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Mount Evans

Mount Evans
Mount Evans with Summit Lake
Elevation 14,271 ft (4,350 m)[1][2]
Prominence 2,769 ft (844 m)[3]
Isolation 9.79 mi (15.76 km)[3]
Listing Colorado fourteener
Colorado 4000 meter summits
Colorado range high points
Mount Evans is located in Colorado
Mount Evans
Location Clear Creek County, Colorado, United States[4]
Range Front Range, Highest summit
of the Chicago Peaks[3]
Coordinates [1]
Topo map USGS 7.5' topographic map
Mount Evans, Colorado[1]
First ascent disputed:
1863 by Albert Bierstadt
1872 by Judge Lunt
Easiest route Summit Lake Trail
Mount Evans Scenic Byway

Mount Evans is the highest summit of the Chicago Peaks in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The prominent 14,271-foot (4,350 m) fourteener is located in the Mount Evans Wilderness, 13.4 miles (21.6 km) southwest by south (bearing 214°) of the City of Idaho Springs in Clear Creek County, Colorado, United States, on the drainage divide between Arapaho National Forest and Pike National Forest.[1][2][3][4]

The peak is one of the characteristic Front Range peaks, dominating the western skyline of the Great Plains along with Pikes Peak, Longs Peak, and nearby Mount Bierstadt. Mount Evans can be seen from over 100 miles away to the east, and many miles in other directions. Mount Evans dominates the Denver Metropolitan Area skyline, rising over 9,000 feet above the area. Mount Evans can be seen from points south of Castle Rock, up to (65 miles (105 km) south) and as far north as Fort Collins (95 miles (153 km) north), and from areas near Limon (105 miles (169 km) east). In the early days of Colorado tourism, Mount Evans and Denver were often in competition with Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs.


  • Geography 1
  • History 2
  • Environment 3
    • Climate 3.1
    • 2012 Tornado 3.2
    • Flora 3.3
    • Fauna 3.4
  • Geology 4
  • Scientific Research 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Mount Evans is the highest peak in a massif known historically as the Chicago Peaks.[5] The peak is 35 miles (56 km) west of Denver, "as the crow flies", and approximately 51 miles (82 km) by road, via Idaho Springs. The other peaks in the massif are:

  • Mount Spalding (13,842 feet), 1.1 mile northwest[6]
  • Gray Wolf Mountain (13,602 feet), 2.2 miles north-northwest[7]
  • The Sawtooth (13,780 feet), 1.2 miles west[8]
  • Mount Bierstadt (14,060 feet), 1.5 miles west-southwest[9]
  • Mount Warren (13,307 feet), 1.2 miles north-northeast[10]
  • Rogers Peak (13,391 feet), 2.33 miles northeast.[11]

At least 7 deep glacial cirques cut into the Chicago Range. The cirques around Mount Evans are the deepest cirques in the Colorado Rockies.[12] The bottoms of many of these contain tarns, the most notable being:

  • Summit Lake at the head of Bear Creek, 0.5 miles north
  • the Chicago Lakes at the head of Chicago Creek, 2 miles north
  • Abyss Lake at the head of Lake Fork, 1 mile west-southwest

The Mount Evans Scenic Byway consists of State Highway 103 from Idaho Springs, Colorado on I-70 about 13 miles (21 km) to Echo Lake, and Colorado 5 from Echo Lake 15 miles (24 km), ending at a parking area and turnaround just below the summit. The latter has long been the highest paved road in North America and is only open in the summer. Colorado 103 continues east from Echo Lake to Squaw Pass, from which it connects, via Clear Creek County Road 103 and Jefferson County Road 66, to Bergen Park from which Colorado 74 leads to Evergreen Colorado.[13]

The I-70 with Grant and US 285, 22 miles to the south.[14]

A marked hiking trail roughly parallels the highway from Echo Lake to the summit, and a second marked trail links Guanella Pass to Mount Bierstadt. A difficult side route of the latter climbs to the northeastern peak of The Sawtooth, from which an easy ridge leads to the summit of Mount Evans.

Most of the Mount Evans massif is now part of the Mount Evans Wilderness area in Arapaho National Forest and Pike National Forest. The exception is a narrow corridor along the highway from Echo Lake that is excluded from the wilderness.[15] Summit Lake Park and Echo Lake Park, are part of the historic Denver Mountain Parks system.


