Bierstadt & the Sawtooth from the willow field on Guanella Pass
We climbed Bierstadt and the Sawtooth on Friday, June 24th, the day before the fatal fall. Let me say that the reports of the treacherous snow on the Sawtooth are not exaggerated. The snowfields are extensive and sluff off easily as you traverse them. The route up Bierstadt is easy and clear and should not be taken as an indication of the conditions on the Sawtooth.
Our total climb time up Bierstadt was around 2 hours (we started at 11 due to the road construction on the Georgetown side - Use the 285 side from Grant). After stopping on the summit for about 30 minutes to survey the Sawtooth, we headed out. As you can see in the picture below, the snow fields on the east side of the Sawtooth are very substantial, so we decided to avoid them on our crossover. The final picture shows the substantial snow field you'll also want to avoid coming down from Bierstadt to the Sawtooth (we climbed down the rocks instead - very slow). It took significantly longer to cross the Sawtooth than it did to climb Bierstadt.
Avoiding the snow on the Sawtooth meant climbing or traversing the rocks as much as possible, which was scary at times. The west side of the Sawtooth is largely sheer faces down to the scree field, while the east side had large snowfields leading down to Abyss Lake. We moved very carefully and slowly, having to backtrack several times to find a way across the rocks. The trail across the Sawtooth the is marked by cairns leads to snowfield crossings, which we had to make our way around.
Once we reached the Evans side of Sawtooth, it was late in the day. We bailed on Evans to make sure we had enough light to make it back to Guanella Pass. We didn't cross back to Bierstadt on the Sawtooth, deciding instead to head back down towards Guanella Pass from where we were at on the back side of Evans, walking around the bowl and following the creek down towards the lake. The descent was easy until we reached the WILLOWS. The willows are thick and stretch FAR, requiring significant time to get through. Additionally, the significant runoff has filled all of the boggy areas which are messy to get through. YUCK.
Inside of the Sawtooth from Mt. Bierstadt
Descent down Bierstadt to the Sawtooth taken from the back of Mt. Evans