Just over a week ago I was considering which 14er to climb next. I had all 3 of my sons at my house as well as my son in law. I couldn’t resist challenging all of them to go with me for the next climb to see if they could keep up with the old man. I was trying to motivate them but the technique never seems to work.
However, on this occasion my son in law Chris accepted the challenge. He had surgery on his knee last year and this looked like a good opportunity to put himself to the test. We decided on the Bierstadt to Evans combo as this was closest to his home in Denver.
We left Denver at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday and drove to Georgetown and then up Guanella pass to the trailhead at the top. We arrived about 5:15 and headed down the trail at 5:30. We were one of only 4 cars at that time and the sun had come up just enough that we didn’t have to use headlamps. We made good time on the hike up to Mount Bierstadt and arrived at 7:22. There was a couple already there and 2 guys that arrived just after us.
Chris and Me on the summit of Bierstadt We took a break for awhile and got acquainted with the 2 guys that arrived just after us, Luke and Andrew. Luke had done the traverse to Evans via the Sawtooth ridge before so we asked if we could join them. Just about then an older gentleman arrived at the summit and let us know that he had climbed the 7 high points on the seven continents and had done Everest 3 times. This piqued my interest because in studying trip reports from the week before a man who had also done the traverse that we were about to attempt, met a man on Bierstadt that had climbed the 7 summits. Coincidence? “Seven Summit Sam” as we quickly nicknamed him (not his real name) then explained that a 20 year old college student had died on the Sawtooth ridge the previous week and that we should think twice about attempting it. He also explained that when we were done on Mt. Evans we would have to head down a large gully, through the swamp/bog and would be better off if we had hip waders to get through the knee deep muck that we would encounter on the way back to the Bierstadt trailhead. As we discovered later, the woman who died on the Sawtooth was 50 and the swamp/bog was ankle deep. Given his proclivity towards misinformation we were inclined to believe that the only place that hip waders were needed was on the summit of Mt. Bierstadt. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Seven Summit Sam is seven summits short of the Grand Slam of mountaineering.
We left the summit of Bierstadt at 7:55. The death from the week before did give us pause however, and we were extremely alert for the remainder of the trip. As the 4 of us headed down the face of Bierstadt to the saddle we got to know each other a little better.
The Sawtooth from BierstadtWe watched for cairns and were careful to not drop below the low point of the saddle. When we had dropped far enough we knew we had no choice but to cross the large snowfield in a traverse to the saddle.
Large snowfield on Bierstadt.It was then that I realized that I should have had an ice axe with me. We had two pairs of trekking poles with us, so we shortened them as much as possible and made sure that each of us had one. We reviewed how to dive into the snow with the sharp end of the pole if we slipped and went down. I led the way in crossing by kick stepping into the snow and taking it slowly. We only postholed at the very end as we reached the other side. It was waist deep by the way.
Reaching the saddle was a relief.
Chris, Luke and Andrew on the saddle.We reviewed the route description from this website and started climbing high up onto the gendarme that makes up one of the “teeth” of Sawtooth ridge. We came to another snowfield and Luke started to cross at the very top of it. It looked a bit dicey and he changed his mind after only a couple of steps. He backed out and we opted to climb higher and go above the snowfield to finally emerge at the point where you cross over to the other side of the ridge. Just a side note: I looked up information about the accident from the previous weekend and a picture was shown online of the snowfield where it happened with an X marking the general area. It was the same snowfield that Luke backed out of.
Crossing over to the other side of the ridge revealed an incredible scene.
Sawtooth from the Guanella pass side of the ridge.
A climber who was following us.
Me on the Sawtooth.The pictures that I have posted here don’t do it justice. I don’t know the exact drop but it looked like it must be well over a thousand feet. It’s the kind of sight that base jumpers need to get their adrenaline fix. It made the whole trip worth while. A few hundred more feet of crossing the ledge and climbing up on top and we were in easier territory.
The rest of the traverse to Evans was uneventful and simple enough if you just watch for the cairns. We reached the summit of Mt. Evans at 11:25 a.m.
Luke, Andrew, Chris and Me on EvansIt’s a different world on top of Evans because tourists can drive to the top. It makes for an interesting scene for sure.
Lady posing on Evans
Climber on the ridge to Evans
Luke, Andrew, Chris, and I headed down Evans at 12:00 noon through the aforementioned gully to reconnect with the Bierstadt trail.
The gully from Evans to the swamp area by Guanella Pass. We connected with 3 other hikers towards the bottom and took a much deserved break.
Break timeAt the bottom we had to cross 1 to 2 miles of swamp land or bog and deal with the black mud that kept reappearing. Fortunately it was only ankle deep in most places and dry in others. We arrived at the pickup at 3:25 p.m. Thanks Chris, Luke and Andrew for another great day in the mountains!
The Sawtooth from Guanella Pass