Monday, September 6, 2010

Mt. Evans Wilderness - Long(ish)

Note to self:  When you're in a hole, stop digging.

Time: 4:16
Distance: 16.63 miles
Effort: Easy
Body: Fair
Weather: Cool & Windy

I've been wrestling this past week with low-grade fatigue...just feeling off. I ran through it all week, but finally gave in and put off the long run 'til today. Thus, Sunday was a relaxing, mellow day at home, filled with errands, long-ignored punch-list stuff and hanging with JP and the kids. Great stuff.

With a bit of trepidation, I set the alarm last night for 6 a.m., with plans for getting out early for a long jaunt in the Mt. Evans Wilderness. Would a single day off be the anodyne for what was ailing me?

By 7 a.m., I was parked at entrance to the Mt. Evans Road, suited up and ready to run. The plan was to do a relatively big loop through the eastern part of the wilderness area, starting up the Chicago Lakes Trail, climbing up to Summit Lake and then descending down through an eastern drainage, picking up the Resthouse Trail and completing the loop back to the truck.

I stepped out of the truck and was immediately hit by the realization that summer is, indeed, waning. It was darn-right chilly and ferociously windy at the start. I quickly darted into the relative calm provided by the dense forest on the south side of Echo Lake. I cruised along the flattish first .6 mile of the Chicago Lakes Trail and soon was descending down a series of switchbacks on the northern slope of the Chicago Creek drainage.

After crossing the creek, I started the day's climb on a dirt road that wound its way up past the Idaho Springs Reservoir and two small cabins, located right on the edge of the wilderness. Here, the road dead-ends and the singletrack begins.

These signs always make my heart swoon.

Let the climbing begin.
Looking up the Chicago Lakes drainage to the large headwall at the end of the valley.

After a short, relatively steep climb, the rocky trail levels out and undulates a bit as it rolls through an old burn, meadows and dense coniferous forests. At about 4.3 miles the trail passes above the first of the two Chicago Lakes. Here I saw the day's first people. There were two tents on the southwest end of the lake.  

The first of two Chicago Lakes (left in picture).

View of lower Chicago Lakes from the trail above.

After passing the lake, the trail winds its way around and in-between several enormous boulders that eons ago must have tumbled down from the lofty cliffs above. Soon, the trail begins a very steep climb up and over a shelf that hides the second of the two Chicago Lakes.

The view into the basin holding the upper Chicago Lakes just past the lip of the shelf.
Upper Chicago Lake. The low spot in the cliffs above is where the trail heads next.

About the time I got the first look at lake #2, I was blasted by the gale-force winds that would be my nemesis for the next 30 minutes as I began the steep climb up the eastern flank of Mt. Warren (13,307 feet) bound for the opening in the cirque that provides one with access to Summit Lake from the Chicago Lakes drainage. 

The whole climb was one of those character-building experiences. The blow-you-off-the-mountain winds, combined with the unseasonable chill, was enough to make me want to scream at the Weather Gods to ease up. Finally, with painfully cold hands and a hat pulled unnaturally tight on my head to keep it from blowing back down to the Chicago Lakes, I crested the final rock outcropping and was treated to a view of whitecaps on Summit Lake, dust devils spinning off the newly-gavelled parking lot and a number of people bundled up as if it were January on a ski slope.

I ran quickly down the newly-rebuilt trail around the eastern edge of Summit Lake and locked myself in one of the bathrooms long enough to get the feeling back in my hands. I contemplated hanging it up and hitchhiking back to the car, but with summer obviously on its way out, I just couldn't give up on a sunny day in the high country...wind or no wind.

Summit Lake. Note the whitecaps kicked up by the wind.

So, across the Mt. Evans Road I went. I picked up the Summit Lake Trail, er, at least I think I did. Turns out, this trail is lightly used and only evident by the intermittent cairns that appeared haphazardly across the grassy tundra that unfurled before me. The uneven, hard-to-follow terrain only exacerbated my frustration. Alas, I sucked it up and mentally committed to making the best of it. After all, the views were incredible, the rich reds, browns and golds of the tundra grass were inspiring and, surely, the wind would die down sometime.

The Summit Lake "Trail."

You can almost make out a hint of singletrack here.

I soon was descending down into upper reaches of the Bear Creek drainage. Right at treeline, as I dropped down below a ridge line, the wind ceased. Finally!  Now I could cruise...except for one problem. The trail disappeared (either that or in my glee, I stopped paying attention to the cairns).

Confident in my trail-wise sense of direction, I just went with it. Surely the trail was just over this that way...up, down there. Damn. Lost the trail. Really lost the trail. Down and to the left I could see an old burn. I new the Resthouse Trail, my next destination, descended down through that burn. The trick was to get over there.

Suffice to say, it was rough going. Downed trees. Several creeks. Dense willows. Thick forests. Off-camber footing. Steep hillsides. The works.

No way to get lost in that forest! The meadow is Beaver Meadow.

