Warmup Hike: Mt. Evans (14,265′)

Greetings! I have returned from my long sabbatical from blogging and once again will make empty promises about keeping the world more up to date with my musings and whereabouts.

In one week I am off on my next big trip, this time to Nepal (via Dubai) for 3.5 weeks of trekking and exploring! The current plan (which is flexible) is to fly to Kathmandu for a few days, then fly to Lukla (the world’s most dangerous airport according the the History channel — hence not true). From Lukla trek up to Namche and acclimatize for a day before trekking to Everest base camp (EBC) and beyond! I will do what I can to update the world on my progress, but communications may be slow and unreliable. Figuring trekking to EBC was a somewhat challenging enterprise, a dry-run was in order, an overnight trek up Mt. Evans, which, as a 14er is about as high as you can get in the CONUS. I convinced my friend and colleague Mark to tag along by promising many photo ops, which at 6AM might have been the only thing motivating him out of bed.

After a filling meal of waffles, eggs and pancakes, Mark and I drove up to Echo Lake (~10,000′), parked and got hiking. I was lugging more stuff than strictly needed for such a short jaunt, but in the aims of prepping for a longer trip, it was good exercise. Past Echo Lake and down over a stream we passed the Idaho Springs reservoir and crossed into the ‘Wilderness’. Hiking through coloring aspen groves, Mark dropped behind to take some pictures, and I was alone for a mile or so, just my thoughts and the numerous birds and small animals. Imagining 3.5 weeks of solitude of solo trekking is very exciting so these small moments were wonderful.

Reaching the Chicago lakes, we regrouped and trekked on, up a short but very steep section to reach Upper Chicago lake, where a break and more photos were in order. We had heard from a hiker coming down the path that a mud slide had damaged part of the next section of trail (which was going to be the hardest bit of the day’s hike already) and to be careful. Mark and I reached the mudslide and saw to our dismay there was no trail anymore, replaced by a steep section of loose gravel and rocks that would slide given a stern look. “Suck it up cupcake” I mused as I set about hauling my over-packed bag up a mudslide at 12,000′, gasping for breath and fighting to keep the world from spinning.

After the slide, and a half mile more of slow going, our trip into the wilderness was very quickly ended as we arrived at a road-accessible overlook complete with crying babies, loud tourists and no semblance of ‘being out there’.

A quick water stop at Summit Lake (12,900′) and Mark and I hightailed it out of there, feeling the massive, snow-covered ridge above us press down as a constant reminder that the hard part was still to come. Back in the Wilderness area, we set about looking for a camp site, trying to balance all the rules and guidelines of back-country camping: 100′ from water, 100′ from trail, and don’t go off the trail. We picked the first two to follow, and carefully wound our way to a boulder field out of the wind as a surprise snow squall came ripping over the ridge (thanks weather.com for a 0% chance of precip.). A quick meal of cous-cous and salmon and we tried to sleep on a slanted, uneven ground surrounded by echoing coyote calls and strong gusts of wind. In our altitude-addled (13,250′) state, every gust of wind flapping the tent sounded like someone (or something) just outside. It was a long night, with minimal sleep, but Mark took that to mean more time for photos:

At 3:38AM, we stiffly rose and packed our camp, I was feeling the altitude and lack of sleep, a splitting headache and nausea was my breakfast on the go. Stashing our overnight gear and switching to summit bags, we trekked up onto the ridge, now with full exposure to the freezing wind. Walking along the ridge was an incredible experience, the moon was bright, causing the rocks to glow in a lunar light, we commented that we had left the terrestrial confines and were on another plane (or planet), or so our hypoxic minds thought.

After a number of false summits, and rough rock-hopping, the summit was reached at a few minutes before 7 (and a few minutes after sunrise). Time for more photos, some trail mix and jubilation, we had the morning and summit to ourselves, basking in the sun and seeing Denver slowly wake up far below us. My second 14er had been hiked (I’ve biked up Pike’s Peak) and I was one step closer to Nepal.
Peace and chow,
NB: All photos (C) 2013 Mark Bridgman

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