Mount Evans was originally known as Mount Rosa or Mount Rosalie. Albert Bierstadt named it for the wife of Fitz Hugh Ludlow, whom he later married. The name is also a reference to Monte Rosa, the highest peak in Switzerland. Bierstadt and his guide, William Newton Byers, approached the mountain along Chicago Creek from Idaho Springs in 1863, and spent several days painting sketches of the mountain from the Chicago Lakes before climbing to Summit Lake and onward to the summit.[16] Bierstadt's sketch, Mountain Lake, accurately portrays the view of Mount Spalding over the Chicago Lakes.[17] His painting, A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie, is based on that and other sketches.[18]

A second claim to be the first to ascend is attributed to Judge Lunt and a friend in 1872. William Henry Jackson, attached to the Hayden Survey, visited the Chicago Lakes in 1873, where he took numerous photographs; the summit of Mount Evans is barely visible in several of these, peeking over the col between upper Chicago Lake and Summit Lake.[19] The Hayden survey reported that Mount Rosalie was 14,330 feet above sea level, measured by triangulation.[20][21]

In 1895, 30 years after he was forced to resign as governor because of his part in the infamous Sand Creek Massacre and its subsequent cover-up, Colorado's legislature officially renamed the peak in honor of John Evans, second governor of the Colorado Territory from 1862 to 1865.[22]

The history of the Mount Evans Scenic Byway is part of a larger story of the Denver Mountain Parks system. It ultimately began when the City and County of Denver initiated the construction of a series of automobile “scenic loops” to allow Denverites to explore the mountains.[23] One road circuit, Circle G, was to traverse the ridge to Squaw Pass on to Echo Lake, culminate in a climb up Mt. Evans, and loop down to Idaho Springs. In order to achieve this goal, Denver Mountain Parks acquired a series of land parcels, including the acquisition of Bergen Park in 1915. The Bear Creek segment from the Genesee saddle to Bergen Park was finished in 1915, while the Denver Mountain Parks committee worked to make Mt. Evans a National Park, going as far as getting support in Congress for the construction of a “cement road” to the mountain. The first mile was paid for by Denver with the understanding that the State Highway Commission would do the rest.[24] The Denver Mountain Parks committee was not without disagreement and setbacks, however. $30,000 was acquired early in 1916 to construct the Bergen Park to Squaw Pass segment and all seemed to be flowing towards the goal of Mount Evans when the mayor of Denver, Robert W. Speer, appointed W.F.R. Mills as the Commissioner of Improvements, who summarily stopped the construction of the road, stating that “It is a road that starts nowhere, ends nowhere, and never gets there”.[24] After studying the issue, Mills later recanted and became a supporter of the park system, and the segment between Bergen Park and Squaw Pass was constructed beginning in the spring of 1918. The next act was to get Mount Evans classified as a National Park, but 1916 was a tumultuous time between the National Park system and the U.S. Forest Service, who currently held claim to the mountain. Already in bitter struggle to prevent the formation of a National Park Service, Chief Forester Graves adamantly blocked the relinquishment of this area of National Forest, in exchange for Forest Service development of the area including the immediate construction of a road between Squaw Pass and Echo Lake (Colorado).[24] This joint exercise between the City and County of Denver, the U.S. Congress, the State Highway System, and now the Forest Service would be completed with help of a newly formed Federal Agency, the Bureau of Public Roads. In 1918, the Bureau of Public Roads provided the plan to construct 9.41 miles of road from Soda Pass (now called Squaw Pass) to Echo Lake beginning in 1919. By 1920, the road had only managed to be constructed to Chief Mountain.[25] By October 1 of 1921, the Bureau of Public Roads had completed construction to Echo Lake.[26] The first survey for the road from Echo Lake to the peak of Mount Evans was made in 1923, finishing the layout by January 1924 despite a flu outbreak in the camp, damaging windstorms, and nearly insurmountable environmental hardships.[27] Battling the unusual problems that come with high-altitude construction (steam shovels performing only half as effective at high altitude, difficulty of hauling coal and water, horse suicide,[27] etc.) the last 600 feet were finally built by hand, being completed in 1930.[28]

The ruins of the Crest House (1941–1942) sit nearby. Once containing both a restaurant and a gift shop, it burned down on September 1, 1979 and was not rebuilt, but remains as a place of contemplation today. The rock foundation and walls remain as a windbreak for mountain travelers, and the viewing platform is one of Colorado's premier scenic overlooks.

Mt. Evans also hosts the annual Mt. Evans Hill Climb, a 27.4 miles (44.1 km) bicycle race with a total of 6,915 feet (2,108 m) of climbing.

Mt Evans highway above Summit Lake, highest paved road in North America


Summer crowds on Mount Evans summit, July 3, 2011.


