– Yvon Chouinard
Stand among big mountains, and you’ll feel small. Stand on top of a big mountain and you’ll feel big. Its a paradox. In order to become big from small, you have to grow and in order to grow you must go.
The thing about big mountains is that they are all unique, with private personalities that only reveal themselves once you’ve spent some time getting to know them. They’ll tell you secrets if you listen. Mount Evans is unique in its own way. Unlike all but one other of Colorado’s famous fourteeners (Pike’s Peak) to summit, you don’t have to climb. Boasted as the highest road in North America, throngs of fanny pack laden tourists can make their way to the top of this giant, and never ever leave their car. If you’ve never experienced it, its a truly sensational experience as a mountaineer to climb a mountain crest over the summit and stumble upon families, and giggling teenage girls, snapping photos for their Facebook page. It’s a catch. Yay, for accessibility. Boo, for effort.
Ed Abbey, American environmental essayist once said, “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” Abbey would say, if you can’t make your way to the top of the mountain on your own feet, take your feet elsewhere. Thoughts?
Standing at the base of the North Face Route at 12,850 feet, the massif of Mount Evans is impressive. 2 miles and 1,475 vertical feet above you stands the snow capped summit. Cold air blasts around you, even on a June day, 30 degree temperatures at the base are common occurrences, and the air is remarkably 30 percent less oxygenated than at sea level. At this height for the average person breathing can be tough without any physical exertion, combine that with climbing and you’ll soon find that air is in limited supply. Make it to the summit and you’re breathing air with only 65 percent of the oxygen at sea level.
Climb slow, move fast. The weather on top of Mount Evans is notably unpredictable especially in the summer months, the peak of climbing season. If you don’t make the summit by noon, the chances of getting caught in a thunderstorm are frighteningly high, and incredibly dangerous given the exposure of the high alpine environment. As kids we’re taught lighting strikes the highest point, on Mount Evans you are the highest point. Get up, get down, avoid the weather. In the words of legendary mountaineer and climber Ed Viesturs ,“Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” Its true and high up, that kind of advice keeps you alive.
Mount Evans offers climbers eight routes to the summit ranging from class two to class three climbing, relatively moderate as fourteeners go. The route up the North Face, is class three climb and requires crampons and or micro spikes year round. This route though shorter than others, offers some of the most technical, and exposed lines on the mountain, as well as stunning views of neighboring Mount Biederstadt (14, 060 ft) and the twin peaks of Torrey’s (14, 267 ft) and Gray’s (14,270 ft) and their connecting saddle. Line selection is key on the final summit push, take a wrong step and its a bad day.
For a (relative) quick escape down the mountain, the Northeast route offers up lots of glacading, and a steep descent for a fun ride down the hill. Take the reward, have some fun. If you’ve never glacaded before, think Bear Grylls sliding down a snowfield. Wahoo!
Treking, climbing and scrambling to the top is arduous, but the journey is worth the transformation. People often ask climbers, “Why”. There is really no answer. Like love, its hard to explain. Experience it and you’ll understand.
Want to climb a big mountain? Learn more about Colorado’s classic fourteener routes at: http://www.14ers.com/routemain.php?route=evan7&peak=Mt.%20Evans