Gray Wolf Mountain (13,602′) | Front Range | CO Rank: 190/637
Summit Lake Trailhead | Arapahoe National Forest & Mount Evans Wilderness | Idaho Springs, CO
06/29/19 | 5.10 miles | 2,188′ gain | Class 2
FINALLY! It has been a long time coming this year with the large amount of snow we’ve had, but I FINALLY made it up a 13er, and have plans next weekend for a 14er. Yass!!!
One of my goals for this coming winter is to purchase (and learn how to use) winter gear so I can do more during the winter months. (Better spikes & snowshoes, ice ax, etc.) My heart has been hurting that I haven’t gotten up high much sooner than the end of JUNE. And I desperately need to change that.
I had a bit of a scare last week after my Threemile Creek hike. That night, a bunch of us went out dancing to celebrate my friend Steph leaving for grad school. I woke up the next morning with a strange foot pain that I’d never felt before. (I have foot issues but even this was new to me!) I couldn’t put pressure on the ball of my foot, so I limped around for a few days until I could get into the doctor. By then, the pain had nearly completely gone away, but I still wanted to get things checked out. She felt my foot and determined that I likely popped a joint capsule out of place, and that it had just gone back into place as the swelling went down. So I should be fine! I was still a little worried, but decided to just be cautious about how far I went if my foot started to hurt again. And as luck would have it, I would have NO foot pain the entire hike! Yay!
I arrived to a nearly full Summit Lake parking lot at 6:45am. I was shocked at how many people were climbing Mount Evans this morning. I don’t remember it being this busy in the past! (At least not this early!) I followed the flat, easy trail to the Chicago Lakes overlook and turned left to follow the Mount Evans trail. Although Mount Evans wasn’t my destination today, I did follow the trail for about a mile before I turned off to head to Gray Wolf Mountain.
Fun fact: Gray Wolf Mountain is the last high peak (above 13k’) that I had to summit in the Mount Evans area. I’ve now summited all 11! It also makes my 16th unique 13er overall and #1 for 2019. My original 2019 goal was to complete 25 new 13ers. With such a late start, I’m unsure if I’ll get 24 more but it’s always worth a try!
After the Chicago Lakes overlook, the Mount Evans trail becomes much steeper. It climbs up Mount Spalding (13,842′) before cutting over to Mount Evans. I didn’t need to summit Spalding today, but I did need to climb high enough that I could cut above the cliffs (pictured above). I was hoping that I could turn off the trail right above the cliffs and walk along the edge, saving myself from any extra elevation gain.
Unfortunately there was a steep snowfield above the cliffs that I wasn’t comfortable traversing with my minimal (and honestly not up to par) winter gear. So I continued to climb up Mount Spalding until I reached a more snow-free area.
I descended on grass and rock, cringing at the thought of having to climb back up later. I was able to link up bare areas most of the way, with only a few short sections of easy snow. I could see people watching me from the main trail, probably wondering where the heck this stupid girl was going. There is no trail over to Gray Wolf, so I imagine most people don’t even know Gray Wolf exists.
I needed to head down Spalding to the saddle between it and Gray Wolf. I had read that the saddle is very marshy and that you should keep high towards the right to avoid standing water as much as possible. So that’s what I did, at least on my ascent. I kept right, avoiding most of the snow and most of the marsh. Even on the slopes, there were wet spots. I couldn’t avoid getting wet feet, but it wasn’t too bad.
I was doing pretty well so far, although I was moving pretty slow due to the altitude. I’m hoping that I can get better and faster this year!
There is a false summit on Gray Wolf, but I was expecting it and it really wasn’t too bad. Again I kept right as I ascended, avoiding most of the snow. I hadn’t seen many wildflowers so far, but a few of my favorites were starting to pop up.
Gray Wolf was steeper than expected, and I slowly picked my way through the rocks and small patches of snow.
I was SO happy to have made it! The weather had been perfect, just a little cold and windy at the summit, but otherwise sunny and warm! The views were incredible. I found the summit register hidden in the summit cairn and signed it. The last entry was from September, and the oldest entries were only from 2018? I wondered what happened to everything from before then. I took a picture of the register and didn’t realize until I got home that I’d dated my summit as 2018. Seriously? What the heck was I thinking! Hahah, oh boy. Hopefully the next person can correct that for me.
After a quick pit-stop at the summit (only about 10 minutes) I started my descent back to the saddle. I didn’t descend the exact same way and ended up on steeper ground than earlier. It was okay, but I much prefer the security of more gradual terrain.
I had the entire route (off the main trail) to myself so far, but I did pass a few others attempting Gray Wolf on my way out.
I made the decision to cut straight across the saddle instead of the higher route I took earlier. I already had wet feet so I didn’t think the marshy area would really be that bad. Yeah. Big mistake.
Most of the saddle was wet but not terrible cold. My wet feet somehow got wetter but it wasn’t terrible. I crossed a flat snowfield which supported my weight wonderfully until I got about halfway across. The snow became softer and then all of a sudden my feet plunged into more than 6 inches of snowy water. I can’t even describe to you how cold it was. As soon as I realized what was happening, it was too late to turn around. My feet were already submerged. I continued on as fast as I possibly could, trudging through the freezing watery slush. I knew I needed to keep my feet moving, not only to get through, but afterwards to keep my circulation going. I continued to walk as fast as I could as my feet continued to burn for minutes after I was out of the water. Finally they started to warm up as I reached the steep slopes of Mount Spalding.
I followed the same route up as I did down, eventually ending up back on the main trail. Finally! So my wet feet and I trudged back down the trail. It was getting busier and busier. Dozens of people were attempting to climb Mount Evans as I was heading down. I don’t know why, but I always get loads of questions on these type of hikes. Maybe because as a solo female, I seem approachable? Many asked me if I’d summited Evans/Spalding/etc, and my answer of “no, I actually went over to Gray Wolf today” was met with confused stares. Oh well!
Our time on the main trail had been pretty uneventful thus far. I did have my dog Otis with me but he had been doing great, such a good boy! When we got to the one part on the trail that I truly believe to be Class 3 and NOT 2, we had a little problem. A man had stopped right below (in the trail) and so we pulled off to let him come up. He evidently had no intention of that, however, and just sort of milled around for a bit before moving slightly out of the way, only to watch us from a distance of approximately 3 feet away. Ugh! I tried to get us down as quickly as possible, to get out of this guy’s way, but it’s easier said than done when there’s a dude breathing down your neck. It was nearly a 4 foot drop, and although Otis had no problem jumping up earlier, getting down was more difficult. I tried to guide him down the easiest part but he just jumped and took a little tumble. He wasn’t injured, but a little spooked, and needed a little extra help at the next (though easier) downclimb.
Shortly after, we came around a corner and were face to face with two mountain goats. Oh, hello. Normally I’d get a picture but I’d already put my camera away and Otis was way too interested in the goats for my liking. We were too close (unintentionally, but still) and the goats really didn’t like it. They gave us the stare down and eventually moved out of the way enough that we could safely pass. I tried to keep Otis from looking at them, and that seemed to help!
Eventually we made it back to the flat trail at Summit Lake and back to the car. Otis was very excited for his doggie bed. I couldn’t believe the number of people! People were parking down both sides of the road, ON THE TUNDRA (not even on gravel!) and it was just insane. I was happy to get away from the commotion and have a nice drive home.