(Buckley AFB, Aurora, CO) Hi 100 – Lo 64 – Today we had one of the most incredible experiences ever. We drove the “highest continuously paved road in the U.S.” up to the top of Mt. Evans, which is 14,264 ft. high. It was a beautiful morning, and we got an early start so we could get to the top of the mountain during the clear morning before the clouds rolled in. We headed west on I-70 to Idaho Springs, about 35 miles west of Denver. From there we took CO 103 for 13 miles to Echo Lake, the entrance point to the Mt. Evans Recreation Area on the Arapaho National Forest.
As we got into the foothills of the Rockies west of Denver we were amazed at how many homes are built high up on a mountainside. (Click on photos to enlarge them.)
We got a kick out of this futuristic looking home.
The farther west we drove on I-70, the more spectacular the view in front of us became.
We finally reached Exit 240 at Idaho Springs.
The 13-mile drive on CO 103 winded through mostly forests until we reached Echo Lake.
A right turn onto Rte. 5 brought us to the gate of Mt. Evans Recreation Area. The admission is $10.00 per car, but we got in free with our National Parks Access Pass. From there the 14-mile drive to the summit got much more interesting as we started gaining altitude, and the scenery started to get more amazing around every curve.
We passed several cyclists huffing and puffing their way to the top.
That’s a pretty serious drop off on the right side of the road. The conditioning of these bike riders is just amazing. Dee and I were really feeling the effects of the altitude. Just getting out of the car to take some pictures was a chore. My legs felt very heavy, and both of us had trouble getting enough air to breathe normally. And we had 4,000 feet to go!
At one point we could look down on Echo Lake down at the entrance station.
When we got above the tree line the landscape changed dramatically. Just before we reached the point where there are no trees at all, we passed through what’s call arctic tundra. It’s considered the harshest environment in the world for living things. Even more harsh than Antarctica, due to the high winds. The only trees that can grow in this area are Bristlecone Pines. They have very gnarled, twisted trunks and bristly needles. Not very attractive, but built sturdy for the harsh environment.
The landscape at the upper 3,000 feet is very barren, with no trees, very little vegetation, and lots of rocks.
We saw the remnants of this glacier, with a small portion of winter ice left on it. We’re not sure if it will melt completely before the end of summer. I like how I got this shot just as the sun was shining on the ice.
Here you can see the path of the glacier, which feeds into Summit Lake. You can barely see the ice on the sunny top portion of the mountain.
From Summit Lake the road turned more winding and steeper for the last 1,400 feet or so to the summit.
Can you see Dee’s knuckles turning white?
She insisted on driving up to the summit and back down. One of her fears has always been narrow roads and heights. She conquered both today. I’m so proud of her!
Here’s a couple more pictures of the scenery on the way up.
We finally reached the end of Mt. Evans Road at the small loop parking area.
The parking lot is 14,130 ft. high. The last 134 feet to the summit is a quarter-mile walking path that winds back and forth up this rocky mound to the peak.
When we started out we were all gung ho about walking to the top. But when we got to the parking lot and walked around a little bit, we really felt like crap! We were dizzy, couldn’t breathe, and we felt like we hadn’t slept in days. Altitude sickness affects everybody differently, but we sure didn’t like the way it affected us. But we didn’t come this far to just look up at the top. We’ll probably never again have the opportunity to say we “climbed” to the top of a 14,000 ft. mountain. So we decided to give it a try.
We took it slow…
…and took a lot of rest breaks. (You can see the parking area down below.)
But finally, we made it! The summit was a very rocky area about the size of a basketball court.
We sat down on a rock, with a several thousand foot drop a few feet in front of us and just marveled at the view.
A beautiful lake below us. We’re not sure but it might be Summit Lake that we passed on the way up.
Here you can see the road we came up on.
A nice gentleman agreed to take a picture of both of us with my camera. Don’t we look tired?
Just for fun I pulled out my smart phone and checked the “Altitude” app I downloaded a while back. And for the records it was 48 degrees.
Pretty darn close. There was a rocky peak about 10 or 12 feet high that some younger folks climbed up on (but not us). So if you add that it would read almost exactly 14,264.
Unfortunately it wasn’t a one-way trip. We had to go back down. :( (We heard a lady at the top say “Where’s the gondola?”) So we headed back down, slow and easy.
When we got to the parking lot we were very, very tired! We drank water up and back, but when we got to the car we gulped down another bottle.
After getting our breath back (somewhat anyway), we started the 13-mile drive back down the mountain. Here’s a couple of final pictures from the trip down.
By the time we got back to Idaho Springs we were feeling much better. We were also hungry. So we went into downtown to find a place to eat. The main street downtown is very pretty, like most of the towns we’ve been through in these parts.
We had lunch at a sports grill that was good, but a little overpriced. We then made our way back down out of the mountains and home to rest for the rest of the afternoon. This was a day we’ll never forget. It’s not often that we get to look down from on top of the world (at least our part of the world.) We hope you enjoyed the photos. We only wish they were as beautiful as the actual scenery. We took a lot more photos. If you'd like to see them, click here.