I’ve had a few people ask me how I got the mountain goat pictures on Mt. Evans so I thought it might be worth a blog post to explain how to plan a successful photo trip to one of the closest and most accessible fourteeners in the Colorado Front Range!
Well, the first obstacle you must overcome is the getting there. Ever since the onset of the Covid virus a timed entry ticket is required for entry. To acquire one of these go to the website recreation.gov and set up an account. It’s a fairly easy process and if you like to visit the parks you are going to want one eventually. The site lets you make reservations at all the national parks and many other interesting locations that now require the timed entry permits. For Mount Evans I recommend the 8:00-10:00 a.m. time slot for a couple of reasons, the first being it is the best arrival time to catch the animals when they are active, the second being it allows you the most time on the summit before the inevitable inclement weather sets in. Once you successfully create your reservation you will be given the opportunity to download the PDF ticket which you can print or save on your phone. I recommend doing both, either method is acceptable at the entry kiosk so if you happen to lose your printed version hopefully you will still have your phone!
There are several options when choosing your ticket as there are a number of attractions on the way to the summit, including the Goliath Interpretive Park and the Summit Lake trailhead. The most expensive ticket of course is going to be the one that provides access to all the attractions including the summit area.
There are two routes to the mountain, one from the Evergreen side and another from the Idaho Springs side over old Squaw Pass Road, now known as Highway 103. Take 103 all the way to it’s summit where you will arrive at Echo Lake and the junction with Highway 5 which is Mount Evans Road and the access point to the summit. A short distance up the road is the ranger station where you will have to present your timed entry ticket. I was told to leave my printed ticket on the dash board throughout my visit.
Here is where the fun begins, the long narrow winding road, mostly without guardrails, that takes you to the summit! Drive carefully, there may be wildlife on the road and it can be a trick to negotiate oncoming traffic both on the way up and the way down. Watch for the mountain goats and bighorn sheep as you ascend the scenic mountain, they don’t spend the night at the summit so as the day warms they can be seen making their way up the mountainside to the summit where they enjoy spending their days.
Hopefully by the time you reach the summit parking lot the wild goats will be there as well… if not you can take the rugged half mile trail to the actual summit and take in the fantastic 360 degree view including the Mount of the Holy Cross and other fourteeners including Gray’s and Torrey’s Peaks. Oh, I forgot to mention, you will want to include clothing on this trip that will cover anything from summer to winter weather! On my recent trip the the sun was shining with about 75 degree temps at Evergreen and on the summit the wind was blowing about 40mph with parkas and winter head gear required!
To actually acquire good photographs of the animals you are going to want a good camera with the capability of manual settings and a telephoto lens of at least 200mm. This allows you to shoot away from a distance without disturbing the animals. I used my 100-400mm lens and found it to be about right. Of course you can photograph the closer animals with a phone, they are basically unafraid of people
and many walk right up to them, way too close for their own safety. Keep in mind that these are wild animals and even though they tolerate people they occasionally feel threatened and may attack. Trust me, you do not want to be attacked by a mountain goat… they can really mess you up!
To get the best capture you are going to want to have a good understanding of how to set the exposure on your camera. The goats are bright white and the sky in the morning is going to be bright blue, a combination that is going to wreak havoc with your camera’s metering system. I found when the goats were on top of the rocks with the sky in the background I was dialing in at least +1 to +2 stops of exposure compensation (EC). Later on as we descended the mountain +.3 EC was better for photographing the darker bighorn sheep against the rocks.
Most afternoons severe weather is going to be moving in over the high peaks including heavy rain and lightning. By 2:00 p.m. your day on the summit is most likely going to be over and you should be on your way down. Once the lightning starts you don’t want to be standing outside, it is much safer inside your vehicle. One top of the mountain your chance of getting struck by lightning go from one in a million to highly likely.
A visit to the beautiful mountain towns of Georgetown, Idaho Springs and Evergreen is a great way to spend an afternoon, taking in some lunch, a micro brew and the many gift shops!
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