Carved into the gentle slope of “Summit Flats” is a canyon ringed with cliffs, which is home to the small but noisy Tumbling Creek. Into the updraft, out of this alpine valley, is my choice for a good measure of my cremains to be released to the winds. While, as a first-grader, I had started to explore this waterfall of a creek, instead of fishing, it was along this cliff edge that my Forest Service trails crew, in 1962, was directed to restore the original Mount Evans Trail that connected the Shelter Meadow Cabin with the Stone Shelter at Summit Lake.
Our family, like many, called the Shelter Meadow Cabin the “Rest House” and would often share its sound roof, rock fireplace, cook stove, sleeping loft, or its funky bunk beds with others instead of packing in a camp. During each of the two summers, while working out of the Forest Service work center in Idaho Springs, I used the Rest House as my home base for five weeks. My crew would also utilize the smaller Bear Creek Guard Station, which came with a 40-acre pasture for the horses that were used to pack in culverts, tools and supplies.
The Mount Evans Trail restoration contained two segments: one below timberline and one above. The work below timberline was similar to a treasure hunt as we searched for the overgrown “blazes” on the trees that had marked the way for hikers for a half-century. Above timberline, the restoration was more like work. It centered on the challenge to guide a hiker through bogs and willows that were either too tall to see over or too thick to crawl under or around. Instead of blazes, we built cairns — a lot of cairns, enough to establish a line of sight between the stones stacked into pyramidal piles stretching out like a parade. We set these stone mounds to serve as landmarks to guide travelers to the shortest route, and driest path, across the Flats. A trail of cairns that suggested walking uphill from Summit Lake along the paved road a ways before heading east toward Tumbling Creek would minimize confrontation with the thickest part of the willow thickets.
While completing the trail restoration, I found a fine spear point, right at tree line, along the windswept grassy edge of Tumbling Creek Canyon, a ridgeline that is still a favorite of the mountain’s goat herd. With the wide band of beaver country that encircles the Evans Massif, it seems a safe bet that at lease one trapper explored the high lands above the dams that provided his livelihood. Likewise, it seems logical that, as soon as gold was discovered in Idaho Springs, prospectors were exploring the headwaters of all the area streams.
In 1854, William Newton Byers printed the first issue of the Rocky Mountain News on April 23 after a four-year job as a U.S. deputy surveyor. Skills gained from years exploring, and politics, qualified Byers to be both guide and host to Albert Bierstadt and company on the painter’s second visit to the Rocky Mountains. In the spring of 1863, Byers packed the group into the basin that cradles the Chicago Lakes and provided the setting for Bierstadt’s epic painting “A Storm in the Rocky Mountains; Mount Rosalie.” Another day of climbing produced a painting of Summit Lake, which was shown in 1881 and then disappeared. “A Storm in the Rocky Mountains” was also lost after a European exhibit in 1867, but it resurfaced in 1974.
At the time of the artist’s visit, the highest peak was named Mount Rosalie after Rosalie Osborne Ludlow, who married Fritz Ludlow in 1859.
After Ludlow’s death, Rosalie married Bierstadt. On March 10, 1895, by Colorado Senate Joint Resolution 15, Mount Rosalie became Mount Evans, and it was clarified that the peak to the south of Evans and Bierstadt be known as Mount Rosalie, which as a result lost 683 feet in height in one day.
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.