Contributed by Charles and Hilary Hipkin
Country: United States
Round trip: 4 km
Start elevation: 3914 m
Final Elevation: 4350 m
Maps: 1:24,000 USGS Naomi Peak
From I70, take exit 240 for Idaho Springs, then H103 to Echo Lake. From there continue on the Mount Evans Highway (H5) to Summit Lake. The trail from Summit Lake skirts the north side of the lake, before climbing up to the ridge.
Beyond Echo Lake, the Mount Evans Highway passes above tree line where you’ll notice a grove of Colorado bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata). Drive on and this excellent paved road (the highest in the USA) will take you past Summit Lake and eventually to a large parking area that is a breathless, five-minute stroll from the 15th highest summit in Colorado. Do this if you want very easy access to the high alpine flora. But we recommend the moderately strenuous hike from Summit Lake via the Northwest (Summit) ridge, which gives you a more informative lesson in Rocky Mountain alpine ecology. This is a relatively straightforward, Class II, fourteener ridge trail, but don’t underestimate it. A small amount of hand-to-rock scrambling is required and although the route is fairly obvious, the trail is vague in places. Look out for rock cairns, particularly in the final kilometre of the trail. Most of the time you’ll be hiking above 4000 metres, so make sure you are fit enough and acclimatised for altitude. Get to the trailhead at Summit Lake early (e.g. 6.00 am) to give your-self enough time to beat the thunderstorms that regularly bombard this part of the Front Range on summer afternoons. You’ll want to explore the environs around the lake (not described here), but it may be best to do this when you get back.
Once you’ve negotiated the initial climb above Summit Lake, you’ll find yourself in a tundra landscape sprinkled with high alpine plants. Chionophylla jamesii, Geum rossii, Mertensia viridis, Saxifraga rhomboidea and Trifolium nanum are common here. Look carefully at the little yellow-flowered drabas, because among them will be Draba exunguiculata and Draba grayana, two species that are endemic to the mountains of Northern Colorado.
The final stretch of this hike takes you through a jumble of boulder scree where you will encounter Bessaya alpina, Claytonia megarhiza, Ligularia holmii, Polemonium viscosum, Phlox condensata, Saxifraga serpyllifolia ssp. chrysantha and Saxifraga flagellaris. Cobalt-blue cushions of Eritrichium nanum are very common in suitable places between the boulders, but look out for the occasional white-flowered forms of this species too.
If you just want to drive to the summit, you’ll be able to find many of these species in the boulder scree along the upper sections of the trail without much exertion
MOUNT EVANS GALLERY.
The photos were taken on July 1, 2007
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PARTIAL PLANT LIST
Androsace chamaejasme ssp. carinata
Saxifraga serpyllifolia ssp. chrysantha