the $10 vehicle pass for the road is good for 3 calender days to do these peaks on Friday and maybe the 13ers on the south side of Evans on Sunday. This is definitely an "anti-purist" hike with the very high trailhead and getting 3 peaks for less elevation gain than the "3000ft rule" for one peak. But, those people probably didn't have hernia surgery 10 weeks ago, either.
I woke up well before dawn and when I go in to the kitchen, I have to walk across the room to hit the main light. I was glad to be barefoot, because I stepped in a small puddle of water before I could reach the light. It turned out that the new water heater installed in my apartment last December was already failing and water was leaking out of the closet in which it sits. Under the circumstances, I did not want to lose a hike for this, so I put down towels and hoped all hell didn't break loose while I was gone for the morning. (It was also the case that merely closing off the cold water inlet did not stop the leak.) That ended up working out okay.
I left Boulder at 0415 and the drive to Summit Lake takes about 1.5 hours. They have an automatic machine for buying your pass if you show up at the base of the road during off hours. ($3 on foot, bicycle, or motorcycle and $10 for a vehicle.) Of course, it would be nice if there was an appropriately placed light so you could more easily read the instructions on the machine in twilight, but I guess that's asking too much. The 9-mile drive up the road was uneventful, although the many fatal drops immediately off the road surface are even more unnerving in the dark. Of course, that early in the morning on a remote route like this the double yellow line is really only a suggestion.
After visiting one of the portapotties outside the empty stone outhouse that is presumably being remodeled, I started my hike. The parking lot is actually a bit above the surface of Summit Lake, and you descend down closer to the lake before reaching the saddle between Spalding and Mount Warren. The higher trail from here takes you switchbacking up the face-like start to Spalding's east ridge, while the lower one stays close the lake. After a bit, the upper trail switchbacks up the south side of the ridge to avoid some rough parts, but even this trail has a few Class 2 sections.
About halfway up the ridge, the trail reaches a rather interesting notch of sorts, where the upper side is a 5-8 foot rock wall. It almost looks like something a person would build in their yard! The Roaches rate this route Class 2+ in their 13ers book, and this is the only place where that rating might apply. I made no attempt to scale the wall in the easiest possible manner and did a 4th or 5th Class bouldering move to surmount it. Although this seems to match the Roaches' description of the top of the Chi-Town couloir at 13240ft, it is actually the top of the Windy City couloir at 13460ft. I'm not sure that the trail up the ridge actually reaches the notch at 13240ft. In any case, this location provides an excellent view down to the two Chicago Lakes.
Past the "notch", the route stays more on the north side of the ridge and generally becomes less steep as the ridge transitions from the top of the Chicago Lakes cirque to the steepest parts of the Summit Lake cirque, the cirques being on opposite sides of the ridge. I guess that may not make much sense without a map, but in any case the terrain is just rocky enough to be interesting, but not tedious or difficult.
It only took 45 minutes to reach the summit (I think the RP rating in the guidebook is a bit too high, although I may have pushed a little harder than usual). It has sort of a weird configuration with a small flat area ringed by boulders, and it took a bit of poking around to find the highest point, a big boulder stacked up on top of another one. I had forgotten that the Roaches call this route "Classic", but I also found this to be a classic route even beyond the easy access and easy effort required.
Spalding is only a 1000ft effort by itself, but I had further plans. After a short stay on Spalding, I headed back down the ridge a bit, and then angled left to work my way down the north face to the saddle connecting it to Gray Wolf. The out and back to Gray Wolf was the biggest part of my overall route. The broad saddle is just above 13000ft, so you have to descend more than 800ft and then climb 600ft up to Gray Wolf, the latter makes Gray Wolf a ranked peak as opposed to Spalding which doesn't rise much from its saddle with Evans. There was standing water scattered about the saddle, most with skins of ice. I had measured a temperature of 38F at Summit Lake, but it was only 35F on Gray Wolf; the wind was minimal during the entire hike. The terrain on the traverse is pretty easy and only occasionally Class 2. Mostly, you are on grass with some patches of talus. There's a steeper area to ascend about 200 feet below the summit of Gray Wolf, but it levels off a bit to the summit. As was the case with all three summits, there wasn't a summit register in place.
One has to climb partway back up Mount Spalding to get back to its east ridge for the descent back to Summit Lake. However, by staying close to the edge of the cliffs at the top of the Chicago Lakes cirque, you hit the ridge at that funky notch with the rock wall without climbing above 13500ft. I was pretty tired by this point, probably from pushing too hard on the ascents. But, I decided to go ahead and bag Mount Warren while I was at it, just a 500ft ascent from near the lake. My plan had always been to push even further up the Mount Evans Road during the road closure season to get Warren, after having reached Rogers Peak near Thanksgiving a few years ago. But, that may never happen.
I stopped to chat with a couple of guys from Texas at the Spalding-Warren saddle before continuing, and was able to give them beta on the ridge route to Spalding which they planned to use to reach Evans. The direct climb out of the saddle to Warren is rather steep so I continued toward the parking lot before turning to head up Warren. In fact, the entire ridgecrest up to Warren is quite rough and best avoided if you want an easy ascent. The easiest route is to stay below the ridge until the last minute and then hit the rocky summit area. There are two closed contours of 13280ft, with the southern one having the marked elevation on the map, but I ended up hitting both points, because it was hard to tell which one was higher.
After that, I was glad to be heading back to my car. The total hike ended up taking just under 4 hours, but as I already mentioned, I must have went out too fast at the beginning. Plus, I haven't been doing very much strenuous activity lately, so I'm not quite in typical peak bagging shape. But, this was still a neat triptych of summits, and a pretty substantial overall hike considering it covered an elevation range of almost exactly 1000ft!
To the chronological trip index
To the Mount Spalding page
To the Gray Wolf Mountain page
To the Mount Warren page
File last modified: 31 March 2005