After an hour's slog, I finally entered the burned area and I started making my way up through the tangle of old trees, deep grasses and bogs. Finally, I crested a last hill and stepped onto a very, very sweet ribbon of singletrack - the Resthouse Trail.

I took one last look down toward Bear Creek and Beaver Meadows and began climbing up through the widow-maker trees from the old burn that lined the trail. From here, it was a relatively easy (compared to what I had just endured) 3-4 miles of up-and-down back to the Echo Lake Campground and the parking lot where my truck awaited.

The most-welcome Resthouse Trail through an old burn.

That had to have been the longest 16 miles I've ever run.

I'm disappointed that I lost track of the Summit Lake Trail on my descent. I've been wanting to check out the trail for quite sometime. Given the cross-country nature of the first couple of miles, I'm not inclined to return anytime soon. I wonder what the section through the upper part of the Bear Creek drainage is like. I'm also disappointed that I didn't turn around sooner after losing the trail. Had I done that, I would have had, maybe, 10 minutes of climbing to get back to the last cairn. Assuming I could have found the trail corridor, it certainly would have made the rest of the run much more pleasurable. That said, I explored some part of the Mt. Evans Wilderness that I'd never been in. And, despite the wind, the cold and the bushwhacking, it still was a great morning in the high country.  And, while the mileage was a bit low, the time-on-feet was solid. A good thing since this is my last long(ish) run before the Run Rabbit Run 50 in Steamboat in a couple o' weeks.

A couple of bonus pics - first of the terrible fire above Boulder:

The fire near Gold Hill above Boulder from Highway 103

Now, a very fine-looking bull elk I came across while driving home from a run last weekend. This big guy was hanging out in a meadow just off Stagecoach Road, about half-mile west of the upper parking lot at Elk Meadow Open Space.  He is, no doubt, saving up his energy for the coming rut.


  1. Right up my alley - (getting off trail and thinking I know the short cut ... which makes for long delays).

  2. I had a day just like this (minus getting lost...but I've done that too) on Sunday trying to get up Mt. Owen near Crested Butte. Almost got blown off a ridge. Nice pics!

  3. I have tried to find this trail from the other end and have not had any luck. Solid day, good luck at RRR.

  4. I recall telling myself while climbing over the 1,269,211th log that I wasn't lost...I know where I'm going, just not the most efficient way to get there. Sure enough, I popped out in the right place, BUT it took way too long and wasted way too much energy.

    Todd - I was really hoping to follow the trail to where it intersects, according to the map, with the Resthouse Trail. I've run the full length of Resthouse before, but don't recall seeing where the Summit Lake Trail hits it...and after yesterday, I still haven't!

  5. Heading up Bergen Peak tomorrow if you're interested, probably start around 7pm from the lower lot.

  6. Patrick - I'm flying solo this week w/ the kids while JP is travelling. Thus, squeezing runs in over lunch. Any other week and I'd have been there. Thanks for the invite!

  7. Nice. I hiked/snowshoed Chicago Lakes for the first time last winter, but going up and over to Summit would have been overdoing it a bit on that day. I'll be sure to pick a route carefully if I ever run it.

    >The blow-you-off-the-mountain winds, combined with the unseasonable chill, was enough to make me want to scream at the Weather Gods to ease up

    I DID scream at the weather gods, because I was getting sandblasted on Mt. Antero on Sunday and was cursing out loud. It was like I had Tourette's syndrome for the first mile of descent. The gravel was slippery and the rocks were round and would roll under foot. Dust devils flew by and tossed sand at me. It felt personal! Some guy next to me even got blown off his feet and broke a finger.

    Yet down lower, below the wind, it was a stellar day with gorgeous sun.

    I've been super pleased with my summer high peak trail run gear; it's worked well on fourteeners this summer:
    * North Face convertible pants
    * OR mitten liners
    * Knit cap
    * Long sleeve tech shirt and a short sleeve tech shirt
    * Mountain Hardwear Transition Windstopper jacket

    It's a lot to carry down low, but I'm glad when I get to 14k! I start out with the pant legs off and in short sleeves, and stow the rest in my REI Stoke 9, or around my waist, then just add it on as needed. This setup was just barely comfortable in the high summit winds on Sunday.

  8. I must confess...I did yell an expletive at one point. I definitely was under-dressed for about 45 minutes of the day. I knew I only had a minimal amount of exposure time. I definitely would bring other gear if I were doing this run a month from now! That Antero trek sounds like a gas.

  9. Great pictures of the place! I love to go there someday.

    My feet have several thousand meetings scheduled with the dirt on a trail not far from here.  Who am I to keep them waiting?  Time to run.  ~Jeb Dickerson, Mountain Hardwear

  10. I have run the Summit Lake trail a few times. Once in the dark, in fog. It is difficult to follow in a couple of sections. Must not see much use. I would love to run it again.

  11. I am hoping to give it another go this summer on a run from home to the summit of Mt. Evans. Hope I can follow it better in reverse!