A Tour d’Abyss: Bierstadt East Ridge/Sawtooth/Evans Loop
Mt. Bierstadt - 14,060’
Mt. Evans – 14,264’
July 17, 2011
Climbers: MtnHub and Linda and Peter A
Starting Time: 0540
Return Time: 1600
Ever since my failed attempt up Capitol Peak in 2010, I have been planning to try it again hoping for more conducive weather. As a result, that trip has always been my priority, and one that other climbs would have to work around.
But as I planned and worked out various climbs with other partners to fill in the rest of the days of my 2011 CO vacation, it soon became apparent that the “theme” of my climbs this year evolved to be one on “saws and knives.”
In addition to a climb up La Plata as a warm-up to Capitol plus two more Longs Peak summits, I would trek over the Tour d’Abyss crossing the Sawtooth to reach Mt. Evans, the Knife Edge of Kelso Ridge up Torreys Peak, the Knife Edge up Capitol Peak, as well as the Knife Edge of Meeker Ridge. It was probably my most aggressive climbing vacation ever, but I was blessed with good or perfect weather for all of them.
I. A Tour d’Abyss: Bierstadt East Ridge/Sawtooth/Evans Loop
During the course of the last couple of years reading various trip reports, there have been several other climbs that have greatly appealed to me. One of these was the Tour d’Abyss, a Bierstadt via East Ridge climb, over the Sawtooth, and up Evans from the northwest.
I had done the Bierstadt/Sawtooth loop from Guanella Pass a couple of years ago with another buddy, but threatening weather prevented us from bagging Evans at that time. The battle through the willows on the return to the car was an experience I would never do again however! But this new route seemed much more pleasant and fun. I love ridge climbs and one-way loops. This would offer more class 3 climbing and route-finding experience to prepare me for Capitol later in the week. And it would be much less crowded, at least until we reached Bierstadt.
My wife and I would be staying with our friends in Black Hawk so this appeared to be the perfect warm-up climb for me – easy access, about 5 miles in length, and about 3000’ total elevation gain. Well, on paper it looks pretty easy anyway! We found it to be a healthy challenge, and a much longer day than we expected!
Our plan was to drive to the Mt. Evans summit and walk down to the first major road switchback where a few vehicles could park. This would allow our legs to warm up on an easy descent, tuning them up for more strenuous climbing once we reached the east ridge of Bierstadt.
Mt. Bierstadt and the Sawtooth ridge engulfing Lake Abyss
A full look at the long east ridge of Bierstadt with all it’s bumps and outcroppings to climb over
We left the Mt. Evans parking area at 0540 and walked down to the switchback in the road. I led us down what I thought was the correct gully.
The first gully we descended.
Peter and Linda descending the gully.
The terrain became increasingly steep and sketchy however and we ended up re-climbing a bit to find a better way down to the valley.
Linda and me descending the second gully (photo by Peter A)
About halfway down the gully, looking across at the east ridge with the moon over the first major bump.
We finally made it to the valley floor at about 0730. With the re-climbing we did, we consumed more time than anticipated.
Linda crossing the marshy valley floor; the Sawtooth in the distance; Lake Abyss is hidden just over the rise.
Peter and Linda climbing up to the east ridge.
About halfway up the slope, a look at the Sawtooth; the southern tip of Lake Abyss is also now visible again.
Looking across the valley where we went down.
Linda and Peter starting up our first obstacle.
Once we are over our first bump, a larger one looms in front of us. It offers no easy access around it to the other side. You must tackle this head-on and over the top. This one requires a little more skill in route-finding and some interesting moves. And there is still a long way to go!
Point 13641’ and the long east ridge leading to the Bierstadt summit.
Linda and Peter starting their climb up 13,641’
A much needed rest; it’s 1015; shouldn’t we be there by now?
A good look at Lake Abyss; Sawtooth in the center.
We climb over several more rocky outcrops before finally seeing the last slope up to the summit of Bierstadt. As expected, there are many climbers celebrating at the top.
Peter going around the final bump.
Looking back at the bumpy east ridge behind us now; Epaulet Mt. stands in the center across the valley.
We take a short break at the summit. I discover about 8-10 other people from Iowa here. Guess they are all escaping the heat wave back home like I am.
Our Bierstadt summit shot; don’t we look proud!? (photo by Peter A)
We study the sky carefully however, as clouds are building fast and we still have a lot of very exposed ground to cover yet before we reach the car. There is lightning and thunder over Grays and Torreys just NW of us a few miles. We take just a little time to study the Sawtooth and decide our line of climbing. We would like to stay high above the snowfield.
Once again, a little route finding becomes essential, but in general it is pretty straightforward. Eventually we find the saddle where we cross over to the other side.
Linda almost to the crossover saddle; the horned towers are good markers.
The dirt shelf leading down and around to the end of the exit ramp is quite loose, and gives us pause for a minute or two. It still looks worse than it actually is, but it does appear that it has seen more slide or erosion activity since the last time I was here.
The long and gradual climb up to the Evans summit seems to go on forever. We are getting exhausted by now. We feel a little spray in the air on occasion but are never really rained upon. Our poles never buzz. We’re thankful for that!
At the Mt. Evans summit; great job, guys!!