The atmospheric pressure on the summit is around 460 torr, while a standard atmosphere (sea level) is 760 torr. At this pressure, many people suffer from altitude sickness.[29]

Summit Lake Park on Mount Evans

The climate on the summit of Mount Evans can be extreme. The mean annual temperature on the summit is 18 °F (-8 °C).[30] Temperatures rarely fall below 0 °F (-18 °C), but occasionally fall as low as -40 °F (-40 °C). The highest temperature recorded on the summit was 65 °F (24 °C), and below freezing temperatures may occur at any time of year. The maximum wind speed measured was 107 knots (123 mph or 198 km/h), while the average is from 25 to 30 knots (28 to 35 mph or 46 to 56 km/h). When the wind speed is over 15 knots (17 mph or 28 km/h), the wind is almost always from the west-southwest.[31]

2012 Tornado

At 2:51 pm on July 28, 2012 a weak, short-lived tornado touched down northeast of Mount Evans' summit at an elevation estimated by the National Weather Service of 11,900 feet (3,600 m) above sea level. The tornado was the second highest recorded in the United States but did not cause any damage because it was above tree line.[32][33][34]


The slopes of Mount Evans include several distinct environments. Below Echo Lake, the montane forest is dominated by lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and in some areas, blue spruce (Picea pungens), with patches of quaking aspen. Echo Lake is high enough to be in the subalpine forest, where Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) and bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata) dominate.

At tree line, the trees are reduced to krummholz, battered and twisted by wind and frost. The bristlecone pine grove on the east slope of Mount Goliath () contains at least one tree that sprouted in the year 403 CE. For many years, these were the oldest known trees in Colorado, but in 1992, trees dating to 442 BCE were found in the southern Front Range and South Park.[35] The Mount Goliath Natural Area, jointly managed by the United States Forest Service and the Denver Botanic Gardens protects this grove of old trees.[36]

Above tree line, the landscape is mostly alpine tundra. In the lower tundra, dwarf willow (Salix herbacea) is common, along with a wide variety of flowering plants such as Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia saximontana) and various species of dwarf alpine sunflowers. Toward the summit, the vegetation shrinks until the largest plants are little more than compact green cushions in the cracks between the rocks. Here, Alpine Forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris) plants with hundreds of blossoms occupy areas of only a few square centimeters and rise only centimeters above the soil surface.

The tundra around Summit Lake, particularly in Summit Lake Flats, the gently sloping area east of the lake, is frequently described as the southernmost area of arctic tundra in the world because it is water saturated and underlain by an extensive area of permafrost.


Mt Evans - mountain goats

The top predators found in the area are mountain lions (Puma concolor), anywhere on the mountain, and black bears (Ursus americanus), generally below tree line. These prey on bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) and mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus),[37] as well as one of the highest densities of yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris) in the region. Above tree-line, pikas (Ochotona princeps) are common. Below tree line, elk (Cervus canadensis) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are common.

Among birds, the white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucurus) are present on the mountain, but so well camouflaged that they are difficult to see even when almost underfoot.[38] Brown-capped rosy finches (Leucosticte australis), pipits and rock wrens (Salpinctes obsoletus) are also seen near the summit.[39]


Mount Evans was carved from the rock of the Mount Evans Batholith, formed by an intrusion of magma into the earth's crust about 1.4 billion years ago (in the Mesoproterozoic Era of the Precambrian Eon). Much of the rock is granodiorite, a close relative of granite, modified by later intrusions of quartz and pegmatite.[40]

The body of this batholith has been deeply cut by glacial cirques and canyons. Each of the nearby lakes, Summit Lake, the Chicago Lakes, Lincoln Lake and Abyss Lake are tarns located in cirques or glacial canyons surrounding Mount Evans.[41] Echo Lake was dammed by a lateral moraine of the glacier that formed Chicago Canyon. Prior to glaciation, Mount Evans, Long's Peak and several other summits were monadnocks in an upland Peneplain. Glaciation has not entirely destroyed the ancient Flattop Peneplain, named for Flattop Mountain in Grand County. The peaks of these mountains are all remnant features of this peneplain.[42]

Scientific Research

View from the summit of Mount Evans of the end of the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Crest House and the Meyer–Womble Observatory, 2010.

