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YESTERYEAR: The massif in my backyard

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By Hank Alderfer

As with most people living with a view of the Front Range mountains, I never tire of waking to view our local peaks wearing a cap of fresh snow — even though, this time of year, the storms come and go with a magical quickness. Like most of the kids I grew up with, I enjoyed hiking, camping, riding and fishing in the forests surrounding Mount Evans and its adjoining neighbors, with all of us feeling like these lands were part of our backyard.

Like most mountain drivers, I learned to use Mount Evans as a beacon to guide myself through the streets of Denver. That is, if the storms hadn’t covered the beacon. You, perhaps, have suffered the same disorientation I had living in cities whose mountain views are set to a different compass point.   
Mount Evans, with an elevation of 14,264 feet, is both the 13th tallest peak in Colorado and one of the most massive. Evans’ neighbors to the north are Goliath, elevation 12,216 feet, Rogers Peak, at 13,391, Gray Wolf at 13,602, Warren at 13,303 and Spalding at 13,842. Its neighbors to the south are Epaulet at 13,523, Rosalie at 12,575, Bandit at 12,444, and Tahana at 12,073, Katana at 12,441 and lastly Mount Logan at 12,870. To the west, we can add Bierstadt, at 14,060, the 39th tallest peak in the state, all told to form a gigantic hunk of solid gray granite that qualifies Mount Evans and its companion peaks to be described with the geological term “massif” — a group of impressive peaks, that are all part of the same land bulk.
Also impressive is that their combined area of continuous tundra above timberline is approximately 66 square miles. If we were to drive “around” our massif, by starting at Guanella Pass down to Georgetown, then along Clear Creek Canyon to Floyd Hill, then up and down the five watersheds between Bergen Park and Bailey, then upstream along the North Fork of the South Platte River to Grant, then turn uphill to climb back up to the top, we could reach our original starting point, making a “loop” by auto that demonstrates that the Front Range massif is indeed a very large mountain.  
Shaped by the most recent era of continental glacial action, an upper bench that contains the headwaters of five streams rings this massif. Summit Lake, with no apparent tributaries, represents a classic tarn, which is a small mountain lake tucked into a beautiful and towering cirque. A trickling Bear Creek leaves Summit Lake to spread across Summit Flats to water a “jungle” of willows. In short order, outflows from Lincoln and Bear Track lakes, along with Tumbling Creek, fatten Bear Creek for the 45-mile journey to Morrison. Likewise, the Chicago Lakes feed South Clear Creek, and Abyss and Frozen lakes join Scott Gomer Creek before it flows into Geneva Creek. Deer Creek is spawned from the high rolling valley between Katana and Tahana.
Before I travel deeper into the roadless wilderness surrounding our friendly neighbor of a massif, let’s return to the schoolmates who shared my feelings about our luck of having such a grand backyard while growing up. It is probably overdue, but I would like to give my thanks to the owners of the properties through which we, long ago, crossed to get to the forestlands. I hope we were quiet, polite and little trouble.

Hank Alderfer, a local resident, was born and raised on a ranch in Buffalo Park. He served on the boards of the Jefferson County Historical Society and the Evergreen Park and Recreation District and is a founder of the Mountain Area Land Trust.