The easy access to the summit provided by the Mount Evans Highway has made it a popular location for scientific research. Arthur H. Compton conducted pioneering research on cosmic rays on the mountain in 1931, shortly after the road to the summit was completed. The University of Denver built a pair of A-frame buildings on the summit to house cosmic-ray researchers.[43][44] By the 1950s, Mount Evans, the Aiguille du Midi, the Pic du Midi and the Jungfrau were considered the premier locations for high-altitude physics experiments.[45]

The first accurate measurement of the lifetime of the muon (originally called the mesotron) by Bruno Rossi in 1939, used sites at Mount Evans, Echo Lake, Denver and Chicago. This experiment verified the reality of time dilation, one of the key predictions of Einstein's theory of relativity.[46][47]

In the summer of 1948, MIT, Cornell, Princeton, NYU and the universities of Michigan and Chicago and Denver conducted an intensive experimental program on the mountain and at Echo Lake. Bruno Rossi and Giuseppe Cocconi were among those involved.[48]

In 1965, the Midwestern Universities Research Association began doing high-energy physics experiments on the summit using cosmic rays to explore energies above those accessible with the most powerful particle accelerators of the day. The first experiments were conducted in a semi-trailer, and then in 1966, a temporary laboratory building was erected near the summit. This building was moved to Echo Lake that fall, where research continued until 1972.[49]

The University of Denver erected the 0.6m (24 inch) Ritchey–Chrétien telescope in its summit laboratory in 1972. This was used to observe comets Kohoutek and Halley in 1972 and 1986. In 1996, the University finished construction on the Meyer–Womble Observatory, near the site of the A-frame laboratory buildings. At 14,148 feet (4,312 m) this was, from 1972 to 1999, the world's highest optical observatory.[31] It is now the third-highest.

Mount Evans has also been the site of significant research in the life sciences. In 1940, for example, it was the site of a significant study of high-altitude physiology.[29] Pioneering studies on the effects of altitude training on track athletes were conducted on Mount Evans in 1966.[50]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "EVANS". NGS data sheet.   Note: The summit of Mount Evans is +1.80 m (+5.9 ft) higher than NGS station EVANS.
  2. ^ a b The elevation of Mount Evans includes an adjustment of +1.827 m (+5.99 ft) from NGVD 29 to NAVD 88.
  3. ^ a b c d "Mount Evans, Colorado". Retrieved October 20, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Mount Evans".  
  5. ^ David Lavender, The Rockies, University of Nebraska Press, 2003 (text copyright 1968); page 151.
  6. ^ Mt. Spalding on
  7. ^ Gray Wolf Mountain on
  8. ^ The Sawtooth on
  9. ^ Mt. Bierstadt on
  10. ^ Mt. Warren on
  11. ^ Rogers Peak on
  12. ^ Isaiah Bowman, Chapter XX - Rocky Mountains III, Glacial Features, Forest Physiography, Wiley, 1914; pages 368-369.
  13. ^ Mount Evans on the Colorado Department of Transportation web site
  14. ^ Guanella Pass on the Colorado Department of Transportation web site
  15. ^ Mount Evans Wilderness on
  16. ^ William Newton Byers, Bierstadt's Visit to Colorado -- Sketching for the famous painting "Storm in the Rocky Mountains", Magazine of Western History, Vol. XI, No. 3, Jan. 1890; page 237.
  17. ^ Albert Bierstadt, Mountain Lake, 13 by 19 inch oil on paper, no date.
  18. ^ Albert Bierstadt A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, 1866, in the American Art collection of the Brooklyn Museum.
  19. ^ William Henry Jackson, Chicago Lakes, Mount Rosalie, ID. Jackson, W.H. 1435, ID. Jackson, W.H. 1436 ID. Jackson, W.H. 1437 U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library, 1873.
  20. ^ W. H. Jackson, F. V. Hayden, 1873 Series, Descriptive Catalog of the Photographs of the United States Geological Survey of the Territories for the years 1869 to 1875, Inclusive, Second Ed., Washington, 1875; page 63.
  21. ^ H. Gannett, F. V. Hayden, Lists of Elevations principally in That Portion of the United States West of the Mississippi River, Fourth Ed., Washington, 1877; page 125.
  22. ^ Federal Writers' Project, Tour 15A, Colorado -- A Guide to the Highest State, Hastings House, New York, 1941; page 403.
  23. ^
  24. ^ a b c Downing, William M. 1931 How Denver Acquired Her Celebrated Mountain Parks, a Condensed History of the Building of America’s Most Unique Park System. In Municipal Facts. Volume 13, numbers 3–4 March–April.
  25. ^ “Car and Camera” 1920 The Mountain Parks. In Municipal Facts. Volume 3, numbers 3–4 March–April.
  26. ^ No Author 1921 Echo Lake Purchased. In Municipal Facts. Volume 4, numbers 9–10 September–October.
  27. ^ a b Sampson, Edith 1931 The Giant Highway. In Municipal Facts, Volume 13, numbers 3–4 March–April.
  28. ^ Sampson, Edith 1930 Along the World’s Highest Automobile Road. In Municipal Facts, Volume 13, numbers 9–10 September–October.
  29. ^ a b Erling Asmussen and Frank C. Consolazio, The Circulation and Rest and Work on Mount Evans (4,300 M.), [ American Journal of Physiology], Vol 132, No. 2 (Feb. 1941); page 555.
  30. ^ Jack D. Ives and Barry D. Fahey, Permafrost Occurrence in the Front Range, Colorado Rocky Mountains, U.S.A. Journal of Glaciology, Vol. 10, No. 58 (Spring 1971); pages 105-111.
  31. ^ a b Robert E. Stencel, Challenges and Opportunities in Operating a High-Altitude Site, Organizations and Strategies in Astronomy, Vol. 6, Springer, 2006; page 97 (for weather data, see sections 2 and 3.2).
  32. ^ "July 28, 2012 Storm Reports". National Weather Service. Retrieved August 8, 2012. 
  33. ^ Lofholm, Nancy (July 30, 2012). "Mount Evans twister rates a second in the record books". Denver Post. Retrieved August 8, 2012. 
  34. ^ "Rare Mountain Tornado Touches Down Near Mount Evans". CBS Denver. July 29, 2012. Retrieved August 8, 2012. 
  35. ^ F. Craig Brunstein, David K. Yamaguchi, The Oldest Known Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pines (Pinus aristata Engelm.), Arctic and Alpine Research, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Aug. 1992); pages 253-256.
  36. ^ Maryann Gaug, 8 Mount Goliath Natural Area, Hiking Colorado: An Atlas of Colorado's Greatest Hiking Adventures, Morris Book Publishing, 2003; pages 61-66.
  37. ^ John Axelson, Region 2, Big Game Hunter's Guide to Colorado, Wilderness Adventure Press, 2008; page 245, 259.
  38. ^ Mary Taylor Gray, Herbert Clarke, White-Tailed Ptarmigan, The Guide to Colorado Birds, Westcliffe, 1998; page 74.
  39. ^ Hugh E. Kingery, Mount Evans, Birding Colorado Morris Book Publishing, 2007; page 131.
  40. ^ Ralph L. Hopkins and Lindy B. Hopkins, Hike 7: Chicago Lakes -- The Mount Evans Batholith, Hiking Colorado's Geology, The Mountaineers, Seattle, 2000; page 67.
  41. ^ Scott S. Warren, Mount Evans Wilderness Area, Exploring Colorado's Wild Areas, 2nd ed, Mountaineers Books, Seattle, 2002; page 91.
  42. ^ Willis T. Lee, Peneplains of the Front Range and Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado United States Geological Survey Bulletin 730; page 15.
  43. ^ Ben Fogelberg and Steve Grinstead, Hike 25: Mount Evans – A Peak with a Past, Walking into Colorado's Past, Westcliffe, Englewood Colo,; page 119.
  44. ^ Arthur H. Compton, Chapter 19, The Cosmos of Arthur Holly Compton, Knopf, 1968; page 206.
  45. ^ Val L. Fitch, The τ-θ puzzle: an experimentalist's perspective, Pions to Quarks: Particle Physics in the 1950s Cambridge University Press, 1989; page 460.
  46. ^ Laurie M. Brown, Abraham Pais, Brian Pippard, Section 5.5, 20th Century Physics, AIP Press, 1995; Pages 394–399.
  47. ^ Bruno Rossi, Norman Hilberry, J. Barton Hoag, The Variation of the Hard Component of Cosmic Rays with Height and the Disintigration of Mesotrons, Physical Review, Vol. 57, No. 6 (March 1940); page 491.
  48. ^ Johnny Florea, Cosmic Ray Research: Seven Colleges Join to Study Nature's Mightiest Force (photoessay), Life, Vol. 25, No. 19 (Nov. 8, 1948); pages 119–125.
  49. ^ Lawrence W. Jones, The History, Highlights and Outcome of the Michigan – Wisconsin Echo Lake Cosmic Ray Program, 1965–1972: An Informal Review, UM-HE 73-9, University of Michigan, February 1973.
  50. ^ Elsworth Buskirk, from the Living History of Physiology web site of the American Physiological Society, 2008.

External links

  • Mount Evans on
  • Mount Evans on
  • Mount Evans on Summitpost
  • Tim's Guide to Mount Evans
  • US Forest Service, Mount Evans Byway
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